HK police clear central protest site, arrest 209

By Catherine Wong Tsoi-lai Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-12 1:03:01

Local govt asks protesters not to re-occupy streets

Workers dismantle barricades built by demonstrators at the main protest site in the Admiralty district in Hong Kong on Thursday. The protesters have occupied multiple sites for more than two months in a bid to seek changes to the city's plan to elect its next chief executive in 2017. Photo: AFP

Hong Kong authorities arrested 209 protesters on Thursday  as they cleared the main Occupy protest site in Admiralty district near the region's government headquarters, marking an end to the more than two months of street protests that have paralyzed parts of the major Asian financial hub.

Some of those arrested included student leaders, lawmakers and the Apple Daily boss.

Law has finally been restored with the final clearance and arrests, said observers. But challenges remain in the post-Occupy era, as authorities in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) must now act to reconcile factions in Hong Kong society to push forward with political reform.

The clearance began Thursday morning at around 10:30 am, when workers wearing hard hats began removing the barricades protesters had placed in Admiralty, home to government buildings and next to the Central business area.

The morning action was followed by a comprehensive clearance taken over by police in the afternoon. The clearance operation proceeded without any major confrontations. Police officers armed with shields and helmets advanced down roads and took down obstacles, drawing large crowds of onlookers and media who turned out at the site to witness the last moments.

"The process has been smooth, although it took longer than expected due to the presence of too many reporters and some of the intersections were difficult to clear," Paul Tse Wai-chun, a lawmaker and solicitor who represents a bus firm that sought the injunction to have the roads cleared, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Student leaders had pledged to remain at the site until they were arrested.

Police arrested Hong Kong Federation of Students representatives Alex Chow Yung-kang, lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Kenneth Chan Ka-lok. Apple Daily boss Jimmy Lai was also arrested. Lai resigned as the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper that had been advocating protests throughout the Occupy campaign.

As of 10:15 pm, police said they had made 209 arrests. The Hong Kong government later called on protesters to respect the rule of law and not to reoccupy the streets.

"To restore law and order, police must arrest and press charges against the protesters to tell society that there will be legal consequences for those who participate in illegal protests," Stanley Ng Chau-pei, spokesman of the anti-Occupy group Alliance for Peace and Democracy, told the Global Times Thursday.

In a written statement released Thursday evening, the SAR government expressed appreciation for the police's restraint and professionalism in restoring traffic and social order, and urged protesters not to re-occupy the roads.

Protest leader Alex Chow Yung-kang, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said earlier Thursday they will continue to press their demands by disrupting the upcoming second round of political consultation, and they will seek to pressure government officials during public meetings to discuss electoral reforms.

The 75-day protest has also caused long-term impact on the region, said Gary Ching, former vice chairman of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

"The essence of law is to respect and observe it, but the protesters' actions have confused the public into thinking they can commit all kinds of crime, and it will all be fine if they just surrender to the police after their wrongdoing," Ching told the Global Times on Thursday.

The protest leaders will become more cautious in choosing their tactics in the future, said lawmaker Tse, as the two-month protests have proved futile in achieving their goals, while the public has grown more impatient with disruptions to traffic and business. 

The second round of consultations on Hong Kong's electoral reform will start soon after the Occupy protests ends, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said previously.

The final clearance at Admiralty comes more than two weeks after authorities removed barricades from a protest site in the working-class district of Mong Kok, sparking several nights of running battles between demonstrators and police. A handful of protesters remain in the shopping district of Causeway Bay.

The demonstration first broke out on September 28 when thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand wider representation in the nominations for the city's first chief executive election in 2017.

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