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HONG KONG – Backed by a court order, workers removed some barricades Tuesday from a Hong Kong pro-democracy protest site where activists have camped out for nearly two months in a standoff with authorities.
The workers cut plastic ties holding metal barricades together in an area outside the Citic Tower office building and then loaded them into a truck.
Student-led demonstrators, who have been protesting for greater democracy in the former British colony, did not resist. Some had already moved their tents to other parts of the protest zone ahead of the clearing operation, which was observed by dozens of court bailiffs, police officers and reporters.
The protesters oppose the Chinese government's requirement that a panel of Beijing-friendly elites screen candidates in the inaugural 2017 election for Hong Kong's top official. Chinese authorities have declared the gatherings illegal and neither the Hong Kong government nor the student leaders have shown any willingness to compromise.
Some protesters suspect that the authorities will resort to more court orders to gradually clear out the protest zones after other methods failed.
"Before they tried to use police to do it, after that they found triads. Now they're going to use bailiffs and injunctions," said protester Angelo Heung, a 34-year-old freelance art designer. "They're going to use legal principles and court orders but we still won't be afraid."
On several occasions, police took protesters by surprise as they attempted to dismantle barricades in dawn operations that backfired, drawing more people out into the streets. Groups of masked men who some suspect were members of triads, or organized crime gangs, have also clashed with protesters as they attempted to remove barricades.
The dismantling comes as options run out for the student leaders who have played a key role in organizing the street protests. Their requests to current and former Hong Kong officials to meet with senior Chinese leaders have fallen on deaf ears and an attempt by three of them to fly to Beijing last Saturday failed when their permits to enter mainland China were canceled. It's unclear what the students plan next.
In a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong released Sunday, two-thirds of respondents said protesters should leave the three sites they are occupying across the city, while 13.9 percent said they shouldn't. The survey of 1,030 people, which had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, also found nearly half thought the government should make concessions to end the impasse.
The barricade removal comes after the tower's owner, Chinese state-owned conglomerate Citic Ltd., was granted a restraining order requiring protesters to stop blocking access for cars and pedestrians to the building. The building is across the road from the Hong Kong city government headquarters, which has been encircled by the protesters.
A court also granted a separate order against part of a second protest site in Kowloon's Mong Kok district brought by taxi and minibus operators which is expected to be enforced on Wednesday. Activists are also occupying a third site in the Causeway Bay shopping district that is not affected by any court order.