Dec 11, 2014 2:16 AM

Hong Kong police clear tents in main protest camp

The Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) Lines of Hong Kong police on Thursday tore down tents as they closed in on the heart of a pro-democracy protest camp spread across a busy highway as part of a final push to retake streets occupied by activists for two and a half months.

Police had earlier overseen workers acting on a court order clear barricades from the edges of the site. The students and other activists are protesting Beijing's restrictions on the first election for Hong Kong's leader.

A group of student leaders and pro-democratic lawmakers sat on the street, ready to peacefully resist police, who repeated warned that anyone refusing to leave would be arrested.

One of the student leaders, Alex Chow, rallied the crowds as the police approached, saying that their fight was not over and they would persist with civil disobedience in days to come.

The protesters reject Beijing's restrictions on the first election for the city's top leader, scheduled for 2017, but have failed to win any concessions from Hong Kong's government, and the movement's momentum has faded recently as the government stuck to its apparent strategy of waiting the protesters out.

The sprawling encampment in Hong Kong's Admiralty section, on the edge of the financial district, has been the focal point for the protesters, who have occupied the site for 75 days.

As the clear out neared, protesters chanted "I want universal suffrage" and threw pieces of paper that read "We will be back."

The police operation will be under close scrutiny with a group of about 30 academics monitoring the operation, along with the Independent Police Complaints Council and human rights groups.

On Sept. 28 police fired dozens of tear gas rounds at thousands of protesters gathering in the area angry over the prolonged detention of student leaders. The move infuriated protesters and the wider public and kick-started the student-led protest movement, which came to include two other protest sites in Hong Kong.

Over the past 2 months, police say 655 people have been arrested, and 129 officers injured. They have given no overall injury toll.

A separate court order led to the clearing of the Mong Kok protest site in late November. The operation and ensuing nighttime clashes in the gritty neighborhood's surrounding streets resulted in about 160 arrests.

On the eve of the action to clear the Admiralty area, thousands of protesters and supporters streamed into the site for a last night of what's come to be known as the "Umbrella Movement," named for the pro-democracy protesters' preferred method of deflecting police pepper spray.

Two student groups that played key roles in organizing the protests had called for supporters to stay until the last moment, but not to resist authorities.

"If the government wants to use police to clear the site, don't forget, the clearance can't resolve political conflicts, it can't resolve society's dilemma," said Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old head of the Scholarism group and the pro-democracy movement's most prominent leader.

The sprawling encampment in Hong Kong's Admiralty neighborhood, on the edge of the financial district, has become the symbolic nucleus of the protest movement.


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