209 detained as HK police clear main protest site

209 detained as HK police clear main protest site
A man walks past a message written on an overpass by pro-democracy protesters at the financial Central district in Hong Kong December 10, 2014. Bands of determined protesters and hundreds of wet tents pitched near Hong Kong government headquarters were all that remained on Wednesday of months' long pro-democracy protests in the final hours before police clear the main protest site.

It is the end of the road for Hong Kong's Occupy protesters and their supporters, with 209 detained as the main protest site in Admiralty was dismantled.

But the journey to fight for greater democracy will continue, they vowed. "We will be back!" they chanted, as they were led away by the police.

Those nabbed yesterday include student leader Alex Chow and prominent supporters such as veteran activist Martin Lee and Mr Jimmy Lai, who stepped down as Apple Daily's publisher after his arrest.

Scholarism leader Joshua Wong was not present, saying he cannot be arrested again while out on bail from his previous arrest in Mong Kok.

In the evening, lorry cranes moved in to scoop up the abandoned tents, banners and wooden pallets before Harcourt Road, a six-lane thoroughfare, was reopened to traffic - for the first time in almost 11 weeks.

The dismantling of the Admiralty protest site effectively signals the end of the 75-day-long Occupy movement.

It maintains just a minimal presence at the third and final site in Causeway Bay, which is likely to be removed today. A protest site in Mong Kok was dismantled two weeks ago.

It was in Admiralty, next to the government headquarters along Harcourt Road in the business district, that protesters first converged, and then clashed with the police on Sept 28.

While the initial crowd was spurred by Beijing's decision to set strict rules on how Hong Kongers can elect their chief executive in 2017, the use of pepper spray and tear gas by the police further galvanised hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

Over the subsequent days, the student-led campaign saw its fortunes ebb and flow.

After an initial euphoria from massive public support, it struggled with internal fissures over a viable exit strategy. Its demands, including public nomination of candidates for the chief executive post, have not been met. A public increasingly fed up with the road blockades withdrew its support.

But even with the roads finally cleared, Beijing and the Hong Kong government are no victors either, having to grapple with the ramifications of the movement - the city's biggest political crisis since the 1997 handover.

For one thing, it has politicised a new generation of Hong Kongers, who have made it clear that their demands for unfettered rights to choose their leader will not go away.

Said social worker K.C. Lau, 24: "I have recorded many stories shared by other protesters and I think I will write a magazine, focusing on how ordinary Hong Kongers fight for democracy.

"The fire has been lit and we should not let it burn down. It is our responsibility to keep it going."

Going ahead, the government will have to build consensus on constitutional reform. The next stage is a second round of public consultation. The government then needs to table a proposal for voting in the legislature. Despite fears that yesterday's clearance operation could see violent skirmishes between protesters and police, it was largely peacefully.

In the morning, bailiffs removed barricades from sections of the road covered under a court injunction applied for by a bus company. The police then gave repeated warnings that they were moving in to the rest of the site.

While most protesters left, a core group remained, sitting in and interlocking their arms. They did not resist when police removed them forcibly, with some walking and others being carried to waiting police vans. There was no sight of the "radical groups" inciting violence which the police warned about earlier.

Overnight arrests of a couple of members of groups such as the League of Social Democrats, on suspicion of unlawful assembly, could have cast a chilling effect. A government statement last night said that the operation was conducted "smoothly in general".

This article was first published on December 12, 2014.
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