HONG KONG — Bailiffs on Thursday started dismantling barricades at Hong Kong's main protest site after more than two months of rallies that demonstrators say have redefined the city's relationship with Beijing.
Police said they were preparing to move in after the bailiffs to clear the rest of the Admiralty protest camp, but hundreds of protesters remained gathered, vowing the struggle would go on in some form.
"This is not the end of the movement. The political awakening amongst the young is irreversible and we will fight on," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said.
The protesters' encampment of tents, supply stations and art installations sprawls along a kilometre stretch of multi-lane highway through the heart of the business district. The bailiffs were serving court orders taken out by companies frustrated at the long-running disruption.
Many protesters had packed up their tents overnight or early on Thursday morning, but some said they were willing to stand their ground.
The Admiralty site has been the focal point of the protest movement since rallies erupted in September, after China's authorities insisted that candidates in Hong Kong's 2017 leadership election will have to be vetted by a loyalist committee.
Some in Admiralty expressed a sense of failure, after the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing refused to give any concessions on political reform, but said that the occupation had changed Hong Kong for good.
"I feel sad because we haven't achieved our mission, but I think there can be progress in the future," said 23-year-old welfare worker Dubi.
"I think it's the start of something long-term."
Authorities have said they will take "resolute action" against those who resist the clearance which they say is being carried out to restore public order and reopen roads to traffic.
Student protest leaders have encouraged demonstrators to stay at the Admiralty site to face police but have urged non-violence.
"At this time, we will not fight back and will resist passively so members of the public know that this group of people are participants of civil disobedience. They respect the rule of law and they are not a mob," student leader Alex Chow, of the Hong Kong Federation of Students said at the site on Thursday.
There are fears that radical splinter groups will dig in for a final stand, following violent clashes outside government headquarters at the end of last month.
But many said they did not want a confrontation.
"I'll probably leave just before the action because my job would be difficult if my name was recorded by police," said a 29-year-old surnamed Chow who works for a civil society group.
At their height, the protests saw tens of thousands take to the street, but public support has waned in recent weeks.
However, thousands gathered on Wednesday night for one final mass rally at the site, chanting "We want true universal suffrage; we will fight to the end."
Student leaders and lawmakers addressed an emotional crowd while many took photos of the site before it is dismantled. — AFP