HONG KONG - Hong Kong's student protest leaders said Wednesday that they would "stay to the end" as police prepared to swoop on the city's main rally site after more than two months of mass pro-democracy demonstrations.
Setting up a final showdown with the authorities, pro-reform lawmakers said that they would join student protesters Thursday morning when police will clear the camp in Admiralty, central Hong Kong, which has been at the heart of the movement for fully free leadership elections.
The tent city, complete with supply stations and art installations, is entrenched along a kilometre of a multi-lane highway running through the semi-autonomous Chinese city's business district.
Although numbers have dwindled from tens of thousands, there are hundreds of tents and protesters still gather most evenings.
Student leaders were grim-faced as they spoke at the rally site.
"We have chosen to stay to face it (the clearance)," said Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
"If you talk about a civil disobedience movement, it's a movement of disobedience until the end. Staying shows we do not give in to the government." Joshua Wong, the teenage face of the movement who ended a four-day hunger strike Saturday, added: "Let everyone get arrested to show we are willing to bear the responsibility of civil disobedience." Lawmakers and Occupy Central leaders have encouraged the students to retreat in the wake of violent clashes, but legislators said they would join the students Thursday in a united front.
"We would like to show the international community that most Hong Kongers are willing to and will insist on the peaceful, rational and non-violent way in fighting for a democratic system for ourselves and the next generation... and pay the price," said the Democratic Party's Emily Lau.
Beijing says that candidates in the leadership elections in 2017 will have to be vetted by a loyalist committee, in what protesters have dismissed as "fake democracy".
Authorities have said they will take "resolute action" against those who resist the clearance, which they say is being carried out to open roads and restore public order.
Student leaders urged protesters not to attack the police.
'Let them carry me away'
But while the occupation is in its final throes, new art around the Admiralty site - a creative hub during the protests - made clear that the movement is not over.
"Sweeping away the barricades cannot sweep away public opinion. The body is down but the determination is not. We will be back," read one poster, showing a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film 'Terminator'.
Another "We will be back" poster was draped across the road and the slogan was created in gold balloons near the main speakers' stage.
In trademark humour for the occupied site, an alien doll wearing goggles and a yellow cape was tied to a sign-post with a shield that read: "Whoever clears me out will be afflicted with stubborn disease until death." Bailiffs will start implementing injunction orders from 9:00 am (0100 GMT) Thursday to clear parts of the site before police dismantle the rest, authorities have said, as public support for the road blockages has waned as the weeks have worn on.
Protesters told of their sadness at the lack of political concessions from Hong Kong or Beijing, who branded the demonstrations illegal.
"To be honest, we failed this time. Having slept on the street for two months, we haven't achieved anything," said 28-year-old theatre worker Karen Ho. "But at least we saw how ugly and ridiculous our government can be." Others said they were still determined to prove their point.
"I will sit here and let them carry me away," said Lucas Wong, 23, a computer repair worker.
"We need to show police we are here, not just tents," he said, adding that he would bring a helmet and shield to defend himself.
There are fears that radical splinter groups will dig in for a final stand after violent clashes outside government headquarters at the end of last month.
But protester Vincent Man, 26, said he just wanted to stay safe.
"I know that some people will resist the police - but I would rather not get injured and arrested."