Authorities started clearing barricades and tents Thursday from Hong Kong’s main protest site, where pro-democracy street occupations have captivated and disrupted the central city for 75 days.
Acting on a court order, bailiffs, police and demolition crews assembled outside Hong Kong’s government buildings, in Admiralty, and began removing barricades at roughly 10:30 a.m.
In advance of the anticipated street clearing, protesters on Wednesday night held a swan-song rally at the site and strung banners from overhead walkways that read, “We will be back!” and “It’s just the beginning.”
Leaders of the main student protest groups, Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation, have urged protesters to comply peacefully with the removal order. But it remains to be seen if all protesters will give up their hard-fought ground with no resistance.
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Some have insisted that the government make concessions before the protests end.
Students and pro-democracy activists have been protesting a decision by Beijing to screen candidates who will run in 2017 for the post of Hong Kong’s chief executive. Protesters want a system of open nominations, as opposed to candidates put forward by a committee stacked with members loyal to Beijing.
After police used tear gas on a small group of protesters on Sept. 28, thousands of sympathizers started occupying the Admiralty site, as well as two other locations in the city. The protests drew international attention, but as the weeks passed, public support waned and divisions emerged among factions of the so-called “Umbrella Movement.”
In recent weeks, court injunctions have been obtained against the street occupations, prompting bailiffs and police to act.
Although the numbers of protesters has fluctuated over the last 11 weeks, the Admiralty site has grown into a mini-city. Protesters built a large covered “study center” – with tables, chairs, lights and Wi-Fi – for students to do their homework. New protest artwork popped up daily, attracting tourists, including some from mainland China.
On Wednesday, hundreds – possibly thousands – of people turned out for a final rally. Alex Chow, a leader of the Federation of Students, told the crowd “the movement will go on in other forms of (civil) disobedience.”
Some in the crowd added sticky notes of support to the outside of a building in Admiral that became known as “Lennon’s Wall,” named after John Lennon of the Beatles. By Thursday morning, amateur archivists had taken down nearly all the notes, an attempt to save them from the garbage bins once the clearance begins.
McClatchy special correspondent Dapiran reported from Hong Kong, Leavenworth from Beijing.