Traffic was running again on major access roads to the city’s legislature and the government headquarters in Admiralty on Monday morning after the last remaining anti-extradition bill protesters voluntarily departed.
The demonstrators had been urged by police to leave and clear their barricades, the morning after a mass rally calling on the city’s leader to fully withdraw the controversial bill.
Harcourt Road, one of the main arteries running across Hong Kong Island, was open to traffic at 10.51am, the protesters having vacated it.
They proceeded to gather in the protest area of the Legislative Council complex and in nearby Tamar Park. Some of them floated the idea of protesting outside Government House, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s official residence.
Police had emphasised that they were appealing for the protesters to leave, rather than issuing a clearance order.
On Monday morning, police were stationed along Upper and Lower Albert Road, with barricades placed on the approach to Government House. Empty buses at the back of the residence suggested there were more police in the area. There was no sign of any protesters, however.
An estimated two million protesters took to the streets on Sunday, calling on Lam to go further than suspending the extradition bill and withdraw it completely. Some also said she should be held accountable for the unrest.
The government’s proposed bill would allow the transfer of prisoners to jurisdictions Hong Kong currently lacks an extradition agreement with, including mainland China.
Lam issued a public apology in the form of a government statement six hours after protesters had transformed the centre of Hong Kong into a sea of black.
The rally remained peaceful and uneventful during the night; the several thousand protesters who camped out had dwindled in number to several hundred by Monday morning, despite a call being put out at 5.45am to protesters to encourage their friends to join them.
The government announced its headquarters would be closed for the third working day in a row, but the city’s MTR network was running as normal.
After the police appeal, Lung Wo Road and Queensway, the street outside the Pacific Place shopping centre, where a man fell to his death on Saturday night, reopened as protesters left.
Not all protesters agreed with the plan of retreating. A man, who only gave his surname Cheng, said he was disappointed with the latest move of protesters.
“We have said we would not retreat if the bill had not been withdrawn. We weren’t joking,” Cheng said. He added that retreating had “squandered the momentum” from Sunday’s march.
Democratic Party lawmaker Au Nok-hin told protesters that the plan to leave Harcourt Road was not a retreat.
“We hoped to offer goodwill … we must clarify this is not a retreat,” Au said at around noon in the protest area of Legco. He said the arrangement would allow them to plan for the long run. He asked protesters to think about what should be done on Monday, and that it would require a decision by the whole group.
“No matter what action we take, we have the same goals – demanding the government initiate dialogue with us as soon possible and respond to our requests,” Au said.
The requests included declassifying the protest on June 12 as a riot, and releasing all people arrested in relation to it, with charges dropped.
Some of the barricades on Tim Wa Avenue leading to the Chief Executive’s Office had been removed in the early morning by the protesters themselves, as the police, who deliberately kept their distance, looked on.
But their presence increased gradually after 7am. Hundreds of officers moved onto the major roads after the appeal had been broadcast.
“The police are taking a softly-softly approach. But if the protesters fail to leave they will be removed,” a police spokesman said.
A young protester surnamed Wong, 17, had said he was still going to stay on Harcourt Road until the general demands of protesters were met, and he would ask more of his friends to join.
“I want the government to fully withdraw the bill and hold people responsible for the police violence,” said the teenager, who was wearing a mask and goggles.
A protester who preferred to be known as Falcon, 22, spoke briefly as he left Harcourt Road when day broke, but said he would come back later on Monday.
“It’s a complicated feeling, I don’t think we won since the bill is only suspended,” he said, as he left with three friends.
“It was a very long walk yesterday and I know my friends will keep coming back.”
Some pro-democracy lawmakers were also present.
“We understand from the police that they are planning to clear the road by ‘inciting people to leave’,” Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-Kiu said.
“We are just not sure how they are going to do that and we just fear there is going to be violence and injuries. So we as legislators have a role to make sure police do not abuse their powers again.”
Yeung was joined by fellow legislators Jeremy Tam Man-ho and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen at the protest site.
“I don’t think the police want to escalate the tension here,” Tam said. “As you can see, there were no weapons, no breaking anything, nothing from the protesters, and it was pretty much like that since last night. I think Carrie Lam understands that any confrontation happening there would basically cancel out the apologies she made.”
Meanwhile, one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy protests, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, will be released from prison later this morning after serving one month of a two-month sentence for contempt of court.
Additional reporting by Peace Chiu, Elizabeth Cheung and Rachel Cheung
This article Roads around Legco reopen as last remaining Hong Kong protesters voluntarily leave first appeared on South China Morning Post