In Depth

Inside the Hong Kong campus at the heart of the protests

Fears of bloodshed as police surround university seized by student activists

A stand-off between security forces and student protesters holed up in Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University appears to be nearing a climax, as police close in on the besieged campus.

After taking control of the university last week, hundreds of protesters have prevented “police from entering the campus” and have been seen “fortifying their holdout with homemade fire bombs, giant sling shots, bricks and bows and arrows”, The New York Times says.

But following protracted fighting, police have closed in and appear to have the protesters surrounded.

The university has been the scene of some of the most intense clashes since the mass demonstrations began in Hong Kong five months ago, and at least 38 people were injured in a confrontation there on Sunday.

A number of students are understood to have fled the university to avoid arrest, but the remainder have been kept inside the building and are not being allowed to leave by police. At least 600 activists surrendered late on Monday after two representatives negotiated with police, The Guardian reports. But protesters caught trying to escape have been teargassed and arrested, and some have retreated back inside.

According to The Straits Times, demonstrators have crafted a “small on-campus village” where hot food was served in the cafeteria and where “signs were posted asking media not to take photographs so that weary young men and women could shed their masks to eat and chat.

“Nearby, others napped on yoga mats spread across a basketball court,” the news site says.

But conditions on the campus are thought to have grown increasingly desperate according to Owan Li, a student council member. Hong Kong Free Press quotes him as saying: “People on campus are panicking, with some people feeling powerless about not being able to leave.

“We hereby urge everyone in society to help us save our university campus,” Li said.

Reuters reports that the police are now attempting to “wait out” the remaining activists, but to others the situation looks more serious. Time magazine says that “fears of a bloody showdown” are mounting, as police have formed a tight perimeter around the university and are not letting anyone in, including journalists. 

Protesters had “until the last two weeks avoided university campuses, which are traditionally sites of political activism and regarded by many students as their home turf”, The Guardian reports. But the death of a Hong Kong University of Science and Technology student in early November prompted a “twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid nature”.

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Reuters adds that Chinese soldiers in a base close to the university were seen “monitoring developments with binoculars, some dressed in riot gear with canisters on their chests”, while others “in shorts and T-shirts, some carrying red plastic buckets or brooms, had emerged from their barracks on Saturday in a rare public appearance to help clean up debris.

“The presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers on the streets, even to clean up, risks stoking controversy about Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous area,” the news agency says.

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