Hong Kong police clear a few final protesters from streets

Hong Kong police clear the final small pockets of protesters from the territory's streets

Four days after police cleared the streets around Hong Kong government headquarters of nearly all pro-democracy protesters, authorities on Monday moved against two small bands of holdouts.

In the morning, hundreds of police officers descended upon a two-block stretch of a thoroughfare in the Causeway Bay neighborhood, the last protest site on the streets, with only a dozen tents still standing.

By early afternoon, security personnel of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council ousted scores of protesters from a swathe of open space in front of the entrance that is designated by the council as a public demonstration area.  

In response, demonstrators moved 30 tents to the sidewalk adjacent to the legislature, an area that falls just outside its jurisdiction.

The clearance of the legislative premises was ordered by a handful of pro-government lawmakers entrusted with the power to oversee the council's operations. Lawmakers from the so-called pan-democratic camp decried the move as hasty.

“This undermines the constitutional independence of LegCo,” said legislator Kenneth Chan before he sat down in the road in the Causeway Bay protest site with a dozen other demonstrators, awaiting officers to move in and make arrests. “LegCo is a place for people to express their opinions politically.” 

Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule 17 years ago under a framework known as “one country, two systems.” The territory is governed under a mini-constitution called the Basic Law.

In August, the standing committee of China’s National People's Congress laid down a more restrictive than expected framework for the 2017 election of the territory’s chief executive, in effect limiting the choice of candidates to only two or three approved by Beijing.

After drawing massive crowds to the streets in late September and early October, the protests diminished substantially and police dismantled the last major protest site in the Admiralty area last week.

Among those arrested Monday was Wang Dengyao, a retired steelworker from Beijing. Wang, 55, said he had participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement and had been jailed for six months for his involvement.

Wang’s story has sparked the attention of the local media. He said Monday that he hesitated to join the Hong Kong protests for weeks but eventually made his way to the semiautonomous territory in southern China last week.

He arrived in time to camp out in protest central in Admiralty for two days before it was cleared out by police.

“This is my first time in Hong Kong, most likely also my last. Hong Kong is the last free place in China,” Wang said. “I’m going to tell Beijingers what happened here.”

Mainland visitors like Wang typically are granted short-stay permits lasting only seven days.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Monday advised citizens to “exercise their democratic rights under the rule of law.”

Student leaders of the pro-democracy movement vowed to galvanize the public for another wave of civil disobedience actions early next year, when local legislators must decide on whether to endorse the Beijing-dictated electoral framework.

Before then, local courts will take up the cases of those arrested during the protests on charges including unlawful assembly and contempt of court order.

Police Commissioner Andy Tsang said Monday he expects to bring swift justice to the 955 protesters arrested. Tsang said that in total, 130 officers were injured and officers assisted 221 protesters in getting treated for their injuries. Countless other injured protesters were tended to by volunteer medics.

Seven officers have been arrested for allegedly punching a protester in their custody. The department also received 137 complaints concerning dereliction of duty and abuse of power.

Law is a special correspondent. 

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