Anti-government protesters paralysed parts of Hong Kong for a fourth day on Thursday, blocking highways and other transport links to disrupt the city and prompting schools to close amid a marked escalation of violence.
Protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police stations and trains and vandalised prime shopping malls over the past week in some of the worst violence seen in more than five months of unrest.
Black-clad protesters and university students maintained their blockades of important roads, including the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Hong Kong island to the Kowloon area and a large highway between Kowloon and the rural New Territories.
Police fired tear gas near the tunnel early on Thursday to try and clear the protesters.
Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from the site of the tunnel, which was closed, said the disruption was taking its toll.
“It’s having a huge impact not just on university students, protesters and police but also on general public,” she said.
“That’s simply because they are scattering these flash mobs, protests and strikes across the city.”
Thousands of students barricaded themselves inside campuses with makeshift fortifications at several universities, blocking entrances and occupying nearby roads, preparing stockpiles of food, bricks, petrol bombs and other makeshift weapons as they hunkered down for possible clashes with police.
Commuters queued at metro stations after some rail services were suspended and 15 stations closed.
Some citizens, dressed in office wear, shouted at riot police who were deployed on station platforms.
Demonstrators are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Police said on Wednesday violence in the Chinese self-governing territory had reached a “very dangerous and even deadly level”.
Authorities said on Thursday 64 people were injured during Wednesday’s clashes, which left two men in a critical condition. There were no further details about the injuries they sustained.
Police said in a statement a man had died after falling from an unspecified height on Wednesday but gave no further details. It was not clear whether his death was related to the continuing unrest.
One woman, a 24-year-old worker caught in the traffic gridlock who gave her name as Kristy, said: “The government and the police have escalated the violence.”
“If the government wants the violence to stop they need to listen to our demands,” she said.
Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam met senior officials late on Wednesday, media reported, amid speculation of fresh emergency measures to deal with the unrest.
The city’s Education Bureau announced that schools across the territory would be shut on Thursday due to safety concerns, which typically only happens during severe typhoons or natural disasters. The Bureau later said the closure had been extended to Sunday.
Several universities also announced there would be no classes for the rest of the year from Thursday, and that they would rely on online learning and other assessment methods for the remaining weeks of term.
A number of significant shopping malls also announced they would close on Thursday due to safety concerns as protesters planned further demonstrations throughout the day.
Lam said this week protesters paralysing the city were “selfish” and were the people’s enemy.