Workers in Hong Kong Tuesday began clearing barricades in a small area of the downtown occupied by pro-democracy protesters. The slow but calculated effort, backed by a court order, aims to erode the area held by the demonstrators without provoking more dissent. Protesters say the effort to clear the streets could take days.
In Hong Kong’s Central business district’s Admiralty area - 30 bailiffs, backed by police, cleared a small area of a protest site near local government offices.
“The people let the bailiffs move the barricades. There have been a lot of barricades taken away, but the protesters in their tents are staying. So that is what has happened up until now," explained Pa Sha, who has been protesting in Central since the beginning of the demonstrations.
The barricade removal came shortly after a court injunction against blocking traffic to Citic Tower, an office building. Protesters did not resist as workers succeeded in clearing a way to the building’s parking garage.
There is also a court injunction filed by a Hong Kong taxi association and bus company to clear part of Mong Kok, another protest area which has been the site of violent clashes for several weeks.
What 's next?
Joseph Cheng, of Hong Kong’s Alliance for Democracy and a professor of International Relations at the University of Hong Kong, says the next steps for the protest movement are under debate.
“The protesters obviously understand that protest activities of this kind cannot go on indefinitely," he noted. "There is of course a division of views among protesters. The organizers and the majority of the protesters seem to accept that one can end the first stage and reduce to smaller area so as to reduce the inconveniences to people’s livelihood in Hong Kong.”
Protesters began camping out in Hong Kong after police fired tear gas and pepper spray on the demonstrators on September 28.
Demonstrators want direct elections of the city’s leader in 2017. Beijing proposes a plan for Hong Kong’s elections that would require a panel to vet candidates for chief executive.
Protesters like Pa Sha expect Hong Kong authorities to continue removing barricades in the coming days.
"We expect more clearances to come through the week, maybe in the morning or at night, when the occupation is at its weakest," Pa Sha said.
He and other demonstrators say their movement will continue until Beijing’s plan for electoral reform goes for a vote before Hong Kong’s legislature or the central government offers some form of compromise.
Public opinion poll
The removal comes as a new survey by The Chinese University of Hong Kong indicated a shift in public sentiment, with most now saying the protests should end.
Of more than 1,000 respondents, 43 percent said they were against the Occupy movement and 34 percent in favor. But 67 percent said the protesters should go home now.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.