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'It's Just the Beginning' — Hong Kong Protesters Vow They'll Be Back as Police Tear Down Main Pro-Democracy Camp

Protest leaders were arrested as authorities moved in on the Admiralty site in what appeared to be the final chapter of the pro-democracy occupation which has rattled the Chinese-controlled city for 75 days.

by James Legge
Dec 11 2014, 11:15am

Image via Reuters

Hong Kong police on Thursday moved in to clear protesters and their tents from the main site of the pro-democracy occupation which has rattled the Chinese-controlled city since it began 75 days ago. 

Activists vowed to continue their fight even as officers began to break up the last hard core of resistance, arresting those who refused to abandon their positions one-by-one. But it appeared — at least for now — to be the final chapter of the street protest movement.

In a slow-moving operation, a mixture of police, bailiffs and contractors moved on the Admiralty site from mid-morning and into the early evening.

Photo by Kim Moore

The tent city, in the central Admiralty district in Hong Kong Island, sprung up in protest against Beijing's proposals for electing the territory's next leader in 2017, after initial demonstrations were met with police tear gas.

The plan, set out by Chinese officials in August, would require anyone seeking election as the next chief executive to secure majority approval from a 1,200-strong committee widely thought to be loyal to Beijing.

Photo by Kim Moore

Numbers had swelled overnight, after student groups Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HFKS) called for reinforcements.

People packing up their tents and the general mood of resignation gave the feel of the last day of a festival.

But after months of different slogans and symbols, the morning's message du jour was "We'll be back," daubed on walls and banners across the site.

Photo by Kim Moore

As police vans neared, protesters, led by HKFS leader Alex Chow, chanted: "I want real democracy."

Bailiffs and contractors started dismantling the outer barricades, made from metal barriers and bamboo, which were left undefended.

As they pulled down the tallest bamboo barricade, around 20ft tall, they took.with them a huge yellow sign, reading: "It's just the beginning."

After closing in around the main section on Harcourt Road, police warned protesters they had to leave by 2pm or their details would be taken.

When officers did move in, approaching from both sides, they cleared the demonstrators, tearing down tents as they went.

By 5pm local time, only a small group of protesters around 100-strong remained, sitting in the street, intending to get arrested.

Among them were the leader of the Hong Kong Labor Party, Lee Cheuk-yan, and local media mogul Jimmy Lai.

Photo by Kim Moore

Police had threatened "arrest and removal action" if they didn't leave. As night fell, they began to detain the protesters one by one, including the billionaire Lai, Chow and Leung Kwok-hung, a left-wing member of Hong Kong's legislative council.

Crane trucks were then brought in to clear away the remains of the camp, as the government put out a statement praising the "professionalism and restraint of the police to restore order and protect the rights of the public to use the road."

Chow told VICE News he was "still hopeful and optimistic" despite the occupation coming to an end. He said: "You can see that the government has no tactics but violence to tackle the current problem."

He insisted that the movement wasn't over, and signaled that the campaign might use "lots of different tactics," including labor and tax strikes.

Photo by Kim Moore

The occupation had spawned similar camps across Hong Kong, most notably one in Mong Kok on the Kowloon Peninsula. That site was cleared late last month by riot police using CS spray, after weeks of battles between protesters and security forces for the arterial Nathan Road.

The political crisis has been the biggest challenge to Chinese rule in the former British colony since it was handed over to Beijing as a Special Administrative Region in 1997.

The city's current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has become something of a lightning rod for discontent, and faced repeated calls to resign from protesters, who at their peak numbered around 100,000. But Beijing has backed Leung throughout, with neither the Chinese nor Hong Kong governments offering any kind of concession.

Follow James Legge on Twitter: @James_Legge

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