Students stage dramatic escape as Hong Kong police battle protesters at university

Canada World

The latest in Hong Kong:

  • Tensions high at Hong Kong Polytechnic University as police, protesters in standoff.
  • Protester at university tells CBC News Network there is no trust between law enforcement and protesters, says police want to ‘quiet the movement.’ 
  • Protesters try to break cordon outside university campus, some demonstrators who were trapped inside school escape on motorbikes.

Dozens of Hong Kong protesters staged a dramatic escape from a university campus sealed off by police on Monday by shimmying down plastic hosing from a bridge and fleeing on waiting motorbikes as the police fired projectiles.

Many more anti-government protesters remained trapped inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and two prominent figures were allowed by police onto the campus late on Monday to mediate, a sign that there is a growing risk of bloodshed.

“The situation is getting more and more dangerous,” Jasper Tsang, a pro-Beijing politician who is the former head of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, told Reuters soon after he arrived at the campus.

As he spoke, big explosions were heard and flames flared up at a distant part of the campus. In streets nearby, protesters rained down petrol bombs, burning parked cars and the front of a Standard Chartered Bank branch.

The University of British Columbia confirmed in a statement Monday that 11 of its exchange students have left Hong Kong and the 21 remaining in the city are safe and accounted for. An official says they are assisting the students with travel planning. 

Hong Kong’s work week started with multiple protests that disrupted traffic, and schools remained closed because of safety concerns. There was a temporary lull in the pitched battles for control of the Polytechnic campus as the emphasis shifted from battering the protesters with tear gas and water cannons to waiting for them to come out.

For days, protesters have fortified the campus to keep police from getting in. 

Officers repelled one attempt Monday morning with tear gas, driving a few hundred protesters back onto the campus.

Anti-government protesters walk past a fire during clashes with police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) on Monday. (Laurel Chor/Getty Images)

The give-and-take has played out repeatedly during the city’s months of anti-government unrest. The protesters want to avoid arrest. The police want to pick up as many as they can.

“These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts,” said Cheuk Hau-yip, commander of Kowloon West district, where Polytechnic is located.

“Other than coming out to surrender, I don’t see, at the moment, there’s any viable option for them,” he said.

Cheuk said police have the ability and resolve to end the standoff peacefully so protesters should not “try their luck.”

Antony Dapiran, a journalist who has written a book about the protests in Hong Kong, said a number of demonstrators moved toward the university Monday in a bid to show support to the demonstrators at the campus.

Dapiran told CBC News Network police met the protesters with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds to try to keep them away from the campus.

WATCH: Police arrest protesters in Hong Kong

Police used tear gas to try to clear protesters from the Polytechnic University. 0:42

The black-clad protesters hurled petrol bombs as they tried to get to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, occupied by activists during a week with the most intense violence in five months of anti-government demonstrations.

“We have been trying to rescue them all day,” a young man in a blue T-shirt, cap and spectacles told Reuters as he was running down Nathan Road, the Kowloon district’s main commercial street. “They are trapped in there.”

‘I can’t abandon them’

Tang Siu Wa, a protester inside the university, told CBC News Network there is fear and desperation inside the campus. Trust between police and protesters is totally lost, she said.

There is a path to leave the university, she said — but those who take it risk arrest.

“They want to arrest a large number of protesters,” she said. “They want … to quiet the movement.”

WATCH: Protester describes the atmosphere inside the campus

CBC News Network’s Michael Serapio spoke to pro-democracy protester Tang Siu Wa inside Polytechnic University in Hong Kong. 5:41

She said police weren’t trying to come into the campus, but were trying to isolate protesters and limit their access to supplies.

When asked whether she would stay to the end, she said she had chances to leave the campus but decided to stay.

“I don’t want to leave the youngsters,” she said. “They are the age of my son or daughter … and they are fighting for the future of Hong Kong.

“I can’t abandon them.” 

Dapiran said parents of the people trapped in the school went to the police line to try to get onto the campus to check on their children. Police did not allow them to pass, he said.

Mask ban struck down

Protesters won on a legal front when the high court struck down a mask ban imposed by the government last month. The court said it did not consider anti-mask laws unconstitutional in general, but in this case, the law infringed on fundamental rights further than was reasonably necessary.

WATCH: Students leave the university, surrender to police

A group of student protesters appeared to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University voluntarily in the early hours of Tuesday, telling a Reuters journalist they were surrendering to police. 1:05

Many protesters wear masks to shield their identities from surveillance cameras that could be used to arrest and prosecute them. The ban has been widely ignored, and police have charged protesters with wearing masks.

The protests started peacefully in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. But by the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory’s government and Beijing.

Protesters are escorted by police out of the campus. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Activists see the extradition bill as an example of Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy under Beijing’s rule since the 1997 handover from colonial power Britain.

The head of a nationalistic Chinese newspaper said Hong Kong police should use snipers to fire live ammunition at violent protesters.

“If the rioters are killed, the police should not have to bear legal responsibility,” Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote on his Weibo social media account.

Anti-government protesters barricaded themselves inside Polytechnic last week. Police surrounded the area Sunday night and began moving in after issuing an ultimatum for people to leave the area. The crowd wore raincoats and carried umbrellas to shield themselves from police water cannons.

A policeman in riot gear points his weapon as protesters try to flee from the university. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Riot officers broke in one entrance before dawn as fires raged inside and outside the school, but they didn’t appear to get very far. Fiery explosions occurred as protesters responded with gasoline bombs. Police, who have warned that everyone in the area could be charged with rioting, reportedly made a handful of arrests.

At daybreak, protesters remained in control of most of the campus. In one outdoor area, some demonstrators made gasoline bombs while others dozed while wearing gas masks. Two walked about with bows and quivers of arrows, while many stared at their smartphones.

“We are exhausted because we were up since 5 a.m. yesterday,” said a protester who gave his name as Matthew. “We are desperate because our supplies are running low.”

A lull settled on the area as the university’s president said in a video message that police have agreed to suspend their use of force.

Police detained some protesters amid mounting tensions Monday over students who gathered at the university. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

Jin-Guang Teng said police would allow protesters to leave and he would accompany them to the police station to ensure their cases would be processed fairly.

“I hope that you will accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner,” he said.

It seemed unlikely the protesters would accept the offer given that they would all likely be arrested.

A few hundred streamed out of the campus about 8:15 a.m. in an apparent bid to escape, but were driven back by police tear gas. Some wearing gas masks calmly picked up smoking tear gas canisters and dropped them into heavy-duty bags, but the protesters decided to retreat with a phalanx of officers lined up across the road in the distance.

Police launch water cannon and tear gas outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic on Sunday. (Ye Aung THU/AFP via Getty Images)

Police have set up a dragnet around the campus to try to arrest protesters, who typically try to melt away after blocking traffic or causing other disruption before police run in to grab as many as they can.

Other protesters blocked a major road not far from the Polytechnic campus to distract police and help those inside escape.

They tossed paving stones onto stretches of Nathan Road as police chased them with tear gas.

An injured woman arrested at a Nathan Road intersection for participating in an unlawful assembly escaped after protesters stopped her ambulance and hurled rocks and bricks inside.

One police officer fired three warning shots, a statement on the police Facebook page said.

Police issued a “wanted” notice for the 20-year-old woman and said anyone who aided her could be charged with assisting an offender, which could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The road closure added to transport woes during the morning commute, with several train stations still closed because of damage by protesters last week and a section of one line closed completely near Polytechnic.

The Education Bureau announced classes from kindergarten to high school would be suspended Tuesday for a sixth straight day because of safety concerns. Most classes are expected to resume Wednesday, except for kindergarten and classes for the disabled, which are suspended until Sunday, the bureau said.

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