Hong Kong protesters attempt daring escape down ropes as police seal off university
Dozens of Hong Kong protesters escaped a two-day police siege at a campus late Monday by shimmying down ropes from a bridge to awaiting motorbikes in a dramatic and perilous breakout that followed a renewed warning by Beijing of a possible intervention to end the crisis engulfing the city.
Clashes rumbled throughout the day between protesters and police who had threatened to use deadly force to dislodge activists holed-up in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
The university siege has become a battle of wills between Hong Kong’s stretched police force and the constantly-innovating protest movement.
Late Monday dozens of black-clad protesters used a rope to slither down several metres on to a motorway below where they were picked up by waiting motorbike riders.
In an apparently co-ordinated effort, thousands of Hong Kongers streamed towards the Polytechnic University campus to break the siege, as clashes simultaneously raged with police nearby in Kowloon.
It was not immediately clear how many protesters remained inside Polytechnic University.
This was probably the most surreal thing I have ever witnessed in the Hong Kong protests. Protesters just attempted a daring escape through a bridge at Polytechnic University. Volunteers on motorbikes came in drives to drive them out asap. Police fired teargas. #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/huhSo3Mxo9
— Michael Zhang 張雨軒 (@YuxuanMichael) November 18, 2019
Demonstrators barricaded inside the university lit a fire at an entrance in efforts to deter police surrounding the campus, after officers stormed in early morning and made arrests. Protesters have continued to arm themselves with bows and arrows, petrol bombs and bricks.
Police have said that anyone leaving campus will be taken into custody, and urged all protesters still on campus to surrender peacefully.
“A university is supposed to be a breeding ground for young talents, but it has unfortunately become a battlefield for criminals and rioters,” said Kwok Ka-chuen, a police chief superintendent. “Hong Kong’s rule of law has been pushed to the brink of total collapse.”
Hong Kong campus siege
Police have described the Polytechnic campus as a “weapons factory,” saying they had received a report that several toxic and dangerous chemicals, including highly volatile explosives, had been stolen from a laboratory.
“We must warn that the university campus has become a powder keg where danger is far beyond what we can estimate,” said Mr Kwok.
As the university deadlock continues, former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind urged Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint.
“A bloodbath on a Hong Kong campus would be devastating,” he said in a statement issued by Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based advocacy group. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam “has the responsibility to do everything possible to prevent a massacre.”
Protesters also appear to be facing down a timeline as supplies run out.
“Hong Kong police are creating a humanitarian crisis inside PolyU,” Ken Woo Kwok-wang, acting president of the student union, told a Hong Kong newspaper. “We are trapped. There is insufficient food and the number of injured is on the rise, and the hygiene situation is getting worse.”
Protests have disrupted Hong Kong continuously for nearly six months. They first kicked off against a now-withdrawn extradition proposal, though sentiments have pivoted to target the police, who protesters accuse of brutality, and more broadly, China, over concerns that Communist Party rule is eroding freedoms in the former British colony.
Demonstrators have called for a range of political and governance reforms, though Beijing has reiterated that it won’t give in to demands. There is “absolutely no room for compromise,” read a harshly-worded editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper, a Communist Party mouthpiece.
As clashes escalated significantly over the last week, forcing schools to shut, fears have grown that China may again call on military reinforcements to restore order, a move that would recall the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 when soldiers fired on peaceful student demonstrators.
Speculation mounted further after Chinese troops stationed in Hong Kong were spotted in the streets over the weekend cleaning up protest sites, an act authorities have said was voluntary.
Hong Kong authorities said Monday it would stop enforcing an anti-mask ban after the city’s highest court ruled it unconstitutional. The order was first enacted in October, using an emergency regulations ordinance that gives Ms Lam sweeping authority, a move that could make it easier for police to identify protesters and make arrests.
On Wednesday, judges will hear arguments to decide whether further actions will be taken over the ban.
Some hospital services were unavailable on Monday as staff weren’t able to travel given transport and traffic disruptions due to the protests. Subway stations in some areas also remain closed after serious vandalism, including setting train cars ablaze.
Skirmishes broke out in other neighbourhoods, leaving clouds of tear gas hanging in the air. In the neighbourhood of Mongkok, protesters formed a human chain by early evening, with some reportedly making petrol bombs on the street.
Since mass protests kicked off in early June, police have arrested nearly 4,500 people, aged 11 to 83, for unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons, arson, and taking part in a riots – a serious charge that carries a maximum of ten years in prison. About 150 of those arrests, of individuals aged 13 to 54, were made over the weekend.
Additional reporting by Yiyin Zhong
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