Clashes with Hong Kong police rage into the night at university campus

A protester lowers herself down a rope from a bridge to a highway, to escape from Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus and from police in Hong Kong on Nov 18, 2019.
A protester lowers herself down a rope from a bridge to a highway, to escape from Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus and from police in Hong Kong on Nov 18, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Crisis heads towards a bitter end as hundreds defy repeated warnings to stay away from area

Hopes of a possible ceasefire at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) - the last of three campuses that remained in an intense stand-off with police - shattered as fresh clashes raged into the night, with hundreds defying repeated government warnings to stay away from the area.

The worsening political crisis, which could endanger the coming district polls on Sunday, appeared to head towards a bitter end as vicious clashes yesterday resumed in PolyU where hundreds of anti-government protesters, some of whom were injured or suffering from hypothermia, were surrounded by police who called upon them to surrender.

Police also urged others to stay away from the site as protesters pleaded for reinforcements, including water and food, to battle police.

Last night, medical personnel were allowed in to tend to the wounded, while university officials called for more negotiations, and parents made emotional pleas to the authorities to let children caught up in the PolyU police siege leave unharmed.

Earlier yesterday, PolyU head Teng Jin Guang said in a video message that he had reached an agreement with police for a ceasefire, on the condition that the protesters stopped their attacks.

"We have also received permission from the police for you to leave the campus peacefully and I will personally accompany you to the police station to ensure that your case will be fairly processed," he said, but to no avail.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, in a Facebook post yesterday evening, said: "Police have many times made appeals. Those inside the campus should listen to police without delay."

She was scheduled to hold a weekly press briefing this morning.

Dozens inside the campus managed to escape last night by abseiling down to a highway from a campus footbridge. They were picked up by vehicles.

 
 

The Hospital Authority said last night that 116 people were injured and taken to hospitals, adding that a woman was in serious condition.

Fears grew within the campus as protesters ran low on supplies. Some tried to flee yesterday morning but many were caught by officers, while the majority refused to surrender. Protesters threw petrol bombs and bricks from improvised catapults, while officers stationed outside the Hung Hom campus retaliated with tear gas and water cannon.

Amid the confrontations which lasted an unprecedented 48 hours from Sunday, explosions were heard, fires sent thick smoke into the sky and tear gas mists clouded the university campus.

Chief superintendent of the police public relations branch Kwok Ka Chuen yesterday described PolyU as "a weapon factory" and "a refuge for extremely violent rioters".

"We also received a report from PolyU that several toxic and dangerous chemicals had been stolen from the laboratory. Among the stolen chemicals were highly volatile explosives. We must warn that the university campus has become a powder keg where danger is far beyond what we can estimate," he said.

Universities became the new battlegrounds in Hong Kong's anti-government movement following the Nov 8 death of computer science undergraduate Alex Chow Tsz Lok. The 22-year-old was the first student death directly linked to the protests that have gripped the city the past six months.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin Chung said yesterday that the protest movement is no longer about the now-withdrawn extradition Bill, but "it is now about destroying Hong Kong".

 
 

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip said that events over the weekend have "reduced the chance" of the government being able to hold district council elections on Sunday. "I must say that postponing the elections is a difficult decision to make and we will not take this step unless absolutely necessary."

All schools and kindergartens for children with special needs in Hong Kong will close again today, in a shutdown that started last Thursday amid transport chaos and safety concerns.

China's Ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming said yesterday that China will not simply sit back and watch if months of protests develop into an "uncontrollable" situation. "We have enough resolution and power to end the unrest," he told a London press conference.

He also said foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, should stop interfering in Hong Kong's internal affairs.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2019, with the headline 'Clashes with HK police rage into the night at uni campus'. Print Edition | Subscribe