- In first public comments on PolyU stand-off, new police commissioner sets out exemptions for immediate arrest, calls for peaceful conclusion
- At least eight believed to have left campus overnight following pleas from 'first aiders' but others refuse to go, fearing police trap
Hong Kong's new police chief said on Friday there was no deadline for dealing with protesters barricaded inside Polytechnic University, as he urged them to come out so the crisis could be resolved peacefully.
Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung appealed to the holed-up activists after several more emerged overnight from the campus, which has been under police siege since Sunday.
A group presenting as first-aiders entered the site early on Friday, telling those inside they could lead them out without facing immediate arrest.
Dozens of radicals were still believed to be holed up in the Hung Hom campus on Friday as the stand-off with police entered its sixth day.
In his first public comments on the issue since taking charge of the 31,000-strong force, Chris Tang highlighted the importance of a peaceful resolution as he warned the campus was becoming increasingly dangerous.
He also promised not to arrest minors on the spot or those with immediate medical needs. Those who were over 18 would be arrested straight away, he added. The chief said the force reserves the right to arrest underage protesters later.
"We hope to end the matter peacefully. We have not set any deadline," Tang said on Friday, when he visited his staff in the Police Sports and Recreation Club in Kowloon Tong.
"There are many explosives and petrol bombs inside. The conditions are deteriorating. To the people who remain inside, I think you do not want your family members, friends and visitors to be worried.
"I hope you can come out as soon as possible and solve the matter peacefully."
Hours earlier, the protesters were offered a way out by self-proclaimed medical assistants, who entered the grounds at about 12.30am after police reportedly handed them a numbered card.
Some of the protesters raised fears the group were acting in collusion with police as part of an effort to end the stalemate, and that officers might arrest them later.
But one member of the supposed medical team said they were trying to protect those still on site from harm.
It is understood none of the eight activists who left in the company of those identifying themselves as first-aiders were arrested, but were made to register their details with police.
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Violent clashes in the university area on Sunday, labelled a riot by police, led officers that evening to surround the campus, where hundreds of radical protesters had barricaded themselves. The vast majority have since surrendered, with only a few dozen thought to be remaining.
Hong Kong has been battered by more than five months of anti-government protests sparked in June by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The unrest intensified this month, with radicals causing citywide carnage during working hours and university campuses emerging as a new battleground between radical protesters and police.
The mysterious departure of the activists on Friday morning came on the back of two days of relative calm across the city after protesters had earlier heeded repeated online calls to "paralyse" Hong Kong.
It is not known who authorised the passage of the first-aiders into the campus, or why the lockdown was lifted for them. The last batch of medical helpers had already left the university on Wednesday.
In an attempt to persuade the protesters to leave, the first-aiders said those who followed them out could go straight into an ambulance and be exempted from immediate arrest.
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"We just want to get people out safely without being shot or beaten by 'Raptors' (police's Special Tactical Squad)," one in the group said.
"We will call ambulances for them if they want to leave and they won't be arrested by police."
He added his group had been given a numbered card by police as they entered via a force checkpoint.
However, others questioned how they could have got in and whether they had cut a deal with police to talk protesters into standing down.
The group carried a two-way radio to communicate with each other as they walked across the campus seeking out the remaining radicals.
At least eight protesters left in the company of the group after registering their identification with police. Others were not persuaded.
Police have said they wanted to resolve the saga "peacefully".
More than 1,000 people were arrested or had their details recorded as they exited through checkpoints bordering the campus, the force said on Thursday. Of those, about 300 were said to be under 18 years old.
A third-year student at PolyU, who gave his name as John, said he had tried and failed on three occasions to escape through police cordons since Sunday, but would not give up.
"I won't surrender myself to police because I have already stayed here for this long. My parents are of course worried and have suggested escape routes to me before, but none of them worked," the 21-year-old said.
It is difficult to calculate the exact number of protesters still in the university because they are scattered across the campus. Lights could be seen on in some classrooms and corridors in different buildings early on Friday.
Some are seen in pairs or small groups coming to the canteens to access remaining food and supplies. Only a few continue to wear full protest gear, carrying batons and shields.
A protester known as "the cook" for operating the canteen and feeding his fellow protesters for the past few days, said he was prepared to be the last one to leave.
"I have nothing to lose and I don't regret coming in to serve food to people with the same ideals. I will stay till the end because I am physically strong," he said.
Responding to questions from the media on Friday, Tang also rebutted a report that police had banned a protester from leaving Hong Kong after surrendering at PolyU.
"The protester concerned is over 18. He made an excuse of having a medical need and took an ambulance to hospital.
"Without going inside the hospital, he immediately left the scene. That's the reason why we had to make an arrest."
Tang added that underage protesters who surrendered would be allowed to leave the city. He said adults would not be barred from departing Hong Kong unless they were charged or bound by court conditions.
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Meanwhile, pupils from at least one secondary school on Friday morning defied the Education Bureau's warning that students must not participate in political activities at schools.
About 10 students and alumni from St Francis Xavier's School in Tsuen Wan were trying to form a human chain to block other students from entering the school at about 7am, so as to pressurise senior teachers into suspending classes "until society returns to normal".
But police arrived quickly to shut down the protest and check identification documents.
On Thursday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the bureau had issued a letter to parents at 30 government-run secondary schools, stating students should not carry out political activities, such as strikes and human chains, at school.
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