• Monday, Dec 09, 2019
  • Last Update : 01:37 pm

Hong Kong campus holdouts desperately seek escape routes

  • Published at 10:08 am November 19th, 2019
Hong Kong
Protesters are escorted by police out of the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University during clashes with police in Hong Kong, China on November 18, 2019 Reuters

Some 235 injured were taken to hospital on Tuesday

Anti-government protesters holed up in a Hong Kong university were frantically searching for escape routes on Tuesday after more than two days of clashes with police, dramatic breakouts by rope and motorcycle and more than 1,000 arrests in 24 hours.

About 100 protesters were trapped in the Polytechnic University a day after students, some tired and fearful of police storming the campus, tried again and again to flee, only to be beaten back by police firing rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas.

Some 235 injured were taken to hospital on Tuesday, the Hospital Authority said.

"I just want to leave. I feel very tired," said Thomas, 20, a student at another university who has been on the campus since the siege began. "I didn't throw Molotovs. I was here to support the protest."

He then walked slowly, with about 10 others, towards police, who searched and arrested him. He had the phone numbers of lawyers written on his right forearm.

Late in the evening, another small group tried to run for it through the main gate. Most, if not all, ended up running back into the campus as police shouted at them and flashed their torches rather than firing.

Police have made about 1,100 arrests in the past 24 hours on charges including rioting and possession of offensive weapons, they said. The total since citywide protests began in June is more than 5,000.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she hoped the stand-off could be resolved and she had told police to handle it humanely.

Lam spoke shortly after the Chinese-ruled city's new police chief urged the support of all citizens to end more than five months of unrest triggered by fears that China's central government is stifling the former British colony's special autonomy and freedoms, including its independent judiciary.

China says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula, under which Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and has accused foreign countries of inciting trouble.

The unrest poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

China questions court ruling

The university is the last of five that protesters have occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city, blocking the Cross-Harbour Tunnel outside and other main roads.

Lam said her government was very much on the "reactive side" in dealing with the protests but she did not rule out more violence even as she urged peace. Lam said she had been shocked that campuses had been turned into "weapons factories."

In what many will see as an illustration of Beijing's tightening grip, China's legislature questioned the legality of a Monday Hong Kong court ruling that a ban on face masks worn by protesters was unlawful.

The National People's Congress (NPC) said Hong Kong courts had no power to rule on the constitutionality of city legislation, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The Hong Kong Bar Association, representing barristers, said the comments undermined the "the high degree of autonomy granted to (Hong Kong) under the Basic Law", the mini-constitution that sets the ground rules for Hong Kong after its return to Chinese rule.