Sat | Dec 14, 2019

Campus under siege as police battle protesters

Published:Tuesday | November 19, 2019 | 12:21 AM
Police detain a protester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Monday. Hong Kong police fought off protesters with tear gas and batons as they tried to break through a police cordon that is trapping hundreds of them on a university campus.
Police detain a protester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Monday. Hong Kong police fought off protesters with tear gas and batons as they tried to break through a police cordon that is trapping hundreds of them on a university campus.

HONG KONG (AP):

Police tightened their siege of a university campus where hundreds of protesters remained trapped Monday night in the latest dramatic episode in months of protests against growing Chinese control over the semi-autonomous city.

The pitched battle for control of the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been the focus of the latest protests as demonstrators for days fortified the campus to keep the police out. Now cornered by security forces determined to arrest them, they desperately tried to get out but faced a cordon of officers armed with tear gas and water cannons.

Senior government officials said they were trying to de-escalate the situation and urged the protesters to peacefully leave the campus and cooperate with police – advice that seemed certain to lead to arrests, and therefore strengthened the protesters’ resolve to resist.

Officers repelled one escape attempt early Monday with tear gas, driving hundreds of protesters back on to the campus. Later, huge crowds of supporters advanced on foot towards the police from outside the cordon to try to disrupt the police operation.

Some protesters descended by ropes from a footbridge to a road below, where they were met by motorbike riders trying to help them flee as police fired tear gas. It was unclear whether they got away safely.

Throughout the day, multiple protests disrupted traffic in the Asian financial centre, where schools remained closed because of safety concerns stemming from the demonstrations, which began in June but have become increasingly violent in recent weeks.

Local council elections scheduled for Sunday were at risk of being delayed because of the unrest, said Patrick Nip, Hong Kong’s secretary for constitutional affairs.

“The situation in the past weekend has obviously reduced the chance of holding the election as scheduled. And I am very anxious about this,” Nip said, adding that the government “won’t take this step unless absolutely necessary”.

The give and take has played out repeatedly during the city’s months of anti-government unrest. The protesters want to avoid arrest. The police want to pick up as many as they can.

“These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts,” said Cheuk Hau-yip, the commander of Kowloon West district, where Polytechnic is located.

“Other than coming out to surrender, I don’t see, at the moment, there’s any viable option for them,” he said, adding that police have the ability and resolve to end the stand-off.