Hong Kong protesters try to break out of besieged university after a night of fighting with police

Updated November 18, 2019 15:45:41

Photo: Polytechnic University has been the site of fierce clashes between protesters and police units. (Reuters: Tyrone Siu )

Hong Kong police have fired tear gas at protesters trying to escape a besieged university after a night of clashes, while hundreds more pro-democracy activists stayed inside armed with petrol bombs and other weapons awaiting an expected operation to oust them.

Key points:

  • Protesters were met with tear gas as they attempted to flee
  • Police had tried to storm the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University overnight
  • Anti-government protesters have been blocking a key arterial tunnel for most of the past week

The bloody standoff between security forces and activists at Polytechnic University entered its second day after a night of mayhem in which a police van was set alight and a police officer was shot with an arrow.

Groups of masked protesters tried to leave the campus, but were quickly met by rounds of tear gas fired by police at several entrances.

Some managed to escape, while dozens were arrested by police, local media reported.

Witnesses saw some protesters suffer burns from chemicals in the jets fired from police water cannons, according to Reuters.

Several protesters jumping a fence inside a Hong Kong university trying to escape police Photo: Police warned they were ready to use live bullets if protesters continued to use lethal weapons. (Reuters: Tyrone Siu)

Police tried to storm campus

Overnight, police tried to enter the university but were forced back by protesters who set huge fires.

ABC China correspondent Bill Birtles was at the scene and described what he saw as “all hell is breaking loose”.

“The police Raptors — the special tactical forces — I saw them race past the no-man’s land through the protest line, and they’re firing a tremendous amount of tear gas,” he told ABC Radio National.

“Police earlier in the night said they may resort to live rounds if protesters continued to throw fire bombs at them, and so this is what everybody is really concerned about.”

After the clashes, Hong Kong Polytechnic University president Jin-Guang Teng said police would allow protesters to leave the campus, and that he would accompany them to the police station to ensure their cases, “will be fairly processed”.

He said in a recorded video message that he hoped protesters would “accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner”.

It seemed unlikely the protesters would accept the offer, given they would all likely be arrested.

However a few hundred streamed out of the campus at about 8:15am (local time), only to be driven back by police tear gas.

Others, who were wearing gas masks and picked up the smoking tear gas canisters to drop them into heavy-duty bags, retreated in the face of officers who had lined up across the road in the distance.

These latest clashes follow an incident where a Hong Kong police officer was admitted to hospital after being shot in the leg by an arrow on Sunday afternoon.

Police action breaks a week-long demonstration

The Polytechnic University protesters had been blocking one of Hong Kong’s major highways, the Cross Harbour Tunnel linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula, for much of the past week.

Escalating violence between anti-government protesters and police in the former British colony has been condemned by Beijing and the city’s Beijing-backed leaders.

In a statement, police warned rioters to stop using lethal weapons to attack officers and to halt other acts of violence, saying officers would respond with force and possibly live bullets if necessary.

External Link: Tweet: Birtles video Poly U 2

The spectre of a bloodier stand-off has caused some international concern.

Former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind said in a statement: “Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has the responsibility to do everything possible to prevent a massacre. She must order the police to use restraint.”

‘We are fighting for Hong Kong’

Students using a construction worker's helmet to fire rocks from a catapult Photo: Protesters are seen using a make-shift catapult during unrest in Hong Kong. (ABC: Steve Wang)

Hong Kong’s protests have been running for months, triggered after the Government attempted to push through a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed China to detain dissidents in Hong Kong and try them in mainland courts.

While the bill has since been canned, the protests have focused on Beijing’s alleged interference in the city’s partial autonomy — guaranteed by China for a period of 50 years after Britain handed back the territory in 1997.

A dark scene with protesters and fire in the background and a lit up sign. Photo: Multiple fires erupted on the university’s perimeter. (ABC News: Jake Lapham)

This autonomy gives Hongkongers capitalism, common law, and personal freedoms not found in mainland China.

Today, protesters continued pressing for other formal demands to the city’s Government, which includes the retraction of the word “riot” to describe rallies, the release of all detained demonstrators, an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, and universal suffrage.

“The protesters have been reacting to the police,” said Joris, 23, a civil engineer who like others did not give his full name.

“We haven’t fought back as much as we could. I would be prepared for jail. We are fighting for Hong Kong.”

Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and has blamed foreign influences for the unrest.

External Link: Tweet: Poly U explosions

Topics: demonstration, world-politics, hong-kong, china, asia

First posted November 18, 2019 09:20:58