Police cleared a pro-democracy camp at a key intersection before dawn Friday, a day after Hong Kong’s leader said he is ready to start talks with protesters but rejected in advance any major concessions.
The raid showed the quick-strike strategies of security forces seeking to regain control of the streets after three weeks of demonstrations — which began in opposition to Beijing’s rules for Hong Kong elections, but later expanded into wider challenges to China’s control over the former British colony.
Although authorities appeared to make another gain in the showdowns for streets and plazas, the protesters have faced crackdowns before and managed to regroup.
Protest leaders also said the clearance casts doubt on the government’s sincerity to engage in talks.
“If the government does not agree with the students’ position, it can rebut them during the dialogue,” said a statement from Occupy Central, one of the protest organizers. “It is unreasonable for the government to require the students to first abandon their position before engaging in dialogue.”
Hundreds of police, wearing helmets and brandishing riot shields and batons, stormed the camp in the congested Mong Kok neighborhood, across the harbor from the heart of the movement near government headquarters.
The nighttime raid came as many protesters slept in dozens of tents or under tarpaulin sheets. The protesters retreated without resisting, but later some trickled back to the site. No major force was used, according to witness statements reported by news agencies.
Traffic returned to normal after police removed the barricades, tents, shrines and umbrellas — a symbol of the protests. Police on motorbikes escorted the first civilian vehicles to pass along the road in three weeks.
It also reduces the number of protest sites that have paralyzed parts of Asia’s premiere financial center since Sept. 28.