Hundreds of protesters and police officers remained locked in a stand-off at a Hong Kong university on Monday afternoon, with many fearing a bloody showdown.
Protesters, some of whom are minors, have occupied the Polytechnic University as part of efforts to pressure the government to address their demands, including an independent investigation into police conduct and democratic reforms.
But both sides are unwilling to yield, creating concern among the general population that the conclusion to the standoff will be ugly.
Backed by China's top leader, President Xi Jinping, the Hong Kong government has turned to the police as a means to curb the protests, who clashed with protesters armed with firebombs and improvised weapons.
The police said anyone leaving the school could be arrested for taking part in a riot. Those who tried to escape on their own had been stopped with tear gas and rubber bullets fired by officers.
In the meantime, family members and friends of those inside the university gathered outside police cordon lines calling on officers to treat those on campus in a humane way.
Pro-democracy lawmakers have appealed to the police to allow the protesters to leave without arresting them, but police have refused.
"Rioters, put down your weapons, stop the violence, come out and surrender as soon as possible," Kelvin Kong, a police spokesman, said at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
"If you continue using lethal force, we will surely use compatible, minimal force to subdue you. Don't try to provoke us."
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam asked protesters on campus to follow police instructions in a Facebook post on Monday afternoon.
Separately, in a victory for the protest movement, Hong Kong's High Court ruled a controversial anti-mask law unconstitutional.
Lam enacted the law in October in a failed attempt to quell violent protests, invoking her emergency powers as the city's chief executive.
The contentious stand-off came after more than five months' of an anti-government movement in Hong Kong, sparked in June by an unpopular extradition bill. The government announced a withdrawal of the bill in September following three months of protests, but smaller, wild-cat demonstrations have continued to protest alleged police abuse of force.
The government has refused protesters' demands while the movement has become increasingly violent. Protesters have been blocking roads and disrupting public transport in an attempt to pressure the government.
Universities became battlefields for protesters and police last week. While most schools were emptied on Friday, protesters stayed at the Polytechnic University over the weekend, trying to keep shut the Cross Harbour Tunnel that connects the Hong Kong island with Kowloon.
On Sunday night, police surrounded the campus. Desperate protesters, some of them students at the university, used arrows, petrol bombs and other self-made weapons to try to stop officers from entering the school.
They set alight a police van, shot an officer with an arrow and burned facilities on campus. Afterward, police vowed to use live bullets if protesters continued to attack officers.
Owan Li, a student representative on Polytechnic University's governing council, said on Monday afternoon that many injured people inside the campus had not received proper treatment.
Dozens have been arrested during the clashes, and a few others have turned themselves in to the police.
On Monday, police said medics from Red Cross had been allowed to enter the campus to help the injured. The police said protesters could access medical treatment if they followed police orders.
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