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Arrests as last protest camp closed

Hong Kong police tore down barricades, folded up tents and arrested some protesters at the third and final pro-democracy protest camp today, ending demonstrations which have blocked traffic for two and a half months.

A police negotiator gave the 17 protesters one last chance to leave voluntarily from a short stretch of road in Causeway Bay before officers started taking them away to a waiting bus one by one.

The protesters, including senior citizens and pro-democracy politician Kenneth Chan, offered no resistance.

Earlier, they had chanted "We will be back" and called on Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong's unpopular Beijing-backed chief executive, to step down. Supporters shouted encouragement from the pavement. By midday the road had been returned to traffic.

The police operation comes after authorities shut down the protesters' main camp near the heart of the city's financial district last Thursday and arrested 249 people who refused to leave for unlawful assembly. Another protest camp in Kowloon's Mong Kok district was shut down late last month by police.

The Causeway Bay protesters had managed to cling on for 79 days but, after the other two sites were cleared, had been resigned to eventually being removed as well. Many had already taken away tents, supplies and belongings before today's police operation.

The student-led protesters rejected China's plan to screen all candidates in the first-ever elections for Hong Kong's top leader, but failed to win significant concessions from the government.

However, many say the protest movement sparked a wider political awakening among the city's residents, especially the young. Protest leaders vowed to keep up their campaign of civil disobedience through other methods to continue pressuring the government for genuine democracy.

Pro-democracy politician Fernando Cheung, who was on hand to observe the police operation and arrests, said the closure of the site did not mean the end of the civil disobedience campaign.

"In the Legislative Council we will do our best to resist through an unco-operative campaign," he said - for example by voting down budget requests and the government's electoral reform package.

"There will be more action."

He said that even though protesters had failed to get the government to bow to their demands, they had succeeded in galvanising the city's democracy movement.

"The duration and scale of the occupation signifies the determination and the force, the power behind the people who ask for democracy in Hong Kong. And secondly, it's the awakening of the young generation, which has limitless power."

Otto Ng, an 18-year-old college student, had been camped out at the main Admiralty protest site and came to Causeway Bay to watch the last moments.

"It feels a bit depressed and hopeless, but at the same time this is just the beginning, it's not the end ... We still haven't got what we wanted," he said. "It's awakened the Hong Kong people."

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