HONG KONG (AFP) - A Hong Kong court notice ordering the eviction of democracy demonstrators from parts of the main protest site they have occupied for seven weeks has been published in leading newspapers, the first such public circular that empowers authorities to start clearing rally sites.
Protesters have been staging mass sit-ins on three major Hong Kong thoroughfares since September 28, demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city in 2017.
China has refused to back down on its insistence that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee, a decision critics say is designed to ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
The city's government on Tuesday said Hong Kong bailiffs and police are planning to take action at pro-democracy protest sites, with pressure building on the demonstrators to leave.
Taxi and minibus drivers, as well as the Citic Tower management at Admiralty, had obtained an injunction for the barricades to be dismantled, saying they were being affected by the protests.
A court notice ordering protesters to leave the Citic Tower protest area was published Saturday in several local dailies - a legal requirement before any official action.
"The Plaintiff will be taking steps to enforce this Order with the assistance of the Bailiffs as soon as practicable," the order said regarding the area, bordering the main Admiralty protest site.
The notice, indicative of an imminent crackdown by authorities, comes as thousands of police officers have been put on standby, according to the local media.
The city's high court on Monday authorised police to back up bailiffs tasked with clearing parts of the Mong Kong and Admiralty protest sites.
Protesters have come under huge pressure to end their resistance as the disruption caused by their roadblocks has sparked mounting public frustration.
"Civil disobedience (movements), such as (those led by) Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, inspired (others) because of their self-sacrifice, and not because they used residents' livelihoods as bargaining chip to pressure the government," Hong Kong financial secretary John Tsang wrote on his online blog Sunday.
"They should stop the occupation activities, or they will lose the moral high ground," he said.
Several protest leaders were on Saturday barred from boarding a flight to Beijing where they had hoped to deliver their demands for free elections directly to Chinese authorities.
The former British colony was handed back to China in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" principle which promises to maintain the city's social and economic systems until 2047.
But democracy activists say Hong Kong's freedoms have been steadily eroded under Chinese rule.