More than 200 arrested as HK police dismantle main rally site

More than 200 arrested as HK police dismantle main rally site
A policeman clashing with pro-democracy protesters in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Dec 1. The highly respected Hong Kong police force has lost some of the public’s trust and support as a result of actions taken during the last 11 weeks of demonstrations.

HONG KONG - Hong Kong police dismantled the city's main pro-democracy protest site on Thursday (Dec 11), clearing tents and barricades after more than two months of rallies and arresting more than 200 demonstrators, who vowed their struggle lives on.

Hundreds of police moved in from all sides of the Admiralty camp in the heart of the business district sweeping away shelters and supply stands before swooping on a core group at the centre of the site, including student leaders and lawmakers.

As police cleared the last handful of protesters late Thursday, parts of the site reopened to traffic for the first time since September. The dozens making a last stand were the remnants of what once numbered tens of thousands of people at the height of the protest movement, before public support waned.

The call for free leadership elections has underpinned the demonstrations, and protesters have vowed the clearance operation will not end a campaign they say has redefined the city's vexed relationship with Beijing.

Some were carried by groups of four officers while others were led off on foot. Those who remained lay on the road shouting, "We are peaceful", "We will not resist" and "I want true democracy".

In all, 209 people were arrested for "unlawful assembly and obstructing police in the execution of their duties", police assistant commissioner Cheung Tak-keung told reporters in a briefing late Thursday. Protest group Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) said that nine of its members had been arrested.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai, a fierce critic of Beijing, and veteran campaigner Martin Lee were among those led away - Lee holding up a victory salute to reporters. Singer Denise Ho shouted "Civil disobedience without fear," as she walked away with officers while lawmaker Claudia Mo sang "We will overcome" and shouted "We will be back" through a megaphone before being escorted off.

Student leaders Nathan Law and Eason Chung were also taken away by police, alongside ordinary protesters including an elderly man in a wheelchair.

"This is not the end of the movement. The political awakening amongst the young is irreversible and we will fight on," Mo told AFP earlier Thursday. Lee added: "In the heart of every student who has participated in this movement there is now a fire burning, a fire for democracy. This fire cannot be extinguished by an iron fist."

Earlier in the day, police had announced a "lockdown" after a 30-minute window allowing protesters to voluntarily leave the site - an encampment of tents, supply stations and art installations sprawling along a kilometre of a multi-lane highway through the Admiralty district. Some managed to leave after the deadline, but were asked to give their identity details to police.

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