Nov. 17 (UPI) — A standoff between police and pro-democracy protesters trapped within a Hong Kong university entered its second day Monday as police briefly stormed the campus and conducted arrests and demonstrators attempted to flee the area.
Police said Monday during a press conference that protesters over the weekend had turned Polytechnic University into a “weapons factory” and a “refuge for extremely violent rioters.”
“A university is supposed to be a breeding ground for young talent, but it is unfortunately become a battlefield for criminals,” a police spokesman said.
He said it is “justified” for police who have repeatedly asked protesters to surrender to take action to secure public order at the university.
“Our message was loud and clear. The violence has escalated to rioting,” he said, adding that as long as the protesters within the university surrender their weapons and subject themselves to the law “the police have no reason to use force.”
Over the weekend, 154 people were arrested, including 51 women, between the ages of 13 and 54 for unlawful assembly, taking part in a riot, and in possession of offensive weapons, he said.
“We must make this very clear,” he said. “Nowhere in Hong Kong is a lawless land.”
Early Monday, officers made arrests and threatened to use live fire to stop demonstrators’ attacks on police as they briefly entered Polytechnic University before retreating.
“We will use the minimal force,” police said. “We are asking rioters to stop assaulting the police using cars, gas bombs and bows and arrows. Otherwise, we will use force, including live rounds.”
Police said they were conducting a “dispersal operation” at the school to rid the area of “a large gang of rioters” and it wasn’t a “raid” as had been characterized.
Police said they were conducting arrests when at around 5:30 a.m. fires were observed within the school’s campus.
“Police reiterate that we did not ‘raid’ the premises of the PolyU,” the department said in a statement. “Fires were observed in various locations in the PolyU premises. Explosives, flammable substances and dangerous goods also pose threats to anyone. Police appeal to everyone inside the campus to leave immediately.”
Hong Kong Polytechnic President Teng Jin-Guang said that following negotiations throughout the night with police, he had received their assurance that they would temporarily suspend the use of force as long as the protesters don’t instigate violence.
“If the protesters do not initiate the use of force, the police will not initiate the use of force,” he said.
Teng added that police would also allow them to peacefully leave the premises and that he would personally accompany them to the police station to “ensure that your case will be fairly processed.”
The university’s student union issued a statement later Monday morning stating that the “police siege” on the campus has resulted in a “severe humanitarian crisis,” calling on the public to conduct a general strike to counter the police’s actions.
The union’s president, Derek Liu, and its student representative of the University Council, Owan Li, said in a statement published on Facebook that thousands of students were trapped on campus.
“There are numerous injuries on campus,” they said in a statement. “Of the seriously injured, three persons have suffered injuries to their eyes and around 40 persons are experiencing hypothermia due to being directly hit by police water cannons. Because most of the emergency relief team and first-aiders have been arrested and taken away, there are insufficient resources and personnel with the campus to treat the injured.”
The student union said they had been attempting to contact school authorities for over two hours but had not received a reply.
On Sunday, a police officer was injured by an arrow during a protest on a university campus in Hong Kong — the latest in a series of demonstrations in the Chinese city since June.
The unidentified media liaison was conscious and hospitalized for treatment after the attack, according to police. The arrow entered his leg from the back with its tip jutting from under the skin, media members reported nearby.
Also, an anti-riot police officer whose visor was hit by a small metal ball was injured, police said.
Police labeled the group as “rioters,” which carries a heavy prison sentence if convicted.
The campus is in the city’s Hung Hom district, just across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island and close to major roads, including across a harbor tunnel. It is also near the Chinese People’s Liberation Army base.
Protests, which included disrupting the city’s public transportation by blocking the roads, lasted from Sunday morning into Monday local time.
Near the university on a flyover at the toll booths at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, a police armored vehicle caught fire from gas bombs thrown by protesters, local broadcaster TVB reported. The fire was put out by police tear gas fired to disperse the protesters.
From balconies, protesters used catapults to launch bricks and other hard objects at police lines from the university’s balconies.
“Such attacks pose a grave threat to the safety of police officers, reporters and first aiders at the scene,” said police in a statement, accusing protesters of firing petrol bombs and metal balls at their lines.
Police attempted to disperse the group with tear gas and water canons.
“They showed total disregard for the safety of everyone at scene,” police said.
PolyU urged students, staff and alumni to evacuate the campus, public broadcaster RTHK reported. The university said dangerous chemicals were missing from its laboratories.
The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and the university’s Staff Association said they were “very worried” about the safety of students and bystanders.
“We call on both sides to exercise restraint and avoid the use of deadly weapons. The current stalemate is caused by a series of government decision-making mistakes and should be resolved responsibly,” the statement said.
Protesters originally took to the streets in marches against a controversial China extradition bill, which would have sent offenders to the mainland. Although the government suspended pursuit of the bill, the movement’s focus now includes complaints of police brutality and wider calls for democracy.
“If we don’t come out, no one will come out and protect our freedoms. Polytechnic University is my home,” A 23-year-old protester and Polytechnic University alumni told CNN Sunday.
The city’s Education Bureau announced that classes at all schools will remain suspended on Monday. Since Thursday, classes at kindergartens, primary and secondary schools as well as special schools have been suspended for their safety,
In addition, the Social Welfare Department advised people not to take their children to childcare and after-school care programs on Monday. Also, people are advised not to go to elderly and rehabilitation centers.
Published at Sun, 17 Nov 2019 19:10:00 +0000