Students Ready For Return Of Police With Chain Saws
Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg Taxi drivers, center rear, demonstrate as police officers stand in front of a barricade on Queen’s Road in the business district of Hong Kong, China, on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014
Note: The China Daily reports that Hong Kong police will use minimal force to remove barricades and that they do not intend to remove the protesters:
Police Chief Superintendent Steve Hui Chun-tak said at a news conference that minimal force will be used to take down illegal obstacles in an aim to resume traffic and tram services.
Hui emphasized the impending operation was not to remove protesters but warned members of the public not to interfere with the police in the execution of their duties.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said authorities would avoid direct clashes with protesters as they work to dismantle unmanned road barricades on Hong Kong Island and the Mongkok neighborhood.
Student Leaders Urge People To Maintain The Protest
Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters girded themselves for an anticipated showdown with police who earlier used chain saws and sledgehammers to clear barricades from a major road in the city’s business district.
Protesters camped near the city’s main government offices in Admiralty reinforced makeshift barriers during the afternoon after their protest zone was shrunk by police.
“This is our last line of defense. We can’t afford to let the police get through,” said Issac Chung, 21, a marketing student, as metal fences were piled up. “I don’t know when the protest will end, but I will stay as long as I can.”
Student leaders urged protesters to maintain the blockades for as long as the government ignored their call for talks over China’s plans for city’s 2017 leadership election. Police said they would continue to remove barriers at protest sites including in the district of Mong Kok, north of the city’s harbor.
The clearance operation came hours after the city’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, signaled he’s losing patience with the protests that have disrupted traffic and commerce for more than two weeks. Police have ramped up efforts to open roads in the past two days at three different points in the city occupied for more than two weeks.
The student-led movement that started Sept. 26 to demand that the government in Beijing permit free elections for the city’s top post in 2017 and drop plans to vet candidates. Some protesters said the more aggressive approach by authorities followed a weekend meeting between Leung and Chinese officials across the mainland border.
“I don’t believe the protest will end soon,” said Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old leader leader of protest group Scholarism. “Outside the government headquarters, we still have more than a thousand people.”
The city’s stocks declined after an initial rally following the road clearances. The benchmark Hang Seng Index fell 0.4 percent at the close after gaining 1.2 percent earlier.
As the demonstrations wear on, more opposition to the protesters has sprung up.
“The silent majority are the people who are obeying the law and doing everything to build Hong Kong into what it is,” Susanna Lee, who runs her own real estate company, said by phone. “What they are doing is illegal. The roads belong to us.”
A coalition of truck drivers last week gave demonstrators a deadline of tomorrow to open the roads or they would tear barricades down. Two previous attempts by mobs to clear the streets have led to scuffles and ended after police pushed them back.
This morning, hundreds of officers swept away make-shift barriers of bamboo poles, wooden pallets, traffic cones and plant pots from Queensway, a major road feeding the Central district.
“Protesters reinforced illegal road blocks with cement, wood boards and bamboo poles,” Hong Kong Police Senior Superintendent Tsui Wai-Hung said minutes before the operation. “This greatly increases the odds of protesters and their opponents getting hurt if confrontations happens.”
Plain-clothed police wearing police vests spoke with demonstrators using megaphones, thanking people for remaining calm while urging them not to charge lines.
“You have occupied roads for 17 days,” one policeman said. ‘You have stripped the rights of seven million people to use the streets.’’ He urged them to join the main protest site in Admiralty, which would not be cleared.
Earlier police cleared parts of the occupied area in Causeway Bay, a popular shopping district, after reopening seven sections of roads yesterday.
The two sides have been in a standoff since the government last week canceled planned talks with the students aimed at ending the crisis, which has posed the biggest challenge to China’s rule of the city since it regained sovereignty in 1997. While the protest numbers have dwindled from a peak of as many as 200,000, according to the students, they still occupy a number of key roadways.
The protests are increasingly polarizing the city with little sign of a renewal in talks to end the impasse.
“The Hong Kong government has no intention to reopen dialogue with students,” said Alex Chow, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the protest groups. “We have to keep generating pressure on the government.”
Leung, who is resisting calls from protesters to resign, yesterday said he can’t let the street occupation last much longer. A government attempt to clear the demonstrators on Sept. 28 with tear gas and riot police failed, spurring tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in support of the protesters.
After yesterday’s skirmishes in the central business district, protesters spent the night reinforcing barricades around the main protest site in Admiralty. Those blockades were targeted by police in the clearance operation this morning.
As darkness enveloped the main protest site today, Chung Hin-man, an 18-year-old student, sat in front of a line of police on Tamar Street and said she wouldn’t resist any police efforts to clear her.
“If we use violence, the citizens will say ‘your protest isn’t peaceful, you’re violating the law,’ and they won’t support us anymore,” she said. “There’s nothing much we can do except to sit here and wait for the police to clear the protesters.”