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The police operation was under close scrutiny, with a group of about 30 academics monitoring the operation, along with the Independent Police Complaints Council and human rights groups.

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On Sept. 28 police fired dozens of rounds at thousands of protesters gathering in the area angry over the prolonged detention of a student leader. The move infuriated protesters and the wider public and kick-started the student-led protest movement, which came to include two other protest sites in Hong Kong.

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"If the government wants to use police to clear the site, don't forget, the clearance can't resolve political conflicts, it can't resolve society's dilemma," said Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old head of the Scholarism group and the pro-democracy movement's most prominent leader.

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Hong Kong authorities have cleared away the last barricades and tents erected during a nearly three-month-long pro-democracy protest, but the dozens of activists they arrested on Thursday vowed that their fight would continue.

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The Hong Kong protests represent one of the most serious challenges to China's authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The Hong Kong movement demands free elections for the city's next leader in 2017 rather than a vote between pre-screened candidates, as Beijing has said it would allow.

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One of the student leaders, Alex Chow, rallied the crowds as the police approached, saying that their fight was not over and they would persist with civil disobedience in days to come. Two student groups that played key roles in organizing the protests had called for supporters to stay until the last moment, but not to resist authorities.

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The first person arrested on Thursday was carried away by her arms and legs. Groups of up to four police arrested the last holdouts one by one, hours after workers used wire cutters to remove barricades and dismantle bamboo scaffolding. In other parts of Admiralty, police dragged away tents, metal barriers, plastic sheets and umbrellas, which have become a worldwide symbol of the movement. Activists had used their umbrellas during clashes with the police to guard against pepper spray and baton blows.

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Hundreds of police officers carried out a methodical operation to shut down the protest site, which sprawled across a normally busy highway on the edge of Admiralty, the specially administered Chinese city's financial district. Police arrested dozens of demonstrators who refused to leave the main protest camp and tore down their tents in a final push to retake the streets. The number of protesters occupying the camps, which peaked in the tens of thousands in September, have diminished significantly in recent weeks.