Hong Kong authorities began dismantling barricades at the main pro-democracy protest site today to clear streets occupied by students and activists for more than two months.
The pro-democracy protests in the Chinese territory have represented one of the most serious challenges to the Communist Party's authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. But even if the streets of Hong Kong are finally cleared today, protesters said the struggle for democracy would continue.
Watched by police, workers in white helmets began dismantling barricades and clearing part of the protest site that was covered by a court injunction granted earlier this week. They met no resistance from protesters.
Police have said they will finish the job later in the day and clear the entire site in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, the iconic home of the protest movement in the heart of the city, where hundreds of tents have filled a major highway for weeks beside key government buildings and on the edge of the business and financial district.
Around 10,000 people had gathered at the protest site for a final, emotional rally on Wednesday evening, and as the workers began clearing barricades Thursday, banners at the site defiantly promised: ''We'll be back'' and ''It's only the beginning.''
Some of the tents as well as some of the artwork that had enlivened the site have now been packed up, but hundreds of protesters remained at the site Thursday waiting for the police.
The demonstrators have been demanding full democracy for Hong Kong, with an open process to nominate candidates to replace Leung in elections scheduled for 2017. Beijing has mandated that the right to control the nomination process, and has refused to make any concession to the protesters.
The campaign for democracy has become known as the Umbrella Movement, after protesters sheltered behind umbrellas when police used tear gas and pepper spray at the start of the protests.
At some supply stations on the site on Thursday, protesters laid out boxes of goggles and umbrellas in case police used pepper spray or batons later in the day, Reuters reported. Police said 655 people have been arrested during the protests, and 129 officers injured, while many protesters have also been hurt, hit with batons, kicked by police or sprayed in the eyes. (See: 'We'll be back', vow Hong Kong protesters as cops set to clear site).