HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s dwindling number of pro-democracy protesters vowed Wednesday to stay until the last minute before authorities clear them off a highway where they’ve been camped out for more than two months.
Dozens of activists and hundreds of tents remained on the normally busy thoroughfare outside of the specially administered Chinese city’s government headquarters less than a day before court workers assisted by police are scheduled to sweep them out.
Many other supporters, as well as tourists and office workers, visited the site for one final photo opportunity as a reminder of what’s come to be known as the “Umbrella Movement,” after the protesters’ preferred method of deflecting police pepper spray.
The sprawling encampment in Hong Kong’s Admiralty section, on the edge of the financial district, has become the symbolic nucleus of the protest movement, now in its 74th day.
On Sept. 28, thousands of protesters angry over the prolonged detention of key student leaders swarmed onto the road to confront police, who fired dozens of tear gas rounds in a bid to disperse them. But that only stoked further public anger and kick-started the movement, which came to include two other protest sites.
The student-led protesters reject Beijing’s restrictions on the first election for the city’s top leader, scheduled for 2017, but have failed to win any concessions from Hong Kong’s government.
“When they come tomorrow, I feel it will be such a pity,” said Pang Tsz-kwan, a 35-year-old clerk. “We’ve stayed for such a long time in this place that I’ve come to feel deep affection for it and I’m unwilling to leave.”
“I hope to stay until the last second,” added Pang, who said he would volunteer with first-aid teams to assist anyone injured in the operation.
Hong Kong’s second-highest ranking government official stepped up pleas for protesters to leave the site. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam warned people not to heed calls by student leaders urging those who had turned out for the movement’s early stages to return to the scene.
“This is most undesirable, because once the police operation is underway, and knowing very well that there are some radical elements amongst the protesters, confrontation might become inevitable,” Lam said.
The government said the headquarters complex would shut down for the day and 3,000 staff would not need to come to work Thursday while police carry out their operation.