The campus of a Hong Kong university transformed into an apocalyptic scene on Monday as riot police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets surrounded pro-democracy protesters.
The standoff between authorities and protesters at Hong Kong Polytechnic University has turned into one of the fiercest, most violent conflicts in the nearly six months of protests in the autonomous territory.
What began as a movement to block a controversial extradition bill morphed into a sustained call for greater democratic rights in Hong Kong and a pushback against the growing influence of China. The demonstrations have grown increasingly tense in recent weeks. Last week, police shot a protester and demonstrators set a pro-Beijing activist on fire.
Protesters have been occupying parts of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus since last week, but the confrontation with police escalated dramatically on Sunday and into Monday, turning the campus into a war zone. Protesters hunkered down and barricaded themselves against police, flinging firebombs and debris and even firing arrows at riot police. Police threatened to use live ammunition in response.
Early Monday local time, riot police rushed the campus, effectively trapping hundreds of demonstrators inside. Authorities cornered the activists and delivered an ultimatum, calling on them to surrender or face a barrage of tear gas. Police said those who do surrender will face arrest and potential charges of rioting, which means individuals could face up to 10 years in prison.
Some demonstrators have managed to sneak away; photographers documented people running along a footbridge away from campus. But others are holed up, waiting for an opportunity to break free and avoid arrest.
Han, a 23-year-old protester and first aider, told me she was hiding inside a classroom at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, resting before trying once again to find a way out. We spoke through a translator based in the UK via WhatsApp.
Han said that protests broke out at PolyU because it’s near major infrastructure; protesters wanted to block those areas to create real impact and force the government to listen to their demands. “Students [don’t] want to fight these battles, they just want the government to listen to their demands,” she said.
Some protesters pleaded for help on social media, saying they were cornered by police with no defense and running out of food and medicine. Supporters of the campus protesters tried to form a human chain to deliver medical supplies, helmets, food, and water. According to the Wall Street Journal, the link stretched miles but failed to penetrate the police barricade.
Hong Kong officials said they were allowing the Red Cross to enter the campus and treat injured protesters.
Other supporters -including parents of some students at the university -staged a sit-in outside campus. They carried signs that said “Save our Kids.”
Demonstrators also flocked to other parts of the city, trying to distract and draw police away from the campus so demonstrators there could escape. Scenes of chaos also emerged in other parts of Hong Kong as demonstrators blocked traffic, many carrying umbrellas to fend off tear gas.
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