HONG KONG - As the protests in Hong Kong dwindledMonday, organizers of the biggest pro-democracy political movement in China since the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing said they had moved the needle, however slightly, toward the possibility of a more democratic future.
Before the movement splashed into headlines around the world more than a week ago, the prospect of real talks between democracy advocates and a government bent on doing Beijing's will was nonexistent, protesters said.
They said preliminary talks have begun, and the student-led movement has strengthened the hand of Hong Kong's democratic lawmakers.
"The power shown by the people in this civil protest is the power of the powerless," Albert Ho, the former head of the Democratic Party, said in a telephone interview.
Although the protest leaders and the remaining participants, who still numbered in the low thousands, insisted that the so-called Umbrella Revolution was a long-term project that was far from over, there was a sense on Monday of a winding down and, after 11 days of overnight street protests, a dissipation of energy.
"I'm very, very, very tired," said Dennis Chan, 28. "We all are."
"It won't end today, but maybe tomorrow, maybe later, too, when there are fewer and fewer people," he added. "It's hard to say that we've won this battle. But it's been positive in making pressure on the government to open a conversation with the students."
Even the protest leaders were adopting the past tense.
"All gates were closed before," Yvonne Leung, a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said in a phone interview. "We have now won some space for dialogue, and we've seen a growth in our civil society. The people used to be unaware of their own power, but now they know."
On Monday, the student groups honored a commitment they made to the government the night before to clear the barricades enough to allow civil servants to return to work.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who has rejected the protesters' calls for him to resign, said the government would seek "a sincere dialogue on political reform."