Last remnants of Hong Kong pro-democracy camp cleared

Two protesters pack up their tent at the last remaining pro-democracy site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on June 23, 2015.
Two protesters pack up their tent at the last remaining pro-democracy site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on June 23, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - The last remnants of the tent city that once blocked a major highway through Hong Kong during mass pro-democracy protests was cleared away by city authorities on Wednesday.

The camp of around 150 tents outside the legislature - complete with flower pots, a study area and large colourful banners - was a final outpost of the former Admiralty rally site that was cleared in December.

The public protests over how Hong Kong chooses its next leader in 2017 were sparked by a ruling from Beijing last year that all candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee.

Campaigners derided the bill as "fake democracy" and tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to object.

The proposal was finally voted down by pro-democracy lawmakers last week and many of those who had made the "Tim Mei New Village" camp their home prepared to move as police indicated a clearance was imminent.

By Wednesday morning, all that remained were some ramshackle tents and piles of unwanted belongings, from sofas and mannequins to mugs, toys and slippers.

Dozens of government officials moved in with brooms and saws to dismantle the tents, while trucks waited to transport the debris away.

"The deadline has expired. I now announce that officers... will... remove the persons, tents, marquees and other properties," an official announced over a loudspeaker.

One male protester carrying a yellow umbrella - the symbol of the democracy movement - was seen by an AFP reporter being led away from a tent by what appeared to be plain clothes police officers.

Police would not immediately confirm the man had been arrested.

A small group of protesters looked on through the grey morning drizzle and uniformed police also watched from the sidelines.

Some protesters said they disagreed with the clearance of what the authorities said was an "illegal" camp.

"I feel very helpless - there are still a lot of issues at stake... there's no reason to clear it all," said Qing Lam, in her 30s.

Benny Mok, 51, who works as a surveyor, said he had been at the site for 270 days and called the clearance "suppression without reason".

"(It is) a PR show to make it appear we are disturbing the people," said Mok.

But he added that the protests had galvanised younger generations.

"Youths are now becoming more involved in political issues. You would have never imagined that in the past," he said.

Hong Kong is semi-autonomous after being handed back to China by Britain in 1997 and has much greater freedoms than the mainland, but there are fears that those are being eroded.