Hong Kong protests: hundreds trapped as police lay siege to university | World news

Hong Kong police have fought running battles with protesters trying to break through a security cordon around a university in the city, firing teargas at anyone trying to leave.

Polytechnic University, a sprawling campus that has been occupied by demonstrators since last week, has become the scene of the most prolonged and tense confrontation between police and protesters in more than five months of political unrest.

Hundreds were still trapped inside on Monday, after overnight clashes during which protesters launched petrol bombs and shot arrows at police, who threatened to use live rounds.

When a group of protesters tried to escape the campus, police fired teargas and rubber bullets at various exits, preventing them from leaving. When another group attempted to flee later on, hiding under umbrellas and shields made from scraps, officers fired more rounds of teargas and deployed a water cannon, engulfing the area in smoke. Several protesters were arrested.

Robin Brant 白洛宾

1345 group of protestors make a run for it, escaping along highway by #hongkong Polytechnic. Around 100 run and climb over barriers. Police fire heavy tear gas. Several protestors detained. pic.twitter.com/T0Qiee4mwa

November 18, 2019

The game of cat and mouse followed a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city in which roads were blocked, a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.

“The police might not storm the campus but it seems like they are trying to catch people as they attempt to run,” the Democratic lawmaker Hui Chi-fung told Reuters. “It’s not optimistic now. They might all be arrested on campus. Lawmakers and school management are trying to liaise with the police but failed.”

Earlier, the university’s president, Jin-Guang Teng, had urged protesters to leave, saying the police had agreed to a ceasefire on the condition that protesters stopped their attacks.

A sreengrab from Google Maps showing road closures around Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University

A sreengrab from Google Maps showing road closures around Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University on Monday. Photograph: Google Maps

By mid-afternoon local time, about 300 to 400 people were left in the university, according to a volunteer in the campus. Asked what they planned to do, she said: “They are 20-year-old kids. They don’t have plans. Everyone is nervous.”

Tang Siu Wa, another volunteer who has been at the campus for two days, said: “Officially, they are saying people have to leave now, and even pointing out some ways to let you out. But when people try to leave that way, they contain them. It’s a set-up. They don’t let anyone on the university campus go.”

A new Hong Kong extradition law is proposed, which would allow people to be transferred to mainland China for a variety of crimes. Residents fear it could lead to politically motivated extraditions into China’s much harsher judicial system.

Large public demonstrations start as thousands march in the streets to protest against the extradition bill.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, introduces concessions to the extradition bill, including limiting the scope of extraditable offences, but critics say they are not enough.

The scale of protests continues to increase as more than half a million people take to the streets. Police use rubber bullets and teargas against the biggest protests Hong Kong has seen for decades.

Lam says the proposed extradition law has been postponed indefinitely.

The protests continue as demonstrators storm the Legislative Council, destroying pictures, daubing graffiti on the walls and flying the old flag of Hong Kong emblazoned with the British union flag. The protests coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the UK back to China.

Armed men in white T-shirts thought to be supporting the Chinese government attack passengers and passers-by in Yuen Long metro station, while nearby police take no action.

44 protesters are charged with rioting, which further antagonises the anti-extradition bill movement.

By now the protest movement has coalesced around five key demands: complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, withdrawal of the use of the word “riot” in relation to the protests, unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped, an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.

The first charges are brought against protesters for covering their faces, after authorities bring in new laws banning face masks in order to make it easier to identify or detain protesters.

Chan Tong-kai, the murder suspect whose case prompted the original extradition bill is released from prison, saying that he is willing to surrender himself to Taiwan. The extradition bill is also formally withdrawn, a key demand of protesters.

Chow Tsz-lok, 22, becomes the first fatality of the protests. Chow, a computer science student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), was found injured in a car park in Tseung Kwan O in Kowloon, where he was believed to have fallen one storey. Protesters had been trying to disrupt a police officer’s wedding, which was being held in the area. A week later a 70-year-old cleaner who is thought to have been hit by a brick during a clash between protesters and pro-Beijing residents becomes the second person to die.

Tang said the group was exhausted and faced dwindling supplies of food and water. Some peaceful protesters wanted to leave and others wanted to stay, he added. “People are getting tired but they don’t want to surrender.”

Journalists have not been allowed the near the university.

The intensifying violence came as local media reported that district council elections may not be held this Sunday as scheduled because of the demonstrations. Cancelling the polls is likely to make the situation even worse: some protesters have been demanding that the government promise to hold the elections, which are seen as the last institutional venue people have for expressing their views.

In another development, Hong Kong’s high court ruled that a ban on face masks implemented by the government was unconstitutional. The ban made wearing any facial coverings during public assembly punishable by prison time and fines.

Jessie Pang

Police fire rounds and rounds of tear gas again at every exit they try to leave. The protesters are forced to trap in PolyU. #antielab #hongkongprotests pic.twitter.com/3BJv1QoV0O

November 18, 2019

Police had previously issued a statement ordering everyone inside the university to drop their weapons, remove their gas masks and leave. “The rioters are hereby warned to stop their unlawful acts,” the police said.

Representatives of the university’s student union posted a statement on Facebook saying police had blocked all exits since Sunday night. The union said several protesters were in need of medical help, including three people with eye injuries and about 40 experiencing hypothermia after being hit by water cannon.

Hong Kong’s protest movement has evolved throughout the five months it has raged in the harbour city. Its latest phase is being played out on Hong Kong’s university campuses — traditionally sites of political activism — some of which have been transformed into makeshift fortresses by demonstrators in the past fortnight.

The immediate trigger for the campus confrontations appears to have been the death on 8 November of a Hong Kong University of Science and Technology student. Since then, several campuses have been barricaded by students, some of who are using footbridges or or near the campuses to block roads. At least three campuses are blockaded, including the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, close to the cross-harbour tunnel — a key artery for traffic in the city, and one that authorities will be determined to keep open.

The campus protests have been desperate: activists are using petrol bombs, bamboo poles and other weapons including javelins and bows and arrows. Observers have told the Guardian the shift to campuses represents a major escalation. Many of those occupying the campuses are students or alumni, and until recently, riot police have refrained from entering universities.

“The university is the home turf of the students,” Ho-Fung Hung, a professor in political economy at Johns Hopkins University, has told the Guardian. “There is this notion of academic freedom and the university as a bastion of free ideas, this notion of autonomy. To people, this should not be breached by authorities.”

“Because most of the emergency relief team and first-aiders have been arrested and taken away, there are insufficient resources and personnel within campus to treat the injured,” the statement said, calling the situation “a severe humanitarian crisis”.

In other neighbourhoods, police fired teargas and water cannon at protesters and other supporters who had occupied streets and built barricades in an attempt to divert police resources overnight on Sunday. Dozens were seen being arrested when they returned hours later on Monday. Volunteers with cars blocked roads to slow the police.

The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party, published an editorial on its front page saying there was no room for compromise: “What we are facing today is a struggle between safeguarding ‘one country, two systems’ and destroying it.

People are detained by police near the university in Hung Hom district on Monday.

People are detained by police near the university in Hung Hom district on Monday. Photograph: Dale de la Rey/AFP via Getty Images

“On an issue involving national sovereignty and the future of Hong Kong, there is no middle ground and absolutely no room for compromise.”

Hong Kong is experiencing its most serious political crisis in decades after the government attempted to push through a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China, seen by many as another move to extend Beijing’s control over the city. Protests over the now withdrawn bill pose a direct challenge to China, which governs Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework.

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