Hong Kong authorities and activists are set for one last showdown after the publication Tuesday of a court order authorizing the removal of barricades and tents blocking the Asian financial hub's streets for more than two months.
A High Court restraining order carried in newspapers required that obstructions be removed from the Admiralty district, site of the protesters' main camp downtown.
The site is one of three that the student-led protesters had occupied since late September to press their demands for greater democracy.
Another protest site in the rough-and-tumble Mong Kok neighborhood was already shut down late last month by authorities enforcing a separate court order. The aggressive police operation sparked several nights of violent clashes in the neighborhood's tight grid of streets, resulting in about 160 arrests.
Workers will dismantle the Admiralty protest camp on Thursday starting at 9 a.m., said Paul Tse, lawyer for the bus company that took out the injunction.
"What I would like to do now is to make a public plea to the students to stay away from the scene when there is plenty of time," he told reporters, adding that the company wanted to give protesters enough time to pack up their belongings and leave the site.
Organizers said as many as 200,000 people joined the protests early on, but numbers have since dwindled and only a handful remain at the Admiralty camp, next to city government headquarters.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the groups organizing the protests, said last week it's mulling a retreat but has not yet made a decision. The group had earlier led a failed bid to surround the headquarters complex in a desperate last-minute push to pressure the government over Beijing's requirement to screen candidates in the inaugural 2017 election for the city's top leader.
The South China Morning Post newspaper said the third and smallest protest site, in the Causeway Bay district, is also expected to be dismantled at the same time, citing unidentified police sources. The paper said 3,000 police officers would be deployed to for the operation.