10/14/2014, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA
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As Occupy barricades are removed, Hong Kong's economy shows little sign of suffering

Hundreds of officers in riot gear, with chainsaws and heavy machinery, tear down roadblocks. Queensway and Causeway Bay are back to normal. Hundreds of protesters are still in the streets, but economists downplay protest's economic impact, comparing it to "another passing storm".

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - This morning hundreds of police in riot gear using chainsaws and heavy machinery tore down barricades Occupy Central and the Federation of Students protesters erected on Queensway and in Causeway Bay, in central Hong Kong.

Demonstrators have been in the streets for more than two weeks to push the mainland to accept real democracy for the Territory in the 2017 election for chief executive and force the resignation of the current chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

At present, the hottest areas of the protest - Admiralty and Mong Kok - appear quiet. After removing barriers, police said it acted in order to facilitate traffic, not to stop the protests. Traffic is back to normal and shops have reopened.

However, several hundred protesters are still in the square. Plans for the next demonstration include calling on residents to drop whatever they are doing at the same time for an hour.

Still following yesterday's scuffles between pro-democracy activists and anti-Occupy groups, many fear new clashes. Although there was no serious violence, many suspect mainland China to be behind these groups.

Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho said that this was "one of the tactics used by the communists in mainland China from time to time. They use triads or pro-government mobs to try to attack you so the government will not have to assume responsibility".

This morning, a group of men in overalls stormed the pickets in Mong Kok.

As business gets back to its usual pace, first estimates of Occupy Central's impact on Hong Kong's economy can be made.

The local government and pro-Beijing business groups have repeatedly stressed that demonstrations run the serious risk of destroying the reputation of the former British crown colony as an international financial and trading centre.

However, a survey published today by Bloomberg indicates that such fears are unfounded. "Like they do when a tropical cyclone closes schools and floods roads, Hong Kong's 220,000 financial services workers have logged on from home and met with clients over Skype to avoid the rallies blocking streets in key business districts."

In addition, "Twelve of 15 economists surveyed [. . .] reaffirmed their 2014 gross domestic product forecasts since protests".

David Gaud, a Hong Kong-based fund manager at Edmond de Rothschild Group, which oversees about US$ 179 billion, said the protests have not changed his long-term view on Hong Kong.

"Things can come back very quickly in terms of tourists, in terms of spending," Gaud said by phone last week. "We may be back to normal in a matter of weeks."

If the current situation persists however, things might get more complicated. "If demonstrations were to continue for much longer, things will get more difficult," a local businessman told AsiaNews.

"China has stopped issuing tourist visas for Hong Kong, in particular for organised tours. Indeed, we see far fewer mainland Chinese shopping. Retail sales, which were already down since the start of the year, could suffer double-digit decline. Restaurants report 30-40 per cent fewer customers. The same goes for all businesses that revolve around tourism."

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