Police say they plan to clear the main pro-democracy protest camp Thursday
"I'll let them arrest me if it comes to that," one demonstrator tells CNN
Student leaders urge protesters to remain peaceful
The encampment has blocked a multilane highway for more than two months
More than two months of pro-democracy protests that transformed the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district could be coming to an abrupt end this week.
Police have announced that they plan Thursday to clear the main protest camp, which sprawls along a multi-lane highway next to the city’s government headquarters.
Protest leaders say they don’t intend to put up a fight, but it remains unclear if other factions in the decentralized movement will resist the police action.
Public support for the student-led protests swelled in late September after police used tear gas and other tough tactics in a botched attempt to disperse demonstrators.
The Umbrella Movement, as the demonstrations became known, made headlines around the world, prompting speculation about how the Chinese government, which has ultimate control over Hong Kong, would react.
Losing public support
The protesters have held onto a big stretch of highway in the city’s Admiralty district since then, populating it with rows of colorful tents, outdoor classrooms and art installations.
But while support remains for the demonstrators’ cause – a call for Hong Kong to be able to choose its next leader from an open field of candidates – enthusiasm for their methods has faded.
In a poll in November, just 13% of Hong Kongers surveyed said the street occupations should continue. Divisions deepened between different groups of demonstrators last week after a failed attempt to surround the government headquarters led to clashes with police.
The Chinese government has steadfastly rejected the protesters’ demands, calling the movement illegal and letting Hong Kong authorities deal with the situation on the ground.
Police and bailiffs to move in
Police are now taking advantage of a court injunction requested by a bus company that orders the clearing of some of the highways blocked by the protest camp.
“The illegal road occupations have lasted for more than two months, and the daily lives and livelihoods of the general public have been seriously affected,” Assistant Police Commissioner Cheung Tak-keung said Tuesday.
He said police would on Thursday assist bailiffs in clearing the areas covered by the court order and would then move to reopen the other blocked roads. They will also remove the much smaller protest camp in the shopping district of Causeway Bay “at an appropriate time,” he said.
The police plan appears to spell the end of the street protests. Authorities dismantled the other key encampment, in the working-class district of Mong Kok, last month.
‘The end of this phase’
Leaders of the student groups that have spearheaded the demonstrations said they would remain at the Admiralty protest site but wouldn’t physically resist the police.
“We will sit outside the injunction area. We will stay true to the spirit of civil disobedience – remain peaceful and bear the legal consequences of our action,” said Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
Their final sit-in would “mark the end of this phase of the occupation,” Chow said Tuesday, according to the South China Morning Post, a local newspaper.
Joshua Wong, the student figure who has become the face of the protest movement, has also urged protesters to remain peaceful.
Wong, a leader of the student group Scholarism, abandoned a hunger strike at the weekend that was aimed at getting the Hong Kong government to hold talks with protesters.
‘I’ll let them arrest me’
One protester at the site, Jerry Lam, said Wednesday that he planned to stay there until the police came.
“I’ll let them arrest me if it comes to that, and I think everyone here in this camp feels the same,” Lam, 24, told CNN as he folded up his tent.
But another demonstrator, Gypsy Wong, 22, said she was packing up and wouldn’t be there when the police came.
“Even if we resist, there’s no use,” she told CNN, remembering a night of clashes she witnessed earlier in the movement.
“I felt so helpless when the police were charging down upon us,” she said. “That night I cried, and I don’t want to see that again.”
Lam said that whatever happened, the clearance of the protest camp wouldn’t erase “the people’s spirit.”
“Before the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong people didn’t really pay attention to politics. But now, everyone cares,” he said. “Our generation will pass this story onto the next generation, and they’ll know what we did.”
CNN’s Wilfred Chan and Vivian Kam contributed to this report.