By James Pomfret and Donny Kwok
HONG KONG, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Hong Kong authorities prepared on Thursday to clear part of the city's main pro-democracy protest site that has choked roads leading to the most economically and politically important district for more than two months over calls for free elections.
The mainly peaceful protests have represented the most serious challenge to China's authority since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and bloody crackdown in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Hundreds of police arrived in the Admiralty district next to government buildings early on Thursday to help enforce an injunction order against street barricades erected by protesters after a request from a Hong Kong bus company.
Many protesters packed up pillows, blankets and other belongings from inside their tents as they prepared to leave.
"Some of my friends are prepared to stay till the last moment, but I will walk away," said 20-year-old student Lucy Tang. "I will for sure miss this place. It has become my home."
A large yellow banner bearing an umbrella and the words "We'll be back" was draped in the center of the highway where protesters have camped out, with similar messages scrawled on roads and posted on tents.
Next to a base of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in the heart of the city, a huge orange banner erected across barricades said: "It's just the beginning."
People at some supply stations were bracing for possible clashes with police, laying out boxes of goggles and umbrellas for students to protect themselves against any use of pepper spray or batons.
The Admiralty site has stood as a poignant symbol of calls for democracy that have been spurned by the government and Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
Hundreds of tents have dotted the eight-lane highway that connects some of the city's most important financial and commercial districts since late September.
The protest site has taken on an almost village feel, with a large study area, first aid tents and scores of supply stations scattered across the highway.
More than 10,000 people massed at the democracy protest site on Wednesday evening, even as authorities warned people to stay away, before the final clearance.
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that gives the city more autonomy and freedom than the mainland and a goal of universal suffrage.
The protesters are demanding open nominations in the city's next election for chief executive in 2017. Beijing has said it will allow a vote in 2017, but only between pre-screened candidates. (Additional reporting By Farah Master and Clare Baldwin and Lizzie Ko; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Paul Tait)