Student protest leaders and Occupy Central organizers separately welcomed talks with a Hong Kong government representative on Thursday, but protesters who are split on tactics going forward fear a lack of central leadership may weaken what has grown into the biggest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Hong Kong's embattled leader refused demands by pro-democracy protesters to resign Thursday, but the Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a statement early Friday that they planned to join talks​ offered by the government, focused specifically on political reforms. They reiterated that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying step down, saying he "had lost his integrity."

A wider pro-democracy group that had joined the demonstrations, Occupy Central, welcomed the talks and also insisted that Leung quit.

Occupy Central "hopes the talks can provide a turning point in the current political stalemate," it said in a statement. "However, we reiterate our view that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is the one responsible for the stalemate, and that he must step down."

Hong Kong Democracy Protest

Student protesters dressed in plastic covers as protection from pepper spray, stand outside the government complex where Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's office is located. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

The territory's top civil servant, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, will arrange the talks. She said she would seek to meet with leaders of the demonstrations as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, police have shifted tactics since using tear gas, pepper spray and batons over the weekend against protesters shielding themselves with umbrellas, apparently hoping the protests will fizzle out.

'We have no organizers here...we received no commands or even orders from Occupy Central leaders.' - Protester Ken Tsang

"We are not worrying about excessive violence from police, as we don't expect they will repeat it again when the whole world is watching," said Kenneth Mok, a 22-year-old civil engineering graduate, at a protest site in the city's Admiralty district.

"We are worrying the movement will lose steam without a clear leader leading. We are worrying that people will go back to normal like nothing has happened."

The protests have drawn tens of thousands on to the streets at their peak.

Preparing for protracted standoff

Demonstrators across the city were doing their best to prepare for a protracted standoff on Thursday, setting up supply stations with water bottles, fruit, raincoats, towels, goggles, face masks, tents and the ubiquitous umbrellas.

Organizers of Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP), one of the main groups behind the demonstrations, have threatened to take over government buildings if Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader, Leung Chun-ying, does not step down, prompting a warning of "serious consequences" from police.

Hong Kong protest government complex

Student protesters urge people to stop blocking a main road in front of the government complex where Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's office is located, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014 in Hong Kong. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

But protesters on the streets, while united in their calls for full democracy for Hong Kong, are split over tactics.

"We have no organizers here...we received no commands or even orders from Occupy Central leaders," said Ken Tsang, 30, a coordinator at a supply station on Canton Road, sometimes dubbed the world's most expensive shopping street.

"Occupy Central is already dead and what's happening now is the Umbrella Revolution. It is a citizen-involved revolution and it's not organized by any political parties."

After a morning news conference that served only to highlight their lack of cohesion, leaders from Occupy Central and student groups also prominent in the protests organised a hasty show of unity on Thursday afternoon.

"Hong Kong people want real freedom and real democracy," Benny Tai, a law professor and OCLP founder, told the second press conference.

Using social media to organize

In the densely populated Mong Kok district, a supply station volunteer who gave only her family name, Yim, said protesters there had refused a request from Occupy Central members to remove street barriers, fearing that doing so would make them more vulnerable to attack by triads or pro-Beijing groups.

"There's no such thing as Occupy Central organizers," she said. "Everyone came out and occupied the street by themselves."

On the streets, protesters say they have been organizing themselves, monitoring social media to decide where to go and arranging informal "shifts" with friends.

Supplies are dropped off by donors to stations manned by volunteers at the edge of protest sites.

Becky Chan, a 24-year-old financial planner, was working at such a supply station on Wednesday and Thursday, which were public holidays. Like many, she planned to return to work on Friday, but said she would come out in the evenings.

"I am worried, but I am still hopeful," she said, when asked if she thought the protests would fade away as people returned to work. "We still have the students. We'll shift the duties, the Hong Kong people will organise."

The one place where central co-ordination is in evidence is at the first aid stations set up by the Occupy Central medical team at protest sites.

These are staffed by 200-300 volunteer doctors and nurses recruited via Whatsapp and Facebook to work in organized shifts.

One of the coordinating doctors, Wong Yam-hong, a cardiologist at Tuen Mun Hospital, said he was concerned about how long they could keep going.

"Our medical volunteers, many of them work in public hospitals and are volunteering in their free time," he said.

"Their work is very demanding, and volunteering is harsh and physically demanding. This is an issue of physical exhaustion. But we are trying to do what we can."

With files from CBC News