HONG KONG – Police cleared a pro-democracy protest camp in the city's Mong Kok district, in an operation that began early Friday.
Hundreds of officers launched a surprise raid at around 5 a.m. local time Friday (5 p.m. EDT Thursday). Police armed with batons and riot shields surrounded the 100-strong protest camp and announced through a bullhorn that demonstrators had 15 minutes to vacate the site before it was cleared.
The camp, at the intersection of the busy Nathan Road and Argyle Streets, had consisted of jerry-rigged tents and improvised barricades, all of which officers proceeded to clear. Demonstrators reportedly did not resist the police action, and officers did not use force against protesters.
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“They told us to go, and we knew they meant it. We picked up our stuff and went,” said Shadow Lau, 20, in a discussion with the Wall Street Journal. “We were here for like half a month,” she said. “We got used to life on the street. It’s sad to see it go down like this but we aren’t surprised.”
Barry Smith, a police chief superintendent at the scene, told Reuters that no arrests were made, and described the operation as "fairly peaceful." About 800 officers were involved, he added.
"They've been occupying this whole area now for almost three weeks and so we decided it's time to give the public the right of way, to get the roads back and get access to pedestrians," Smith said.
Pictures on social media show that the road that the camp had primarily occupied was partially opened to traffic, for the first time in over two weeks. Residents reportedly cheered as vehicles began to resume some kind of normal activity in the area.
Though the barricades and tents have been removed, police told protesters they would be allowed to remain at the site. Police Superintendent Steven Tate told reporters that there were “no plans to move” protesters, and that they would be allowed to stay at the site.
Early Friday, the displaced protesters have staged a sit-in on the southbound lane of Nathan Road, closing it to traffic. There were reports on social media of limited confrontations between protesters and residents in the area, but no reports of violence.
Police have been gradually chipping away at the barricades erected by protesters in recent days, in a bid to reopen some roads that had been closed by the protests. Some roads in the Central district reopened yesterday, and earlier in the week, increased, but still limited services resumed on the city's tram system, which had been almost entirely closed for over a week.
The Mong Kok camp, located across the harbor from the main protest site on Hong Kong Island, was one of the two smaller protest camps that sprang up around the city two weeks ago, the other located in the Causeway Bay district, in addition to the main protest site outside government headquarters in Admiralty.
Hong Kong's leader, Leung Chun-ying, agreed to talks with student protesters Thursday in a bid to end the almost three-week-long protests, which aim to have universal suffrage for the 2017 election in the city, without political screening of candidates from China.