Occupy Central protesters in Hong Kong defied a 9 p.m. deadline last night to leave HSBC Holdings Plc’s Asian headquarters where they have spent more than 10 months demonstrating against income inequality.
More than 10 tents were still pitched on the ground floor plaza under HSBC’s Central building today, with some demonstrators sleeping on couches.
“There are things that we need to persist in,” Ho Yiu-shing, a protester who was named in the eviction court case HSBC brought against the group. “There’s a symbolic meaning in our move. I will continue to get more people to support the Occupy movement.”
The demonstrators, who totaled about 50 at the height of the protest, were to evacuate by 9 p.m., according to an order given by Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance on Aug. 13. Police in other countries have evicted activists from the Occupy Movement, which started in New York last year. Authorities in London removed campaigners in London on June 14, while in November, U.S. demonstrations ended in confrontation with authorities.
Last night, media outnumbered a few dozen protesters as cameramen crowded around a band whose music elicited head-banging and shouts from those remaining in the makeshift camp. Security guards didn’t intervene.
While Hong Kong has seen its wealth gap widen to a record, stoking public discontent, the Occupy Central movement has failed to attract demonstrators equal in number to those who took part in protest marches this year. On July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, as many as 112,000 people took to the streets to demand more be done about income inequality, human rights in China and higher minimum wages.
“Most of them have already gone,” said D. Tam, a woman who wore a baseball cap and green face mask, and declined to give her full name. “There are not enough people left. Even though we are just a small group we will stay until the last minute to support the anti-capitalist movement.”
Six people who came to attend the Occupy Central concert last night were chatting at the area this morning and said they will leave soon.
One shirtless male protester clad in ripped trousers and face paint danced under an escalator in the area last night, surrounded by shreds of Chinese funeral money and HK$10 notes. As he filmed himself on a pink digital camera perched on a tripod, the man was joined by a girl who spun in circles around him.
If the protesters don’t leave, a writ of possession will be issued by the court, and executed by a bailiff, HSBC spokesman Gareth Hewett said in an e-mail yesterday.
“HSBC will work in consultation with the court bailiff to agree the timing and terms of the execution of the writ of possession,” Hewett said. “No eviction will take place on the plaza until the writ of possession is in place.”
Occupy Central aimed to create a community space for the discussion and sharing of the group’s ideals, activists said on its Facebook page. They have pitched tents, laid out couches, and conducted English and music classes at the HSBC plaza since Oct. 15.
“We may be forcefully moved out of here but at the same time we will also be making a peaceful protest,” said Riyah Mahbu, a teacher who has participated in in the protest since June. “There will not be violence.”
HSBC said earlier that it had requested the protesters leave voluntarily on May 29 because of a number of events scheduled at the plaza. The bank sought a court order after the demonstrators failed to comply with the request.
In June, as many as 100 police officers were involved in evicting the last Occupy London campaigners from Finsbury Square near the city’s financial district. There were no arrests and no violent incidents during the operation, said a spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police Service.
The non-confrontational end to the London occupation contrasts with cities like New York and Oakland, California. New York City police in riot gear swept into a Lower Manhattan park on Nov. 15 to remove Occupy Wall Street protesters. About 142 people were arrested inside the park and more than 50 outside, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The U.S. demonstration started as a way to highlight “the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse,” according to the Occupy Wall Street website. The action spread to more than 1,500 cities worldwide, it said.
Hong Kong is one of several Asian cities including Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo which have seen protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York spread to their streets.