HONG KONG - Authorities started clearing barricades Thursday from a pro-democracy protest camp spread across a busy highway as part of a final push to retake streets occupied by activists for 21/2 months.

Watched by police, workers in white helmets used box cutters and pliers to remove plastic ties from the barricades, which were made up of metal and plastic safety barriers topped with traffic cones and scaffolding poles. They then passed parts of the barricades to coworkers who shuffled them to the side of the road.

They were following orders from court workers carrying out a restraining order calling for barriers to be dismantled from three sections of the protest site. Police then plan to move in to clear other blocked sections of road so that traffic can start flowing again.

The police operation will be under close scrutiny with a group of about 30 academics monitoring the operation, along with the Independent Police Complaints Council and human-rights groups.

As the clear-out neared, protesters chanted "I want universal suffrage" and threw pieces of paper that read "We will be back."