UPDATE 1-Hong Kong begins clearing main pro-democracy protest camp – Reuters
* Officials move in to begin clearing main protest sites
* “Everyone should leave immediately,” bailiff says
* Protests the most serious challenge to China since
* Student leader says this is not the end
(Recasts with clearance beginning, adds quotes)
HONG KONG, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Hong Kong authorities started
on Thursday clearing the main pro-democracy protest site that
has choked roads into the city’s most economically and
politically important district for more than two months as part
of a campaign to demand free elections.
The mainly peaceful protests in the Chinese-controlled city
have represented one of the most serious challenges to China’s
authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and bloody
crackdown in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Hundreds of police stood by in the Admiralty district next
to government buildings and the Central business area as workers
in construction hats used wire cutters to remove barricades
erected by protesters after a court injunction two days ago.
“Everyone should follow the court order and leave
immediately,” a bailiff said.
There was little initial resistance as scores of protesters
packed up pillows, blankets and other belongings from inside
their tents and prepared to leave.
“Some of my friends are prepared to stay till the last
moment, but I will walk away,” said 20-year-old student Lucy
Tang. “I will for sure miss this place. It has become my home.”
For many, it was a tearful farewell as they waved goodbye to
the site where thousands had gathered in recent weeks. Others
said the protests had injected life into the former British
colony’s democracy movement.
“The movement has been an awakening process for Hong Kong.
People who weren’t interested in politics before are now and
aren’t afraid to get arrested, especially the young people,”
said Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.
“The democracy movement is filled with energy. It’s the
passing of the torch from one generation to the other.”
“WE’LL BE BACK”
A large yellow banner bearing an umbrella and the words
“We’ll be back” was draped in the centre of the highway where
protesters have camped out, with similar messages scrawled on
roads and posted on tents.
Next to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) base in
the heart of the city, a huge orange banner erected across
barricades read: “It’s just the beginning.”
Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Alex Chow said the
clearance was not the end of the movement.
“You might have the clearance today but people will come
back on to the streets another day,” Chow said.
Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of
Beijing who has backed pro-democracy activists through his
publications and with donations, sat near the PLA base with a
“Keep Calm and Stay Peace” sign leaning against his knee.
Some 7,000 police officers were due to be deployed in two
shifts to handle the clearance, Hong Kong media reported.
People at some supply stations were bracing for possible
clashes with police, laying out boxes of goggles and umbrellas
for students to protect themselves against any use of pepper
spray or batons by police.
The Admiralty site has stood as a poignant symbol of calls
for democracy that have been spurned by the government and
Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
Hundreds of tents have dotted the eight-lane highway that
connects some of the city’s most important financial and
commercial districts since late September.
The protest site had taken on an almost village feel, with a
large study area, first aid tents and scores of supply stations
scattered across the highway.
More than 10,000 people massed at the protest site on
Wednesday evening, even as authorities warned people to stay
away, before the final clearance.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one
country, two systems” formula that gives the city more autonomy
and freedom than the mainland and a goal of universal suffrage.
The protesters are demanding open nominations in the city’s
next election for chief executive in 2017. Beijing has said it
will allow a vote in 2017, but only between pre-screened
(Additional reporting By Farah Master, Donny Kwok, Twinnie Siu,
Lizzie Ko; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait)