HONG KONG — Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have until Thursday morning to leave a sprawling protest camp that’s blocked traffic in the Chinese financial hub for more than two months before authorities clear it out, a lawyer said Tuesday.
Authorities are set to move in after a court order authorized the removal of barricades, tents and other obstructions from the Admiralty district, site of the protesters’ main camp downtown, setting the stage for one last showdown with activists demanding greater democracy.
Workers will dismantle the protest camp starting at 9 a.m., said Paul Tse, a lawyer for the bus company that took out the injunction.
“What I would like to do now is to perhaps make a public plea to the students to stay away from the scene when there is plenty of time,” he told reporters, adding the company wanted to give protesters enough time to pack their belongings and leave the site.
He said the court order, which was published in newspapers Tuesday, would be posted at the Admiralty site in the afternoon.
About 3,000 police officers would be deployed for the operation, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported, citing unidentified police sources.
The student-led protesters have been occupying streets for 73 days to press their demands for greater democracy.
Another protest site in the rough-and-tumble Mong Kok neighborhood was shut down late last month by authorities enforcing a separate court order. The aggressive police operation sparked several nights of violent clashes in the neighborhood’s tight grid of streets, resulting in about 160 arrests.
The South China Morning Post said the third and smallest protest site, in the Causeway Bay district, is also expected to be dismantled Thursday, although it is not covered by any court order.
The semiautonomous Chinese city’s Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, said officers would use “minimum force” in assisting court workers to shut the site down. Earlier this week he said they were expected to encounter “fierce resistance.”
Organizers said as many as 200,000 people joined the protests early on, but numbers have since dwindled and only dozens now remain at the Admiralty camp, next to city government headquarters.
Options are narrowing for the student protest leaders as the government maintains an apparent strategy of waiting them out.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the groups organizing the protests, said last week it’s mulling a retreat but has not yet made a decision. The group had earlier led a failed bid to surround the headquarters complex that resulted in a night of violent clashes in a desperate last-minute push to pressure the government over Beijing’s requirement to screen candidates in the inaugural 2017 election for the city’s top leader.
Joshua Wong, a teenager who has become the protest movement’s most prominent leader, abandoned a hunger strike on the weekend after nearly five days on doctor’s orders. Of the four other members of his Scholarism group who had joined him, only one is still refusing food.