HONG KONG - Hong Kong authorities started on Thursday clearing the main pro-democracy protest site that has choked roads into the city's most economically and politically important district for more than two months as part of a campaign to demand free elections.
The mainly peaceful protests in the Chinese-controlled city have represented one of the most serious challenges to China's authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and bloody crackdown in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Hundreds of police stood by in the Admiralty district next to government buildings and the Central business area as workers in construction hats used wire cutters to remove barricades erected by protesters after a court injunction two days ago.
"Everyone should follow the court order and leave immediately," a bailiff said.
There was little initial resistance as scores of protesters packed up pillows, blankets and other belongings from inside their tents and prepared to leave.
"Some of my friends are prepared to stay till the last moment, but I will walk away," said 20-year-old student Lucy Tang. "I will for sure miss this place. It has become my home."
For many, it was a tearful farewell as they waved goodbye to the site where thousands had gathered in recent weeks. Others said the protests had injected life into the former British colony's democracy movement.
"The movement has been an awakening process for Hong Kong. People who weren't interested in politics before are now and aren't afraid to get arrested, especially the young people," said Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.
"The democracy movement is filled with energy. It's the passing of the torch from one generation to the other."
A large yellow banner bearing an umbrella and the words "We'll be back" was draped in the centre of the highway where protesters have camped out, with similar messages scrawled on roads and posted on tents.
Next to the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) base in the heart of the city, a huge orange banner erected across barricades read: "It's just the beginning."