HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police trimmed a protest zone that has paralyzed traffic on key roads in the financial district for more than two weeks, removing some barricades used by pro-democracy protesters to allow some traffic through the area on Monday.
Police stressed that the dawn operation was not meant to clear the protesters, and said it was only to relieve traffic congestion as commuters returned to work. It was not immediately clear if police will take further action, but the move appeared to be a test of how the protesters would react.
"Today we haven't come to clear the area," a police officer was seen telling protesters on local TV. "We just want to clear the barricades blocking the road and take back the government's tools and other property."
Tens of thousands of people have flooded the city's streets since Sept. 28 in a civil disobedience movement protesting government restrictions on the territory's 2017 election for its top leader. Protesters want authorities to drop a plan to use a pro-Beijing committee to screen candidates in the election.
The government has repeatedly urged protesters to retreat. Leung Chun-ying, the Chief Executive, said Sunday the movement was "out of control" and that there was "almost zero chance" that the protests would change Beijing's position on Hong Kong.
On Monday, officers bringing riot helmets and shields descended on the financial district at around 5:30 a.m. to take away some unmanned barricades. There were no direct confrontations with protesters, although some of the demonstrations rushed to reinforce other barricades.
Dozens of demonstrators, donning goggles and face masks, locked arms and faced off against officers in a brief standoff at the end of the protest zone in Admiralty district. Some demonstrators sought to reinforce their positions with large bamboo structures typically used as scaffolding.
The police operation went without incident, and several roads in the city's Central financial district reopened to traffic. An offshoot protest zone in Mong Kok, a crowded shopping district across the Victoria Harbor, was also trimmed.
Several dozen student-led protesters continue to occupy a key thoroughfare as well as streets in two shopping districts.