Hong Kong authorities start clearing Mongkok protest site
HONG KONG (UPDATED) – Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday, November 25, began clearing a second pro-democracy protest site which has been the scene of some of the more violent clashes during nearly two months of sit-ins.
Dozens of bailiffs, backed by more than 100 police, stood guard as workers tore down makeshift barriers and tents obstructing part of a busy shopping street in the Mongkok district.
Protesters, some wearing goggles, helmets and gas masks, responded with jeers when told by police to leave the area, shouting "We want real universal suffrage!" and raising a large yellow banner with the same slogan.
"I am not going to move. I will let them arrest me," Ng Pun-tuk, a 78-year-old protester wearing a helmet, told Agence France-Presse.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve democracy. I am prepared to go to jail," said Ng, who was one of about 200 protesters present as the clearance got underway.
The Mongkok site is the second to be cleared since the high court in the semi-autonomous Chinese city granted injunctions to let authorities start clearing parts of the protest sites.
It comes as public support wanes for the demonstrators demanding free leadership elections, and as the movement's leaders are split on the next move.
"People at the scene, please leave as soon as possible in accordance with the court injunction," a police spokesman told the crowd at Mongkok, which included a scrum of journalists, before the clearance began.
The court injunction for Tuesday only covered Argyle Street. Police are expected to begin clearing a larger portion of the protest area on busy Nathan Road on Wednesday morning, reports said.
Demonstrators clashed with police in Mongkok last month after they tried to reclaim part of a protest camp which had been cleared out by authorities.
Officers used batons and pepper spray against protesters who shielded themselves with umbrellas, but were eventually forced into a partial retreat.
Still open to talks
The pro-democracy protests, which have paralyzed parts of the city, drew tens of thousands of people on some occasions initially, but the crowds have shrunk as the movement has struggled to maintain momentum.
China insists candidates for Hong Kong's 2017 leadership vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee – an arrangement which protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
Fruitless talks between protesters and senior officials a month ago have led to an impasse, with students accusing the government of failing to make any meaningful offers.
The spectacle of a small group smashing up a side entrance to Hong Kong's legislature last week has further sapped public support in a city where criminal damage is extremely rare.
A Hong Kong University poll of 513 people last week found that 83 percent of respondents wanted the road blockades to end.
"I haven't completely closed the door on negotiations with the Hong Kong Federation of Students," the city's second highest official, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, told reporters Tuesday during a trip in Beijing.
"I really hope that we could all sit down... to talk about the future of Hong Kong's political development.
"If student representatives can concretely negotiate a mechanism where they leave voluntarily, we would welcome it," Lam said.
On Tuesday last week, government workers dismantled metal barricades blocking access to a skyscraper opposite government headquarters on the edge of the sprawling main protest camp in the central district of Admiralty. – Rappler.com