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Hong Kong protest leaders vow fight

Authorities have cleared away the last barricades and tents of a democracy protest in Hong Kong but student leaders and activists vowed their fight is not over.

Hundreds of police officers carried out a peaceful operation to shut down the protest that sprawled across a normally busy road on the edge of the specially administered Chinese city's financial district.

The student-led demonstrators have been protesting against Beijing's restrictions on the first election for Hong Kong's leader. It has lasted two and a half months, though the movement's momentum has been fading in recent weeks.

Hundreds of remaining protesters heeded police warnings to leave the area, but dozens of students, pro-democracy politicians and others stayed sitting on the street.

They chanted "I want true democracy" and "We will be back" but offered no resistance as they were taken away one by one, many lifted off the ground.

Among those police took away were pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, Cantonese pop singer Denise Ho, veteran pro-democracy activist Martin Lee and pro-democracy legislators including Albert Ho.

Earlier, workers enforcing a court order removed barricades on the edge of the protest site before officers moved in and dismantled tents and obstructions from the rest of it. They had warned protesters that they faced arrest if they did not leave.

"I think the spirit of the movement still lives, but the idea of occupying streets is over," said student Andrew Chan, 20, as he left. "We can't even get a big crowd to come out today to fight the police clearing the site."

Tents and canopies that had housed water and other supplies for the protesters lay in heaps among discarded newspapers, flip-flops, cardboard boxes and umbrellas, which became a symbol of the protest movement after students used them to deflect police pepper spray.

One of the student leaders, Alex Chow, had rallied the crowds as the police approached, saying their fight was not over and they would find other ways to press forward in the days to come.

"People will come back again, they will come back with stronger force," he said.

The protesters reject Beijing's restrictions on the election, scheduled for 2017, but have failed to win any concessions from Hong Kong's government.

In addition to hundreds of journalists at the scene, a group of about 30 academics was monitoring the police operation, as were the Independent Police Complaints Council and human rights groups.

On September 28, police fired dozens of tear gas rounds at thousands of protesters gathering in the area angry over the prolonged detention of student leaders.

The move infuriated protesters and the wider public and kick-started the student-led protest movement.

Police say 655 people have been arrested over the past two and a half months, and that 129 officers were injured.

On the eve of today's action, thousands of protesters and supporters streamed into the site for one last night of the Umbrella Movement.

Two student groups that played key roles in organising the protests had called for supporters to stay until the last moment, but not to resist authorities.

"If the government wants to use police to clear the site, don't forget, the clearance can't resolve political conflicts, it can't resolve society's dilemma," said Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old head of the Scholarism group and the pro-democracy movement's most prominent leader.

Pro-democracy politicians said they would pressure the government in the legislature by blocking funding requests and electoral reforms.

"A dialogue can only happen when we vote down the coming political reform package," said Lee Cheuk-yan, who was the last to be arrested.

The city government's second-highest official, Carrie Lam, said yesterday that she is open to talks with the students, but the chances of a breakthrough are slim given the wide differences between the two sides.

Protester Andy Chu, who was among those waiting to be arrested, said the movement "will move on to the next stage".

He said: "It's not about occupying the streets anymore. It can be about paying attention to other political issues, such as social welfare and housing issues."

Police said 209 people were arrested today for unlawful assembly and obstructing police officers.

Officers also arrested four activists from radical political parties and a student group at their homes yesterday and today on suspicion of inciting others to join unauthorised assemblies.

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