Hong Kong, China – About 100 people remain holed up on the campus of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) after several days of clashes between the police and protesters involving tear gas, water cannon and rubber-coated bullets. The protesters fought back with their own improvised weapons.
Police are calling on the remaining demonstrators to drop their weapons and surrender and have arrested those fleeing the scene.
Running battles on the university’s grounds over the past few days have continued into Tuesday morning. As police tightened their hold on the university and the surrounding areas, protesters who had gathered outside the grounds attempted to break police lines and enter the university. This marked another escalation in the city’s ongoing protest movement.
On Monday night hundreds of other protesters were evacuated from the university while a small group was on watch at the campus entrance early on Tuesday morning.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was “extremely worried”. She said she had told police she wanted the situation resolved peacefully in a “humane manner.”
She added that about 600 people had left the university overnight – 200 of whom were below the age of 18 – and that about 100 people were still at the site.
Her comments came as China warned that Hong Kong’s courts, which had ruled the face mask ban illegal, could not supersede the mainland’s jurisdiction.
‘Save the students’
Protests erupted elsewhere across the city into the early hours of Tuesday as protesters took to the streets, angered by the police presence at PolyU. The demonstrators had set up roadblocks made from bricks and bamboo poles, chanting “save the students” to encourage others to support them.
Before dawn on Monday police entered the Hung Hom campus threatening to use force if the demonstrators did not leave the university’s grounds, which they had been occupying since last Thursday.
Bystanders gathered at police cordons surrounding the university, calling on the police to exercise restraint.
At one barricade on Hong Chong Road which runs parallel to the Cross-Harbour tunnel, a PolyU graduate who wanted only to be known as Jack read out a Facebook post he had written about the need to de-escalate to the police.
“Both parties should calm down, I think,” the 35-year-old said, speaking to Al Jazeera. He urged the police to exercise restraint. “A lot of peaceful protesters like us, we are trying to stop the violence,” he said.
The question on many people’s minds was whether the police would enter the university by force. Riot police gathered at exit points around the campus and later arrested numerous people in the area.
Chris, an 18-year-old PolyU student who sat on the roof of the university’s entrance late on Sunday said they were fearful that the violence could spiral out of control given the current tensions.
“The weapons they use put a lot of pressure on us,” he said. “People feel angry, really extremely angry.”
Other students who were inside the university before police entered on Monday said that since the police had blocked the exits they had no choice but to stay.
In a video Jin Guang-Teng, the president of PolyU, urged the protesters to leave the campus, saying he would personally accompany students to police stations so that their cases would be processed fairly.
Concerns about surveillance
In the early hours of the Tuesday morning politicians and educators tried to talk to the police about transporting the protesters on campus to safety.
PolyU, which is next to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Kowloon to Hong Kong Island is one of the few universities that protesters are still currently occupying.
Early last week, The Chinese University of Hong Kong had been the site of some of the most intense clashes. Using The Chinese University and PolyU as bases the protesters blocked traffic on key thoroughfares as part of an attempt to mobilise a general strike and bring the city to a standstill.
Professor Wai Fong Ting, a former professor of social work at PolyU who had spent the past few days on the premises said she had counselled the students who had remained on campus – many of whom were her former students – because it was the right thing to do.
“We hold on for as long as we can,” she said.
She said her students were particularly concerned about the encroachment of Chinese power and the use of surveillance.
Fears about Beijing’s influence and growing interference in Hong Kong’s affairs have taken centre stage in the protest movement that started in June in response to a proposed extradition bill to China.
Protesters now want assurances that Hong Kong would retain its autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle and are calling for an amnesty for those arrested in the disturbances, an inquiry into alleged police brutality, and for the police to retract their characterisation of the protesters as “rioters”. They also want the right to elect their own legislature and leader.