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'We Are Just Stuck at This Moment': Weariness Mounts for Hong Kong Protesters Ahead of Planned Clearing

City authorities are preparing to clear sections of the protest zones and remove roadblocks that have enclosed demonstration areas for more than seven weeks.

by Steven Hsieh
Nov 20 2014, 4:25pm

Photo via Reuters/Bobby Yip

Frustration is overwhelming many of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters as their occupation of key city areas approaches two full months without achieving any concessions from Beijing officials or the local government.

Heightening the disheartenment, Hong Kong's high court this week granted injunctions to clear sections of the protest zones, paving the way for bailiffs to chip away at the metal roadblocks that have enclosed demonstration areas for more than seven weeks.

"We are just stuck at this moment," Sammo Tse, a 32-year-old protester who has slept on roads for 45 days in support of the so-called Umbrella Movement, told VICE News. "It's about time we move forward."

Video shows Hong Kong protesters attempting to smash into government HQ. Read more here.

This restlessness boiled over early Wednesday morning, when a group of protesters attempted to storm the legislature, using metal barricades and concrete bricks to smash through a glass door — a rare display of violence for demonstrations that have otherwise been praised for their peaceful resistance. Police responded with pepper spray and batons, arresting six people.

Pro-democracy lawmakers and student groups swiftly distanced themselves from the escalation. Leaders of the group Occupy Central "strongly condemned" the vandalism at the legislative building.

Joshua Wong, co-founder of the student activist group Scholarism, offered more subdued disapproval, criticizing the instigators for failing to have a clear "basis" to carry out their action. Wong also accused the instigators of quickly leaving the area after breaking the window, putting protesters who joined the scene in danger.

Other activists told VICE News that they appreciated the disruptive attempt to move beyond the status quo of occupying roads, but noted that poor organization ensured that the tactic would not be effective.

"The planning sucked," said Tse.

"I'm not angry about it. It was just not the right timing," offered Man Ip, a 21-year-old graduate of the City University of Hong Kong. "We can't just stay here and sleep. It's meaningless because the government is ignoring us. We need to do something to get the attention of the people, the attention of the press."

Occupy Central is not like previous protest movements. Read more here.

Bailiffs faced little resistance on Tuesday when they cleared a small section of the protest zone in Admiralty, the busy government district, after a building owner complained that demonstrators' tents blocked his parkway.

Police officials do not expect another planned clearing in Mong Kok, a working-class neighborhood where demonstrations have taken on a more radical edge, to go as smoothly, calling the district a "high-risk" zone. Hong Kong police will send at least 3,000 officers to help clear the site as early as next week, according to the South China Morning Post.

Several protesters told VICE News that they would find other sections of road to occupy should they be forced to leave the site of the Mong Kok occupation.

In Hong Kong, a young generation of protesters fights for the future. Read more here.

The massive demonstrations began in late September after police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse a peaceful student sit-in, triggering widespread sympathy for the protesters. But the seas of people who filled the streets night after night have since dwindled, leaving behind hardier protesters who have held their ground in tent communities throughout the city.

"The students that are still participating in the protests actively have been under a lot of pressure. One thing they have been doing is trying their best to figure out what they really want from the movement," Wai-Man Lam, a political science and administration professor at the University of Hong Kong. "The protesters still tend to stand very firm. If they can't get any compromises from the establishment, then they won't leave."

Activists demand that Hong Kong's government reject a plan that would grant Beijing wide control over the selection of candidates for the city's chief executive in the 2017 election. They are also calling for the resignation of current Chief Executive Chung-ying Leung, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the demonstrations.

Public approval of the Umbrella Movement has steadily declined over the past two months. Nearly 83 percent of residents say the occupations of three major districts should end, according to a recent poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong. Just 28 percent of respondents said that they support the movement as a whole.

A number of high-profile movement supporters have also called for protesters to pack up to work on a long-term campaign for universal suffrage.

Occupy Central co-founder Rev. Chu Yin-ming has pushed for organizers to call for protesters to withdraw out of fear for their safety, but internal disagreements have kept that from happening. 

"We should retreat when the momentum is there, while our determination and will are strong," Jimmy Lai, a media mogul and adamant pro-democracy supporter, told Australian newspaper The Age. "Then we will be able to come back."

Follow Steven Hsieh on Twitter: @stevenjhsieh