HONG KONG – Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday arrested pro-democracy demonstrators who refused to comply with a court order to clear a protest site in the city's Mong Kok district, scene of previous violent confrontations with police and angry mobs.
Police took away about a dozen protesters after warning people not to interfere with workers and bailiffs enforcing the court order to remove obstructions from the site, one of three that activists have occupied for nearly two months.
Protesters initially put up no resistance as workers in white hard hats and gloves tore down barricades, moving wooden pallets and other junk into the middle of an intersection to be taken away in a truck that had pulled up.
But as the authorities pushed down the 50-meter (164-foot) occupied stretch of Argyle Street to remove tents and other debris, they faced defiance from protesters, who used delaying tactics such as asking for more time to pack up their belongings.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung was among those taken away by officers to waiting police vans.
Traffic on the previously occupied section of Argyle Street — which had been blocked by the protesters for two months — was flowing in one of the four lanes by late afternoon.
Protesters have been camped out on major thoroughfares in three areas of Hong Kong since Sept. 28 demanding greater democracy. The standoff has continued with no end in sight as neither the government nor the student-led protesters have shown any willingness to compromise.
"I'll continue to fight for true democracy," said housewife Candy Chan, 50, who visited Mong Kok regularly to support the protesters. "We're fighting because we want the government to come out and respond to our demands."
A crowd of people supporting the police clearance operation applauded from the sidelines.
Businessman Andrew Tang said he traveled across Victoria Harbor to watch the barricade removal. He said the protesters were not realistic in their demands to China's communist rulers in Beijing and miscalculated by not withdrawing earlier.
"The Communist Party will never surrender," he said as he gave a thumbs-up to the police.
Authorities last week started enforcing court orders against protest sites. They removed some barricades from the edge of the main protest area, next to the city government headquarters, while protesters offered little resistance.
The barricade clearances come at a critical phase for the protest movement, with student leaders running out of options, and public support and the number of demonstrators dwindling.
More than 80 percent of 513 people surveyed last week by Hong Kong University researchers said the protesters should go home. The poll had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. A separate survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong released days earlier found about two-thirds of 1,030 respondents felt the same way.
The operation on Tuesday was carried out after Hong Kong's High Court granted a restraining order to a minibus company. A separate court order granted to taxi drivers to clear a bigger part of the Mong Kok protest zone is expected to be enforced Wednesday.