Hong Kong police clear protesters, barricades at key site

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Hong Kong police clear protesters, barricades at key site
Protesters cry as some of the protesters are beaten by riot police in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. New scuffles broke out Friday night between Hong Kong riot police and pro-democracy activists in a district where police cleared protesters earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A pro-democracy protester is struck by a baton as riot police move on an occupied section of a roadway in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
A riot police officer swings his baton at a pro-democracy protester as they move into an occupied section of a roadway in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Pro-democracy protesters shout at advancing riot police on their encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Riot police advance on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police stand guard against protesters at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Protesters guard makeshift barricades at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers try to stop protesters from moving forward on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A pro-democracy protester tries to relax fellow protesters as riot police advance on their encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers advance on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Protesters gather behind make-shift barricades at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Protesters gather at a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Pro-democracy protesters shout at advancing riot police on their encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Riot police officers advance on a pro-democracy protest encampment in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Hong Kong riot police battled with thousands of pro-democracy protesters for control of the city's streets Saturday, using pepper spray and batons to hold back defiant activists who returned to a protest zone that officers had partially cleared. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
A protester bleeds from the head after scuffles with riot police in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. New scuffles broke out Friday night between Hong Kong riot police and pro-democracy activists in a district where police cleared protesters earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Riot police officers use batons against protesters at a main road in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Hong Kong riot police struggled to hold back hundreds of defiant pro-democracy activists who returned to a district that officers had partially cleared earlier Friday. Police used pepper spray and batons to fend off a huge crowd that had gathered in Mong Kok, and several protesters were seen knocked to the ground or carried away by police. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers use batons against protesters at a main road in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Hong Kong riot police struggled to hold back hundreds of defiant pro-democracy activists who returned to a district that officers had partially cleared earlier Friday. Police used pepper spray and batons to fend off a huge crowd that had gathered in Mong Kok, and several protesters were seen knocked to the ground or carried away by police. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police officers duffle with protesters at a main road in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Hong Kong riot police struggled to hold back hundreds of defiant pro-democracy activists who returned to a district that officers had partially cleared earlier Friday. Police used pepper spray and batons to fend off a huge crowd that had gathered in Mong Kok, and several protesters were seen knocked to the ground or carried away by police. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Local residents shout at pro-democracy protesters on a main street in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A police officer and a pro-democracy protester take video each other after police moved in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Local residents and a mask-wearing protester gather around a road sign, covered by a slogan on a main street in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police remove barricades after they moved in the occupied area by the pro-democracy protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Residents at the side walk watch riot police move in the occupied area by the pro-democracy protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police moved in on a Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A man walks past tents and umbrellas set up by pro-democracy protesters at an occupied area near the government headquarters in Hong Kong Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Thursday he is ready to start talks as soon as next week with student leaders of the pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city for nearly three weeks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A protester raise a flag with Chinese words "I want real universal suffrage" and a guitar in front of barriers against police officers at a main street in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Riot police cleared an offshoot Hong Kong pro-democracy protest zone in a dawn raid on Friday, taking down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks, but leaving the city's main thoroughfare still in the hands of the activists. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Police officers push the protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers move forward to push protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters use umbrellas to block the pepper spray by Police officers at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers shout as they instruct the protesters to move to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeklong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters raise their hands up as police officers push them out to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers request the protesters to move to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push the protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers request the protesters to move to a nearby park at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a week long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A demonstrator helps block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A man jabs his fingers in the throat of a pro-democracy protester (C) in the Central district of Hong Kong on October 13, 2014. Hong Kong has been plunged into the worst political crisis since its 1997 handover as pro-democracy activists take over the streets following China's refusal to grant citizens full universal suffrage. AFP PHOTO / ALEX OGLE (Photo credit should read Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators move barriers as others block the main road with metal and plastic safety barriers outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the main road with tires outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeklong political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators climb over barriers as others block the main road with metal and plastic safety barriers outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A demonstrator carries a tire as others blocked the main road with tires outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Demonstrators block the underpass with concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches at the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Pro-democracy activists clashed with police and barricaded a tunnel near Hong Kong's government headquarters late Tuesday, expanding their protest zone again after being cleared out of some other streets in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers push the protesters out to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weeks long political crisis. Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Police officers stand guard after they removed barricades that protesters have set up to block off main roads in Causeway Bay district in Hong Kong Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. The police removed some of the barricades in a shopping district and opened one road that had been blocked by pro-democracy protesters for two weeks. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
HONG KONG - OCTOBER 14: A pro-democracy protester raise his hands in front of police cordon on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on October 14, 2014 in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters took over Lung Wo Road after police cleared off the barricades on Queen's Road. Protesters continue to call for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Protesters celebrate following a standoff with police outside the central government offices in Hong Kong on October 14, 2014. Hong Kong police vowed October 14 to tear down more street barricades manned by pro-democracy protesters, hours after hundreds of officers armed with chainsaws and boltcutters partially cleared two major roads occupied for a fortnight. AFP PHOTO/ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-democracy demonstrators stand behind umbrellas during a protest in the Admiralty area of Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters girded themselves for an anticipated showdown with police who earlier used chain saws and sledgehammers to clear barricades from a major road in the city's business district. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HONG KONG - OCTOBER 14: Pro-democracy protesters use umbrellas to protect themselves from police's pepper spray on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on October 14, 2014 in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters took over Lung Wo Road after police cleared off the barricades on Queen's Road. Protesters continue to call for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
HONG KONG - OCTOBER 14: Pro-democracy protesters clash with police officers on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on October 14, 2014 in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters took over Lung Wo Road after police cleared off the barricades on Queen's Road. Protesters continue to call for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
A protester is arrested by riot polices in the occupied area in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, late Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. New scuffles broke out Friday night between Hong Kong riot police and pro-democracy activists in a district where police cleared protesters earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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BY CLARE BALDWIN AND JAMES POMFRET

(Reuters) - Hundreds of Hong Kong police staged their biggest raid yet on a pro-democracy protest camp before dawn on Friday, charging down student-led activists who have held an intersection in one of their main protest zones for more than three weeks.

The operation in the gritty and congested Mong Kok district, across the harbor from the heart of the civil disobedience movement near government headquarters, came while many protesters were asleep in dozens of tents or beneath giant, blue-striped tarpaulin sheets.

The raid was a gamble for the 28,000-strong police force in the Chinese-controlled city who have come under criticism for aggressive clearance operations with tear gas and baton charges and for the beating of a handcuffed protester on Wednesday.

Storming into the intersection with helmets, riot shields and batons at the ready from four directions, the 800 officers caught the protesters by surprise. Many retreated without resisting.

Video of the action posted on Twitter by Tom Grundy (@tomgundy)

"The Hong Kong government's despicable clearance here will cause another wave of citizen protests," said radio talk-show host and activist Wong Yeung-tat, who wore protective goggles over his white-rimmed glasses and sported a boxer's sparring pad as a shield.

The protesters, led by a restive generation of students, have been demanding China's Communist Party rulers live up to constitutional promises to grant full democracy to the former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The police sweep of the protest camp had been expected for several days. It reduced the number of protest sites that have paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub since September 28, but could rekindle defiance.

"We have urged protesters to maintain a kind of floating protest strategy to guard the streets," said Wong, flanked by protesters who stared down advancing lines of uniformed police.

Police gave a short warning on loud hailers before moving in although no direct force was used, witnesses said.

Calm returned through the rest of Friday though the number of protesters was expected to swell at the main protest site, in the central Admiralty district, as students finish classes for the week.

"Here is the base of the resistance," media magnate Jimmy Lai told Reuters, referring to Admiralty.

"If they want to quit here they have to arrest people. I think this will be the end game," said Lai, an outspoken critic of Beijing who has backed pro-democracy activists through his publications and donations.

In August, Beijing offered Hong Kong people the chance to vote for their own leader in 2017, but said only two to three candidates could run after getting backing from a 1,200-person "nominating committee" stacked with Beijing loyalists.

The protesters decry this as "fake" Chinese-style democracy and demand Beijing allow open nominations.

The raid came less than 24 hours after Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying proposed talks next week with student leaders.

Barry Smith, one of several senior British police chiefs - a legacy of the pre-1997 Royal Hong Kong Police - commanding the operation, described it as "fairly peaceful". About 800 officers were involved, he said, and no arrests were made. There were no reports of injuries.

"We decided it's time to give the public the right of way, to get the roads back and get access to pedestrians," said Smith as he paced about the area, directing front-line officers.

LITTLE WARNING

Yellow dump trucks with pneumatic backhoes and claws later cleared away smashed wooden pallets, garbage cans, ripped tents and metal barricades, while the scattered belongings of protesters were loaded on to trucks.

Cleaners ripped down democracy posters and notes pasted on walls and street signs, and used cleaning fluid and razors to scrape away stickers on the windows of an HSBC bank.

Some protesters tried to save some of the protest art that has appeared across protest zones.

"These drawings represent the voice of the people. We must try to preserve them and I hope in future they establish a democracy museum," one said.

Police said they would allow protesters to occupy a section of the heavily trafficked Nathan Road, which leads down to the harbor, with the famous view of Hong Kong Island opposite.

Earlier this week, police had used sledge-hammers and chainsaws to tear down concrete, metal and bamboo barricades to reopen a major road feeding the Central business district.

Despite the clearances, about 1,000 protesters remained camped on Hong Kong Island in a sea of tents and umbrellas on an eight-lane highway beneath skyscrapers.

Leung has said there is "zero chance" Beijing will give in to protesters' demands, a view shared by many observers and Hong Kong citizens. He has also refused to step down.

The Hong Kong Association of Banks called on Friday for an end to help Hong Kong preserve its competitiveness and maintain investor confidence.

At the peak of the protests, 100,000 had been on the streets, presenting Beijing with one of its biggest political challenges since it crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital in 1989.

Those numbers have dwindled significantly.

China rules Hong Kong under a "one country, two systems" formula that gives the city wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, with "universal suffrage" stated as the eventual aim.

It is concerned calls for democracy in Hong Kong, and in the neighboring former Portuguese colony of Macau, could spread to the mainland, threatening the party's grip on power.

(Additional reporting by Bobby Yip, Jon Gordon; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree, Farah Master and James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel)

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