Hundreds of Hong Kong police staged a dawn raid on Friday on one of the key sites occupied by pro-democracy protesters, removing barricades from roads and clearing out most of the demonstrators in an another setback for their movement.
The operation in the gritty working class area of Mong Kok, across the harbor from the main demonstration zone near the office of Hong Kong's leader, came while many protesters were asleep in their tents.
It further reduces the number of protest sites that have paralysed parts of the Asian financial hub over the past three weeks. Police encountered little resistance, unlike recent days when there has been violent clashes during operations to clear other major roads.
The mainly student protesters have been demanding full democracy for the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and calling on its leader, Leung Chun-ying, to step down.
In August, Beijing offered Hong Kong people the chance to vote for their own leader in 2017, but only among candidates selected by a screening committee filled with pro-Beijing figures.
Leung on Thursday sought to defuse tensions with demonstrators, saying he hoped the two sides could talk next week. But he also said police would clear protesters at a suitable time.
"I am so furious. The government said it would talk to the students about these issues, then it came and cleared our base," said Cony Cheung, 21, a skin care products saleswoman.
No arrests were made, said Barry Smith, a police chief superintendent on the scene, describing the operation as "fairly peaceful". About 800 officers were involved, he added.
"They've been occupying this whole area now for almost three weeks and so we decided it's time to give the public the right of way, to get the roads back and get access to pedestrians," Smith said.