HONG KONG - The original founders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Occupy movement surrendered to police Wednesday in a symbolic move as they seek to take the protests off the streets after more than two months of rallies punctuated by violence.
Dozens of supporters carrying yellow umbrellas, which have become a symbol of the movement, and shouting "I want true democracy without fear" surrounded the trio as they turned themselves in at a central police station.
However Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming quickly emerged from the station, saying they had not been arrested despite admitting to "participating in unauthorised assembly".
"We have not been arrested so we are allowed to leave with no restriction on our liberty," said Tai.
"I don't think the matter will be resolved on this occasion, later we may be arrested, even prosecuted for more serious offences. I think we still have to wait and see," he added.
The three had been joined by outspoken 82-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, who also gave himself up.
The former head of the territory's Catholic Church is a prominent pro-democracy supporter and critic of mainland China.
Supporters waiting outside the police station also queued up to fill out forms turning themselves in.
While there was no specific warrant out for the founders' arrest, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have consistently slammed the protests as illegal.
Tai said the Occupy movement would now take a different approach to promoting its cause, including through education and a new social charter.
China's communist authorities insist that candidates for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which the protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
Protesters who have blocked three major intersections since late September to demand free leadership elections in the semi-autonomous city said that they cannot leave until their demands have been met.
'Pain for justice'
The Occupy "surrender" came after violent clashes between protesters and police outside the government headquarters left dozens injured late Sunday.
Announcing the move Tuesday, Tai said it was time for protesters to leave "this dangerous place" and take the pro-democracy movement into a different phase.
"As we prepare to surrender, we three urge the students to retreat -- to put down deep roots in the community and transform the movement," he said.
Anti-Occupy protesters cordoned off behind metal barricades outside the police station Wednesday unleashed expletives and held up placards of the three men in striped jail uniforms.
"Support the government to enforce the law," they shouted, and "Eat s......".
Around 40 supporters queued up at booths set up by Occupy to turn themselves in, filling out forms with their personal details and admitting they had broken the law.
They plan to hand the forms in as they give themselves up.
"This is for the fortune of the next generation," said secondary school teacher April Fan, 55.
Fan, who has two children, said she had been regularly attending pro-democracy rallies.
"It's definitely worth it. My family supports me too."
Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was also outside the police station but said he was lending his support, not turning himself in.
Despite the Occupy call to retreat, student protesters on hunger strike vowed they would continue "suffering pain for justice" earlier Wednesday.
Teenage protest leader Joshua Wong and two fellow students, who went on hunger strike late Monday, read out an emotional letter to the city's leader Leung Chun-ying from their tent outside government headquarters.
"We believe we are doing better by suffering pain for justice than you are by having big meals," they said.
"Please don't ask us to avoid the pain of a hunger strike. Please first ease the agony of suppression and the lack of freedom (suffered) by Hong Kong people."
They renewed their call for dialogue with the government over political reform.
"They (the government) have brought society step-by-step towards the edge,"18-year-old Wong said.