Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong chanted "We'll be back" as police and court bailiffs cleared their tents and barricades from a major highway in the semiautonomous Chinese city early on Thursday local time, putting an end to a two-month-long occupation.
Police arrested 209 people during the clearance of Harcourt Road near government headquarters in the former British colony's Admiralty district, while more than 900 people had their details noted and could still be charged, a spokesman said.
Among those arrested were student leaders of the Occupy Central, or "Umbrella," movement that began on Sept. 28, bringing hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets after clashes with riot police who used tear gas, batons, and pepper spray on umbrella-carrying protesters.
Pan-democratic politicians, protest leaders, and even a pop star were among those in the final sit-in who were arrested, with some walking quietly under police escort with plastic handcuffs and others being carried away by officers.
Police took away Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, Civic Party lawmakers Alan Leong and Audrey Eu, Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau, and media mogul Jimmy Lai, whose Apple Daily media group had covered the protests by live webcast and drone camera since they began.
Student leader Nathan Law, Cantopop star Denise Ho, and veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," were also held.
A major impact
Alex Chow said in an interview with RFA before the clearance operation began that the movement has already had a major impact on the territory's political life.
"The Occupy movement has been very effective in awakening our citizens," Chow told RFA. "We had such huge numbers; hundreds of thousands took part in the civil disobedience movement."
"Hong Kong people are willing to pay the price for democracy," he said. "We may not have gotten the result we wanted today, but ... people won't just give up on the movement now."
Chow said he still expects to see smaller but frequent protests greeting Hong Kong government officials as they try to persuade people to accept Beijing's electoral reform plan.
HKFS core member Lester Shum said both the HKFS and the academic activist group Scholarism would stick to principles of nonviolence.
"Everyone knows that the government isn't going to give way on electoral reforms, so we will have to work to put even more pressure on them in future," Shum said.
"A bigger weight of public opinion could force the government to make concessions," he said.
Jimmy Lai told CNN before being arrested that protesters know that the struggle for full democracy in Hong Kong will be a long-term one.
"We are not so naive," he said. "We know there will be many battles before we win the war."
Some protesters and lawmakers had gathered in an area just outside the limits of a High Court injunction ordering the clearance of the area, brought by a bus company that complained the protests were hurting its business.
Many were arrested on suspicion of "unlawful assembly," with many demonstrators shouting slogans including "We'll be back!" or making the "mockingjay" rebel salute from Hollywood blockbuster movie The Hunger Games.
A protester surnamed Lam at the Admiralty site said that those who had camped there had already removed their tents and personal belongings on Wednesday.
"I don't think it's a good way to solve the problem by remaining here," Lam said. "But I hope to see the movement continue in our communities; that's the most important thing."
A second protester surnamed Lee said that the overwhelming trend seems to be to accept that the clearances are marking the end of the occupation.
"If a lot of people were staying, then I'd stay too," she said. "I'm not afraid of arrest."
"But there has begun to be a backlash among local people, now that so many have been here for such a long time," Lee said. "Why is our government like this?"
Demands still unmet
After the last protesters were taken away, taxis and minibuses began using the road, which was newly cleared of debris and washed down by water trucks to remove the last evidence of a vibrant protest community that once included impromptu art exhibitions, a "Lennon" message wall, first-aid stalls, makeshift study areas, and a trash disposal service all staffed by volunteers.
Hundreds of police officers posed for a group photograph outside the Admiralty Centre at the heart of the tent city and protest site that became known as "Umbrella Square."
But while their demands for full universal suffrage in the 2017 election for the next chief executive remained unmet following an edict from Beijing, most activists chose to leave the Admiralty site peacefully.
Police said they would clear a much smaller protest encampment in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay at a later date.
The scenes at Admiralty were in sharp contrast to the violent clashes between police and protesters when a similar site across the harbor in Mong Kok was cleared last month, sparking widespread condemnation of excessive force from police, who reportedly attacked a number of journalists as well as protesters.
According to an Aug. 31 decision from the country's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), all five million of Hong Kong's voters will cast ballots in the 2017 poll, but may only choose between two or three candidates vetted by a Beijing-backed election committee.
Meanwhile, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has hit out at international support for the Occupy Central protests, saying that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration is "void" and that it answers to no one in exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong, which was handed back by the U.K. in 1997.
Reported by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.