18 Nov 2014

Hong Kong: last stand for the student protesters?

Pro-democracy supporters struck camp in Hong Kong 52 days ago and have built themselves a village. Bailiffs have turned up to help with the government’s new “removal strategy”.

7am – Hong Kong city centre.

It doesn’t feel like a moment in history. It feels like time to get up. The central protest site, better known as Admiralty, is beginning to stir. I can hear rustling in tents, people reaching for their toothbrushes, as the sun begins to poke behind the skyscrapers in downtown Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy supporters struck camp here 52 days ago and have built themselves a village, complete with 2,000-odd tents, a study centre, cafe, art exhibits and an allotment on what used to a grassy verge. They look well dug-in on this eight-lane urban motorway, and nobody appears to be packing their things.

Still, time is running out for these youthful protesters. After several false starts the authorities seem determined to clear them out – although it’s certainly not as easy as it sounds. The police tried tear gas at the beginning of this occupation and it served only to galvanise the demonstrators. The territory’s leaders have also tried warnings and pleading and they even offered talks. But eight weeks on it seems neither side have much to talk about.

10:30 am

Several dozen bailiffs have turned up at an office block on the edge of the main protest site and their arrival here has got everything to do with the government’s new “removal strategy”.

This complex is called the Citic Building and back in October the owners applied for a restraining order on protesters who have erected barricades outside. Last week the court granted that order and the bailiffs have turned up to enforce it – along with a squadron of municipal workers.

10:40 am

I am now watching them dismantle a Les Miserables-style obstacle near the front door of the Citic, and there is barely a protester to be seen. Round one to the bailiffs, then.

This will surely encourage the government to expand the clearance. Taxi firms and bus companies have applied for a bunch of these restraining orders at all three protest sites, and the territory’s leaders can say they are acting in the people’s interests when they enforce them. They may even claim to be governing democratically, despite the fact they haven’t been elected in free and fair elections.

Which brings us to the demonstrators’ core demand. They want a western-style election for the territory’s next leader in 2017, but Hong Kong’s current chief, CY Leung – and his Chinese overlords in Beijing – say that simply isn’t going to happen.

11:00 am

The protesters themselves have started to remove some of their defenses from around the building. It’s a surprising development, but one masked woman told me they would drag the barricades back towards the main protest site so “we can use them later”. It looks like a tactical retreat then, not necessarily the beginning of the end. She added a word of warning. “There will be violence,” said the woman who looked about 20-years-old, “but not today, not now.”

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