New York Times
Sept. 10, 2012
By KEITH BRADSHER
HONG KONG — Court officers and the police shut down the 306-day-old Occupy Hong Kong protest Tuesday in the street-level plaza under HSBC’s Asia headquarters, spending six hours in a sometimes disorderly confrontation that ended with the removal of the dozen protesters and the seizure of their tents and other possessions.
Representing the last vestiges of what was once a global movement, protesters screamed, shoved and in a few cases threw their bodies at police officers and court bailiffs.
Even as the bailiffs dismantled the last pieces of the encampment late in the afternoon, a protester with a megaphone vowed, ‘‘We’ll die before we leave!’’
The protesters also yelled taunts at the bailiffs, court-appointed officers whose usual job is to oversee the emptying by removal companies of properties whose tenants have not paid their rent.
Referring to HSBC management in the building above, the protesters cried, ‘‘You’re being used by the men upstairs.’’
The bailiffs finished carrying the protesters to the curb at 4:38 p.m., after which HSBC lowered a steel gate measuring 30 meters, or 97 feet, long and four meters high to seal off access to the plaza.
Bailiffs had dragged several protesters out to the adjacent Queen’s Road in the morning, only to have others run out of the crowd of onlookers and join the encampment. The operation was suspended for nearly two hours at midday before a larger force of bailiffs and police officers resumed the eviction a little after 2 p.m.
HSBC security guards yelled ‘‘No roughness’’ repeatedly to the police and bailiffs in the morning as the operation began.
One demonstrator attempting to re-enter the site collided with an HSBC guard, who fell backward on the sidewalk next to a steel-lined concrete flower box, on which he may have hit his head.
Motionless but conscious, the guard was taken on a stretcher to an ambulance and driven away. The demonstrator was taken away in a police van.
Another demonstrator was removed by the police in midafternoon when he sneaked back into the encampment after being carried off and told not to return.
HSBC said Tuesday evening that four guards and bailiffs had been injured during the clearance of the site, and wished them a quick recovery. ‘‘In the next few days, there will be a security cordon on the plaza to ensure the area remains clear,’’ the bank said.
Local news media reported that three demonstrators had been arrested for assaulting law enforcement personnel. The police media office was swamped through the evening and did not answer calls for comment.
But most of the time, the Hong Kong police, following their usual practice in crowd management, avoided making arrests even when they and the bailiffs were shoved by the demonstrators. The demonstrators, in turn, mostly refrained from hitting officers.
In 2003, when 500,000 people took to the streets to protest stringent internal security legislation that was subsequently withdrawn by the government, no arrests were made.
The police have relied on a strong public image as a force that provided middle-class jobs for large numbers of local residents, starting under British colonial rule. But the Occupy demonstrators are part of a younger generation that has proved more willing to challenge police officers physically.
After months of news media complaints that law enforcement officers had restricted access at other events, including a visit this summer by President Hu Jintao of China, the police made no effort Tuesday to block reporters from the encampment. Heavily sweating bailiffs carrying protesters to the curb by their arms and legs struggled to push their way through crowds of journalists brandishing cameras.
Complex legal reasons lay behind the use of bailiffs to remove demonstrators instead of the police, who have far more experience in dealing with activists.
The plaza under HSBC’s Asia headquarters is owned by the bank but is a public passageway under the terms of a 1983 agreement between the city and the bank that allowed the construction of the 44-story tower, which was unusually tall by the standards of the time.
Income inequality and youth unemployment were issues in Hong Kong’s election in March of a new chief executive. In an election Sunday for a new Legislature, the dominant issue was a local government plan to introduce patriotic education in schools.
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