Hong Kong Protestors Frantically Seek Escape Routes

Marius Zaharia and Jessie Pang

 

HONG KONG (Reuters) - 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 standoff 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.

 

Hundreds of protesters fled from the Polytechnic University or surrendered overnight and on Monday amid running battles on nearby streets, where demonstrators threw petrol bombs and rocks at police. Some made it out by rope and motorcycle.

 

“Some rioters were seen escaping by abseiling off a footbridge to getaway vehicles below,” police said in a statement. “Our officers gave chase and were able to interrupt 37 of them, including the drivers.”

 

About a dozen tried and failed to flee through the university’s sewers. A Reuters witness saw them lower themselves into a tunnel wearing gas masks and plastic sheets, but the tunnel was too narrow.

 

On the sprawling campus in the Kowloon district, despair prevailed amid the shriek of fire alarms.

 

“I feel I’m in trouble,” said a 22-year-old who gave his name as Marcus, sitting with two friends in the canteen at a table piled with dirty dishes and plastic cups.

 

“We keep trying to think how to escape, but every time we pick a spot, we see many police nearby,” Marcus said. “But if we give up, we’re finished.”

 

In the campus central square, a giant “SOS” call for help was spelled out in pink, blue and yellow bath towels.

 

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.”

 

This is an excerpt from an article originally published by Reuters. Read the rest here.

 

© 2019 Reuters. All Rights Reserved.

 

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