Hong Kong police begin removing protester barricades

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Media captionJohn Sudworth: This looks like the start of an attempt to reclaim streets

Police in Hong Kong have begun removing some of the barricades erected on major roads by pro-democracy protesters.

But protesters remain at the sites in Central district and Mong Kok, and police said their action was aimed at easing traffic, not ending protests.

The protesters, calling for full democracy, have occupied parts of Hong Kong for more than two weeks.

China has agreed to direct elections for Hong Kong's leader in 2017 but wants to control who can stand.

Protesters say this is not democracy.

The early days of the protests saw huge numbers attend nightly rallies. At the end of last month tensions escalated after police used tear gas and baton charges on protestors.

Since then, there has been no use of force and police presence has been minimal.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police faced protesters in Hong Kong's business district early on Monday
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The barricades have been blocking major routes through the business district

In recent days numbers on the streets have dropped but small groups, some sleeping in tents, remain at the three sites at Mong Kok, at Causeway Bay and in Central, around government offices.

On Monday during the operations in Central and Mong Kok, police wore high-visibility jackets but no riot gear.

"Today we haven't come to clear the area," one police officer told protesters, the Associated Press reports. "We just want to clear the barricades blocking the road and take back the government's tools and other property."

The police action came a day after Hong Kong's leader CY Leung stressed that Beijing would not change its mind on reforms despite the protests.

He did not rule out the use of force to end the demonstrations.

"We've resorted to all kinds of persuasions... We absolutely would not prefer clearing the venue, but if one day the venue has to be cleared, I believe the police will use their professional judgement and training using minimum amount of force," he said.

Mr Leung again ruled out resigning and said that the protest movement had "lost control".

Mr Leung's government called off talks with protesters a day before they were to take place last week, saying students' refusal to end their campaign had made "constructive dialogue" impossible.