Main Hong Kong Protest Camp Dismantled by Police

PHOTO: Workers clear barricades on a main road in an occupied area outside government headquarters in Hong Kongs Admiralty district, Dec. 11, 2014.PlayVincent Yu/AP Photo
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After more than 10 weeks of protests, the main and largest protester camp in Hong Kong's pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement" was systematically dismantled in a police operation today.

What started in September with a passionate surge of support tens of thousands strong, initiated in part by police firing tear gas into the crowds, ended 75 days later with a defiant but peaceful sit-in by a core group of 100 protesters who waited more than eight hours for police to arrest them.

After weeks of having their once-venerated reputation tarnished, the arrests conducted by the Hong Kong Police were exceedingly civil and even, at times, polite. Officers would kneel next to a protester and read them their rights before another group of officers would walk or carry them out of the protest zone.

PHOTO: A police officer removes a banner on the bridge at the occupied area outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.Kin Cheung/AP Photo
A police officer removes a banner on the bridge at the occupied area outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.

At one point a police representative advised the protesters awaiting arrest to remember to stretch to avoid cramps.

The protesters did not put up much of fight either, shouting, "We want true universal suffrage" as they were escorted one by one into a police transport bus.

The police had given the pro-democracy protesters a two-day warning earlier this week that it would clear the remaining camp today. The main protest camp, which protesters had dubbed "Umbrella Square," straddled and occupied a main stretch of highway in Hong Kong and had caused gridlock across the city for the past couple of months.

PHOTO: A couple sit at a main road before police clearing barricades and tents outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.Vincent Yu/AP Photo
A couple sit at a main road before police clearing barricades and tents outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.

After one last rally that brought out over 10,000 supporters Wednesday night, only a core group of about 100 pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and students leaders remained by the time the police sealed off the site mid-afternoon

Shortly after 2 p.m. local time, police surrounded the protest site and marched slowly in a line formation, pushing past and tearing down tents and belongings for the dump trucks that followed behind. Many of the protesters had already packed up and left the site before the police curfew, leaving behind a largely empty protest village.

Exhausted and frustrated by the lack of concessions by Beijing or the Hong Kong government, turnout and support for the student-led protests had waned in the recent month. In a poll conducted last month by Hong Kong University, 80 percent of respondents wanted the occupation to end.

PHOTO: A protester cries as the police officers clear the barricades at the occupied area outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.Kin Cheung/AP Photo
A protester cries as the police officers clear the barricades at the occupied area outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.

The largely peaceful protests occasionally descended into violent confrontations with riot police, which reached its peak last week as the students made a failed attempt at blockading the government offices.

The protesters want Beijing to allow free elections for Hong Kong's next leader in 2017. China says it will allow everyone in the self-governing Chinese territory to vote but a pro-Beijing committee will pre-screen candidates.

The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong was seen by many as one of the most serious challenges to the Chinese Communist Party's authority a since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

PHOTO: A police commander leans against a concrete wall with the defaced Chinese national flags placed on at the occupied area outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.Kin Cheung/AP Photo
A police commander leans against a concrete wall with the defaced Chinese national flags placed on at the occupied area outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.

While the protesters left the highways of downtown Hong Kong today (a tiny holdout in a shopping district still remains), student leaders say the legacy of the past 10 weeks will remain.

"The biggest success of the protests is that people are awakened," leader Alex Chow, 24, told The Wall Street Journal. "The young generation will be the engine of reform."

Despite the unpopularity of the Occupy methods, Hong Kong residents remain fairly evenly split, especially between older and younger generations, on the way forward for city's democratic future.

Before the police cleared the site, banners left behind by the protesters gave a warning to Beijing and Hong Kong Government: "We Will Be Back."