HONG KONG - Hong Kong police arrested pro-democracy activists and cleared most of the main protest site on Thursday, marking an end to more than two months of street demonstrations in the Chinese-controlled city, but many chanted: "We will be back".
Most activists chose to leave the Admiralty site, next to the Central business area, peacefully, despite their demands for a free vote not being met. But the overall mood remained defiant.
Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Alex Chow said: "You might have the clearance today but people will come back on to the streets another day."
Groups of up to four police arrested holdout protesters one by one, hours after workers used wire cutters to remove barricades and dismantle bamboo scaffolding.
Martin Lee, one of the founders of the main opposition Democratic Party, student leader Nathan Law, media mogul Jimmy Lai and legislators were among those arrested.
Lai said 75 days of protests would never have been enough to see the demands met.
"We are not so naive," he told CNN before he was arrested. "We know there will be many battles before we win the war."
The mainly peaceful protests 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.
Protest leaders have said they will consider other forms of civil disobedience, given Beijing's continued refusal to grant any concessions.
"Blocking government may be even more powerful than blocking roads," Benny Tai, one of the leaders of the movement, has said.
"Refusal to pay taxes, delaying rent payments ... and filibustering in the Legislative Council, along with other acts of non-cooperation, could make governing more inconvenient."
At the protest site, authorities used around 20 trucks with cranes to remove mountains of rubbish. By late evening, traffic had resumed along two lanes of the previously blocked highway.
Hundreds of police swept through other parts of Admiralty, checking tents before dragging them away along with metal barriers, plastic sheets and umbrellas, which activists had used during clashes to guard against pepper spray and baton blows.
A decapitated cardboard cutout of Chinese President Xi Jinping stood in front of a police line.
"The movement has been surreal. No one knew it could last more than two months ... in a place where time and money are most important," said protester Javis Luk, 27.