HONG Kong police tore down barricades, dismantled tents and arrested protesters at the last of three pro-democracy protest camps yesterday, ending demonstrations that had blocked traffic in the city’s streets for nearly three months.
A police negotiator gave the 17 protesters one last chance to leave voluntarily from a short stretch of road in Causeway Bay yesterday before officers started taking them away one by one to a waiting bus.
The protesters, including senior citizens and pro-democracy lawmaker Kenneth Chan, offered no resistance. Earlier, they had called on Hong Kong’s unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to step down. They chanted “We will be back”, while nearby supporters shouted encouragement. By midday, the road was again open to traffic.
The police operation came after authorities had shut down the protesters’ main camp near the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district last Thursday and arrested 249 people who refused to leave.
One last pocket of protesters who camped out in a courtyard beneath the city’s legislature, near the main site, left voluntarily yesterday afternoon. Another camp, in the Mong Kok district, was shut down late last month.
The Causeway Bay protesters had managed to cling on for 79 days but, after the other two sites were cleared, they too became resigned to being removed. Many had already taken away tents, supplies and belongings before the police moved in.
“With the clean-up completed in the Causeway Bay occupied area, the illegal occupation of Hong Kong over the past two months has come to an end,” said Mr Leung, adding that tourism, retail, convention and other industries had suffered “very big” economic losses.
The student-led movement was protesting against Beijing’s plan to screen candidates in the first-ever elections for a Hong Kong premier, but failed to win significant concessions from Beijing. Known as the “Umbrella Movement” for a method of defence used against police pepper spray, the protests made world headlines and polarised opinion in the Asian financial hub, but lost momentum as the government held to a strategy of waiting for them to fizzle out.
However, many say the protest movement sparked a wider political awakening in Hong Kong, especially among the young. Protest leaders vowed to keep up the civil disobedience through other methods as they seek genuine democracy.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who was on hand to observe the police operation and arrests, said the closing of the site did not mean the end of the campaign.
“In the Legislative Council, we will do our best to resist through an unco-operative campaign” by, for example, voting down budget requests and the government’s electoral reform package, Mr Cheung said. “There will be more action,” he added.
He said that even though protesters had failed to get the government to bow to their demands, they had succeeded in galvanising the city’s democracy movement.
“The duration and scale of the occupation signifies the determination and the force, the power, behind the people who ask for democracy in Hong Kong,” Mr Cheung said. “And, secondly, it’s the awakening of the young generation, which has limitless power.”
Otto Ng, 18, a student, who had been part of the main Admiralty protest site came to Causeway Bay to watch the last moments.
“It feels a bit depressed and hopeless but, at the same time, this is just the beginning, it’s not the end,” he said. “It’s awakened the Hong Kong people.”