Hong Kong protests: bitter stand-off inside Polytechnic University continues with as many as 100 activists still on campus, determined to evade capture

South China Morning Post Dipublikasikan 00.11, 20/11/2019
Hong Kong protests: bitter stand-off inside Polytechnic University continues with as many as 100 activists still on campus, determined to evade capture

No resolution to the bitter stand-off at Hong Kong Polytechnic University appeared to be in sight on Tuesday night as 60 to 100 protesters remained on campus, determined to resist capture and not join the 1,000 who had so far either surrendered or been arrested.

The city's leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said on Tuesday that she hoped the impasse, entering its fourth day by Wednesday, could be resolved peacefully, with those injured and aged under 18 handled in a humane manner.

She pledged that the minors would not be arrested but would only have their names recorded for the time being.

Since Sunday evening, police have surrounded the campus following a day of extremely violent clashes which the force declared to be a riot.

On Monday, hard core radicals went on a rampage all over Kowloon, wreaking havoc by blocking roads and setting off petrol bombs in a bid to distract the police and thin out their ranks at the campus.

Stretches of Nathan Road were damaged by bricks, barricades and fires, with Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok witnessing some of the night's most chaotic scenes that continued well into the early hours of Tuesday.

Police fired 1,458 rounds of tear gas, 1,391 rubber bullets, 325 beanbag rounds and 265 sponge grenades on Monday.

More than 200 people were arrested at Pitt Street, Mong Kok on Monday night and will be charged for rioting, the largest number of people prosecuted for the offence at the same time, according to police sources. They are expected to appear in West Kowloon Magistracy on Wednesday morning.

Tuesday night offered a respite of sorts for police, with only about 100 protesters active in Mong Kok. The force maintained a light presence and nothing more came of the stand-off.

At Polytechnic University's stand-off, about 800 protesters, including 300 aged under 18, had surrendered by Tuesday night while another 500 were arrested.

Most were arrested for rioting offences which could result in a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

The number of arrests on Monday was the highest for a single day since the protests, sparked in early June by opposition to an extradition bill and which snowballed into a wider anti-government movement.

Carrie Lam said the record high showed the government and police force were capable of handling the situation, dismissing suggestions that the People's Liberation Army could be called upon to restore order to the city.

First aid volunteers are allowed to leave the PolyU campus after identity recorded. Photo: Sam Tsang

Asked about continuing speculation Sunday's district council elections could be postponed, Lam renewed her appeal for protesters to call a halt to their violent tactics so that "just and fair" elections could be staged.

Hundreds were evacuated overnight from inside the campus after 75 secondary school heads and teachers, along with political and legal heavyweights, persuaded them after coordinating with police.

A few groups, numbering about a dozen each, also emerged on Tuesday with some suffering from hypothermia and leg injuries. In the evening, another 12 or so came out accompanied by opposition lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung, who was allowed to go home without being arrested.

A group of more than 20 volunteer first aiders, some of whom had been inside the campus since at least Sunday, at 8pm announced they had performed their duties and would leave.

"We want our safety to be guaranteed when we leave the school," a representative said, adding the number of protesters remaining had gone down and food and water were running low.

A total of 280 injured protesters from PolyU were sent to 12 public hospitals in batches on Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman from the Hospital Authority said.

A protester crawls down a tunnel after dropping down a manhole. Photo: AFP

On Tuesday night, newly-minted Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung who took over the post on Monday made an appearance outside the campus to boost the morale of his men out in force for three days.

Auxiliary Bishop of Hong Kong Joseph Ha Chi-shing also visited the campus as he wanted to tell the young people inside to believe in hope, as he had heard they were ready to die defending the school.

"I hope they can understand not everything can be solved in a day. At the moment I am here to listen to what (the protesters) want, I am not sure it is so easy to convince them to leave," he said.

Over the course of the past three days, desperate but defiant protesters had tried various methods to break out from the campus, with two groups making a failed bid late on Tuesday night and were soon arrested by police.

In the early hours of Tuesday, several climbed down a manhole leading to an underground tunnel, only to resurface through another drain also on campus.

"It was disgusting (down there)," a masked man said. "We resorted to doing this because we did not know how else to seek help from the outside world."

On Monday night, dozens of escapees abseiled seven metres from a campus footbridge onto a highway and were picked up by waiting motorcycles, resulting in 37 arrests according to police but videos of this stunt went viral, with supporters cheering them on.

By Tuesday evening, a Post reporter observed at least three teams still searching for an elusive exit from campus. One group of about 20 had attempted to flee from nearby roads in the early afternoon, but their mission was aborted when police were seen patrolling near a flyover.

Some defiant protesters said they would fight until they got arrested.

"We will not turn ourselves in - that's conceding defeat," said Eric, 18, a student who had been on campus for three days. "We will just hide or maybe lock ourselves in a room."

Carrie Lam has called for a peaceful resolution to the university siege. Photo: Bloomberg

He said he had only slept for five hours during the past three days as he tried to find a way out or stay alert to any advance from police.

Protesters estimated that about 60 to 100 of their peers remained on campus, with many of those still there not PolyU students or possibly having never attended any university.

Among them was radical protester Sum Yiu, 25, who finished school when he was 19 and worked in various driving jobs since.

"We just wanted to protect the students, but there are no students for us to protect," Yiu said. "We can't even protect ourselves."

He said he understood why some chose to go.

"We are outnumbered and we can only hope police will not storm in," he said.

At about 10.45pm, a final group of volunteer first aid workers were led to a police cordon by the Science Museum to leave PolyU, accompanied by a lawyer. While the first aid workers were being searched by riot police, a small group of protesters attempted to escape, making a break for it by climbing over a fence. However, they were spotted and more than 10 were arrested.

Speaking ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting earlier on Tuesday, Lam said she had laid out two principles with police for handling the stand-off: that they were to resolve the incident peacefully and treat injured or underage protesters in a humanitarian manner.

Describing the arrangement as exceptional, she said those under 18 had been allowed to go home after their personal details were recorded by police, with the force reserving the right to arrest them later.

Lam also condemned Chinese University being turned into a "weapons factory", as police later revealed during their daily briefing that more than 3,000 unused petrol bombs had been found on the Sha Tin campus on Monday, while 100 litres of concentrated acid was missing from the laboratories. A total of over 8000 petrol bombs had been founded on the campus, a source told the Post.

A group of protesters who tried to flee are arrested by police officers outside the PolyU campus. Photo: Sam Tsang

At the same briefing, Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung addressed allegations of brutality when subduing protesters.

"They intentionally put up struggle and resistance no matter, to make room and create time for others to rescue them," Kong said. "In subduing these kinds of rioters, we have to do it quickly and with appropriate force."

On Wednesday, defiant protesters are planning to block traffic and trains to revive their weekday campaign of chaos.

Additional reporting by Karen Zhang, Kinling Lo, Zoe Low, Christy Leung and Lilian Cheng

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