The last band of anti-government protesters trapped inside a besieged Hong Kong university were weighing a narrowing range of options early on Wednesday as city officials allowed primary and secondary schools to reopen in an attempt to restore some kind of normalcy to the city.
Reuters witnesses said fewer than 100 protesters remained on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus and police outside appeared ready to simply wait them out. More than 1,000 people have been arrested since late on Monday.
As the siege continued, children began returning to school after a six-day shutdown triggered by protesters’ attempts to shut down the city by choking off rail and road links.
At PolyU, some protesters were nabbed in escape attempts that included trying to clamber down ropes onto waiting motorbikes.
Others resurfaced inside the campus after unsuccessfully trying to find a way out through the sewers during the night. It was unclear if any had managed to escape that way.
Police searched for potential escapees with spotlights rather than using the tear gas and rubber-coated bullets that had marked clashes in recent days, heeding calls from Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam for a humane end to a siege that saw the most intense violence since protests escalated more than five months ago.
They also tightened barricades in the streets surrounding the university, making them secure enough to be visited late on Tuesday night by the force’s new commissioner, Chris Tang, at the end of his first day on the job.
Tang earlier urged the support of all citizens to end the unrest triggered by fears that China‘s central government is stifling the former British colony’s freedoms and encroaching into the autonomy guaranteed on its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Tang is under pressure to restore public confidence in a force that has come in for widespread criticism for its increasingly violent tactics to suppress the protests.
An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality has become a key demand for the protesters.
The police quietly rolled out a new, harder-edged motto on Tang’s first day, replacing “We Serve with Pride and Care” with “Serving Hong Kong with Honour, Duty and Loyalty”.