Hong Kong protesters remain steadfast in final hours before police clearance

Protesters and tents occupy the main road to the financial Central district in Hong Kong on Dec 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters and tents occupy the main road to the financial Central district in Hong Kong on Dec 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Bands of determined protesters and hundreds of wet tents pitched near the Hong Kong government headquarters were all that remained on Wednesday of months-long pro-democracy protests in the final hours before the police clear the main protest site. "We'll Be Back," proclaimed a large yellow banner painted by a handful of students the night before.

Police plan to clear the main protest site in Admiralty on Thursday after 21/2 months of road blockades, protests and sporadic violent scuffles in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The sprawling urban campsite that sprang up on a major highway stands as a poignant symbol of Hong Kong's stubborn and long-standing push for full democracy under Chinese Communist Party rule. "Our aim is to let the world see what we demand and most importantly, that Hong Kongers can unite together," said Mr Kenneth Kan, a protester at the site. While some packed up possessions ready to leave, others vowed to stay until the end.

The Hong Kong protests, which involved more than 100,000 at their peak, are the most tenacious street demonstrations on Chinese soil in decades since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests to demand greater democracy. "This movement is incredibly important," said Ms Rose Tang, one of the student activists during the 1989 Beijing protests who flew in from New York to support the Hong Kong movement. "They are making history."

But she urged protesters to depart without bloodshed. "Don't be a martyr, it is not worth it. Don't try to be a tank man," she said, invoking the iconic image of a lone man who blocked a line of tanks near Beijing's Tiananmen Square after the 1989 military crackdown on protesters.

Admiralty has been the heart of the civil disobedience campaign for full democracy. It is where the police fired tear gas at tens of thousands of protesters in late September. That incident galvanised the scattershot protests into a longer-term movement, complete with democracy-themed artwork and statues, classrooms, and food and medical stations.

The Umbrella Movement, named for the items protesters used to defend themselves from pepper spray and batons, is demanding a fully democratic election with open nominations for the next chief executive in 2017.

Beijing has said it will allow a vote in Hong Kong, but only among pre-screened candidates.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule under a "one country, two systems" form of governance that promised the capitalist hub a large degree of autonomy from Beijing, with an eventual promise of universal suffrage.

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