Oct 14, 2014 2:26 AM

Hong Kong police chip away to reduce protest zones

The Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) For a second day, Hong Kong police cleared 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.

Dozens of police used electric saws and bolt cutters to dismantle barriers made of bamboo and other materials that the protesters had erected overnight in the Admiralty area after a few dozen masked men stormed some of the barricades the day before.

The strategy seems to be part of authorities' attempts to gradually chip away at the three main protest zones, which have disrupted traffic and raised the ire of local residents and businesses.

Police used sledgehammers to smash concrete used by protesters to try to secure the barriers to the road. They also dismantled makeshift 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.

Earlier, before dawn, when protester 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.

The government said they took action "to ensure public safety and maintain public order."

The protesters, who have been occupying some key parts of the city since Sept. 28, want the 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.

An officer negotiated with a protester who said he had an injured leg to leave his tent, the last one in the area being cleared. The bamboo and tents were scooped up into the back of a dump truck, while the metal barricades and other safety barriers were piled into trucks and vans.

The moves came a day after two dozen men wearing surgical masks to hide their faces tore at the metal barricades that demonstrators had put up in the Admiralty area and scuffled with the activists and police. An angry crowd gathered to watch, punching their fists in the air and chanting, "Open the road!"

After things settled down, the protesters mostly university students constructed barriers of bamboo and other materials to protect their area where they were camped out. They said they got some advice on how to build them from nearby construction workers.

In mainland China, state media played down the crisis in Hong Kong.

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.


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


Follow Kelvin Chan at twitter.com/chanman


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