Oct 14, 2014 4:51 AM

Hong Kong police chip away at protest zones

The Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) Hong Kong police cleared more barricades Tuesday from pro-democracy protest zones that have choked off traffic in key business districts for more than two weeks, signaling authorities' growing impatience with the student-led activists.

Appearing to use a strategy of gradually chipping away at the three main protest zones, hundreds of police fanned out in the early hours to take down barriers that the protesters had erected overnight. Officers used electric saws and bolt cutters to take down bamboo scaffolding built in the Admiralty area after a mob of masked men stormed some of the barricades the day before.

A few dozen protesters who sat guarding one entrance to the main occupied zone after the police came were exhausted but defiant.

"I'm feeling a bit lost. There is no dialogue with the government, and the truth is we are affecting people's lives. But we can't bear to leave without getting any results," said Mark Li, a 21-year-old college student who sat at the front facing a line of policemen.

Li and his friends said they were not afraid of a crackdown but were weary of police tactics to weaken their movement.

"I just hope we can keep fighting in the long term. It won't end so quickly it's just a stalemate at the moment," said Jason Wong, 19.

Police used sledgehammers to smash concrete used by protesters to try to secure the barriers to the road. They dismantled barriers of plywood, trash cans, wooden pallets and other objects blocking the road, which runs parallel to a major highway that has become the protesters' main camp.

Before dawn, when protesters' numbers are lowest, police also removed metal barricades from another protest camp on a road in the nearby Causeway Bay shopping area to free up a lane for traffic.

By gradually reducing the protest areas from the edges and acting during the quiet morning hours, the police appear to want to avoid the sort of combative confrontation using tear gas and pepper spray that backfired two weeks ago, when the street protests started.

Police will continue to take down barriers set up by protesters, spokesman Steve Hui said. He said officers arrested 23 men in Monday's violent clashes, when masked men and taxi drivers led a crowd of several hundred who tried to charge the protest zone.

The protesters want China's government to drop plans for a pro-Beijing committee to screen candidates in the territory's first direct elections, promised for 2017. They also demand that Hong Kong's deeply unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, resign.

Proposed talks between the two sides last Friday were called off by the city government, which said a constructive outcome was unlikely given their sharp differences.

Leung has said there is "almost zero chance" that China's central government will change its rules for the 2017 election.

The Beijing government is eager to end the protests to avoid emboldening activists and others on the mainland seen as a threat to the Communist Party's monopoly on power.

State media in mainland China downplayed the crisis on Tuesday. In its noon report, state broadcaster CCTV carried images of barricades being dismantled and street interviews with residents cheering the reopening of roads, complaining about the loss of business, and chiding the students for being naive and lacking life experience.

At the main protest zone outside Hong Kong's government headquarters, a tent city has sprung up as dozens of demonstrators camp out to defend the highway they have taken over. Many said they will not budge.

"No one knows how long this will last. I'm not afraid of the police and I will fight to the end," said Alan Yip, 24, who quit his job to join the movement. "If they come in here I will sit down and let them take me away."


Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.


Follow Kelvin Chan on Twitter at twitter.com/chanman


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