11 December 2014
Last updated at 06:43
Hong Kong authorities have begun clearing barricades at the main protest camp, after more than two months of pro-democracy demonstrations.
The authorities had warned protesters to leave ahead of the operation, but some vowed to remain.
The number of protesters has fallen to a few hundred, from the tens of thousands who turned out in September.
No clashes have been reported but police say they will start to make arrests shortly.
Police began building up their presence for what is being widely seen as the final act in the long-running protests at the Admiralty site during the early morning.
Just after 09:00 (01:00GMT) bailiffs read out a final warning to protesters.
Early on Thursday, small groups of protesters remained at the Admiralty site
At around 10:30, workers backed by police moved in and began dismantling barricades in one section of the site, using box cutters to remove ties.
Three hours later, police gave protesters 30 minutes to leave or be arrested.
“After this half-an-hour police will lock down the occupied area and set up a police cordon area… If anyone refuses to leave police will take action to disperse or arrest,” said senior police officer Kwok Pak-chung.
The protesters want Beijing to allow free elections for the territory’s next leader in 2017. China says everyone can vote but a pro-Beijing committee will screen candidates.
At the scene: John Sudworth, BBC News
This is probably one of the most photographed evictions in global history. Hundreds of journalists and photographers have been crowding around each barricade as it is methodically taken apart by the team of white-helmeted workers employed by the bailiffs.
From one elaborately-constructed blockade I watched them pull bamboo scaffold poles, concrete blocks and a bus stop. The hand-written protest banner above it all read; It’s just the beginning.
But the mood among the few hundred or so protesters who remain in the, so far untouched, central camp is one of resignation. There may yet be pockets of resistance but this chapter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is surely coming to an end. Police say all the tents, banners and art work along this half-mile stretch of highway will be swept away by midnight tonight.
The clearance is the result of a court order obtained by a bus company which says the protests have disrupted its business.
While the order covers three portions of the Admiralty site, including the main Connaught Road area, Hong Kong police spokesman Cheung Tak-keung said officers would also clear blocked roads.
He said they would clear away barricades from a second protest site at Causeway Bay site “at an appropriate time”. About 20 people remain there, the South China Morning Post reports.
Workers in white hats started cutting into barricades as the clearance operation began
Students say the end of the occupation does not mean the end of their movement
On Wednesday crowds swelled for a rally ahead of the clearance
Student leaders have said that they will remain at the Admiralty site as long as they can but will not offer violent resistance to the operation. They also say their movement is not over.
“If the government wants to use police to clear the site, don’t forget, the clearance can’t resolve political conflicts, it can’t resolve society’s dilemma,” said Joshua Wong, leader of the Scholarism student group.
Some pro-democracy politicians have joined the students at the site and academics and a police watchdog are monitoring the clearance operation.
Some protesters, however, packed up their tents as Thursday dawned.
“I’ll probably leave just before the action because my job would be difficult if my name was recorded by police,” one 29-year-old protester told AFP news agency.
Hong Kong protests: Timeline
- 28 Sept: Occupy Central begins, as activist group brings forward its campaign after students flood the streets; police fire tear gas. Public anger brings more people out.
- Late Sep to mid October: Major rallies that swell at weekends take place at three protests sites, but numbers slowly dwindle.
- 21 Oct: Talks between student leaders and Hong Kong government go ahead – but go nowhere.
- 26 Nov: Clashes erupt as Mong Kok protest camp is cleared.
- 3 Dec: Occupy Central leaders end campaign and present themselves to police; student protests continue.
How the past two months of protests have evolved
Clashes erupted when a third protest site, at Mong Kok, was cleared last month. On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s top civil servant Carrie Lam urged students to leave the Admiralty site peacefully.
Later that night, more than 10,000 people gathered at the protest site, chanting pro-democracy slogans in what many saw as a farewell to the current demonstrations.
At their height, the protests were seen as the biggest challenge to Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover.
Rallies in late September and early October saw huge crowds on the streets. But numbers fell as weeks passed and many Hong Kong residents also spoke out against the protests because of disruption to the city.
Beijing has not moved from its position on Hong Kong’s election process, describing the demonstrations as illegal.