Police surround last holdouts at Hong Kong campus protest
Hong Kong – A small band of anti-government protesters, their numbers diminished by surrenders and failed escape attempts, remained holed up at a Hong Kong university early Wednesday as they braced for the endgame in a police siege of the campus.
Police were waiting them out after 10 days of some of the most intense protests the city has seen in more than five months of often-violent unrest gripping the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Since the siege began Sunday, more than 1,000 people were arrested and hundreds of injured treated at hospitals, authorities said.
The government has stood firm, rejecting most of the protesters’ demands. The demonstrators shut down major roads and trains during rush hour every day last week as they turned several university campuses into fortresses and blocked a major road tunnel, which remained closed Tuesday.
Even as the latest violence wound down, a fundamental divide suggests the protests in the former British colony are far from over.
In Beijing, the National People’s Congress criticized Hong Kong’s high court for striking down a ban on wearing face masks at the protests, in a decree that has potentially ominous implications for the city’s vaunted rule of law and independent judiciary. China’s Communist leaders have taken a tough line on the protests and said that restoring order is the highest priority.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was barred from going on a European speaking tour, after a court refused to change his bail conditions to let him travel outside Hong Kong.
Protesters have left all the universities except Hong Kong Polytechnic, where hundreds had barricaded themselves and fought back police barrages of tear gas and water cannons with gasoline bombs, some launched from rooftops by catapult, and bows and arrows.
Those who remained at Polytechnic were the last holdouts. Surrounded by police, they faced arrest. Several groups have tried to escape, including one that slid down hoses from a footbridge to waiting motorcycles, but police said they intercepted 37, including the drivers, who were arrested for “assisting offenders.”
They milled about in small groups and had boxes of homemade gasoline bombs, but the mood was grim in the trash-strewn plazas, in contrast to the excitement as they prepared to take on police just a few days earlier.
One protester said he had no plan and was waiting for help. Another said he wanted to leave safely but without being charged. They would not give their full names, saying they feared arrest.
“We will use whatever means to continue to persuade and arrange for these remaining protesters to leave the campus as soon as possible so that this whole operation could end in a peaceful manner,” Lam said after a weekly meeting with advisers.
By late Tuesday night, about 800 people had left the campus to surrender, including 300 minors, according to a government tally. Authorities had agreed not to immediately arrest anyone under 18 but warned they could face charges later. City leader Carrie Lam had said Tuesday morning that 100 people were left but it was wasn’t clear how many now remained.
Hong Kong’s Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha entered the campus to try to dial back tensions after hearing that some protesters were ready to die.
At the same time, at least a dozen protesters walked out of the campus escorted by volunteers to an ambulance station to surrender. But it appeared to be a ruse, with many of them making a run for it.