POLICE removed some barricades at the Admiralty and Mong Kok protest sites on Monday morning, saying the operation was to ease traffic and not to clear out the sites where a pro-democracy movement is now into its 16th day.
The police said they cleared the barricades on Harcourt Road in the main protest site of Admiralty to open up a route to the nearby Tamar government offices.
Using a megaphone, they also said they were "just reclaiming part of government equipment", referring to the barricades.
Scores of student protesters sat down in a line at Harcourt Road facing off with a cordon of police officers who were not wearing riot gear. While some tried to re-erect the barricades, the atmosphere seemed calm in the area.
Across the harbour in Mong Kok, police also removed barricades at the junction of Argyle Street and Shanghai Street, enabling five lanes to reopen to traffic, according to local broadcaster RTHK. Protesters had earlier allowed the junction of Argyle and Portland Street to reopen.
In a statement, the police said the operation began at 5.30am on Monday to "relieve the traffic congestions on Monday working day, and reduce the chances of occurrence of traffic accidents."
It stressed that the police did not carry out clearance.
The locations where barriers were removed included the vicinity of Des Voeux Road Central and Chater Road in Central, and the vicinity of Argyle Street and Shanghai Street in Mong Kok.
The latest development came after the protesters sought to negotiate late on Sunday night, saying that if the government reopens the Civic Square in the forecourt of the Central Government Office complex for the public to gather by Tuesday 5pm, they are willing to vacate Queensway, a major road in Admiralty.
Civic Square used to be fully open to the public in the past, but was closed for public assembly use in July after protesters tried to storm the Legislative Council building.
The Occupy Central movement along main roads in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causebay entered its 16th day on Monday. From its peak of tens of thousands of protesters, the crowd size has dwindled significantly. Although the rallies on recent evenings had drawn several thousands of people, only dozens camped out overnight in tents pitched on the roads.
On Sunday, Chief Executive Officer Leung Chun Ying characterised the protests as a "mass movement that had spiralled out of control" and sought to firmly close the door on any hopes that the protesters' demands could be met.
The protesters want Beijing to rescind its Aug 31 rules on the chief executive election, public nomination for the position, and Mr Leung's resignation. There is "almost zero chance" that these can be met, said Mr Leung.
Anti-Occupy protesters meanwhile issued their own ultimatum, with the pro-government Blue Ribbon Movement threatening to surround the protest sites unless authorities dismantle them by Tuesday, according to wire agency AFP.
The Blue Ribbon Movement was founded by parent Leticia Lee to support Hong Kong's police after the protest movement erupted, with the colour a nod to the blue of officers' uniforms. A long-time member of the Parents Association, Ms Lee is known for her active lobbying actions in support of the establishment.
Separately, some 30 members of a construction union marched to the site in Admiralty on Sunday afternoon, calling on the students to end their protests, the South China Morning Post reported.
"We respect your demands because many of our children are among the protesters," said Mr Chow Luen Kiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union.
"But it's been 15 days. You've done enough and the whole world has known your demands. So please leave and let your parents resume work so they can raise you."
The union is a union member of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Union, a labour and political force in Hong Kong.