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19.11.2019 Europe

Hong Kong university protesters defy surrender order

NOV 19, 2019 EUROPE

Dozens of pro-democracy protesters barricaded inside a Hong Kong university have defied government warnings to surrender, as a police siege of the campus dragged into a third day. China has sent fresh signals that its patience with nearly six months of unrest is running out.

High school students were among those holed up inside the battered Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), fearing arrest or being shot at by police, with many huddled in silver emergency survival blankets to keep themselves warm.

Some protesters escaped overnight by slithering down ropes from a footbridge to a road below, where they were whisked away on motorbikes, while others disappeared into manholes.

In an apparently co-ordinated effort to distract police during the escape operation, tens of thousands of people streamed towards the PolyU campus as clashes simultaneously raged with police in nearby Kowloon district.

The stand-off is the most intense and prolonged of Hong Kong's pro-democracy crisis, which has seen millions take to the streets since June to voice anger at China eroding the territory's freedoms.

New phase of violence
A new phase of mass disruption last week caused chaos throughout the international financial hub, with schools closed, train lines disrupted and major roads blocked by barricades.

The move by hundreds of hardcore protesters to take over PolyU at the weekend was also a new tactic.

Previously they had focused on lightning strike protests and acts of vandalism.

The siege at PolyU had seen protesters repelling police surges with a barrage of Molotov cocktails, arrows and bricks. They also set fire to the university entrance on Monday.

After one officer near the campus was shot in the leg by an arrow, which had apparently been fired from one of the university archery kits being used by the protesters, police warned they were prepared to use live rounds.

Footage on Monday showed armoured police beating fallen protesters with batons as they lay on the ground.

One officer was filmed stamping on the head of a man who was already subdued.

Alleged police brutality is one of the central complaints of the protest movement, but senior officers say their officers are acting in accordance with the law.

Surrender warning
In her first public comments on the PolyU crisis, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday morning said the remaining protesters must surrender if there was to be a peaceful ending.

"This objective could only be achieved with the full cooperation of the protesters, including of course the rioters that they have to stop violence, give up the weapons and come out peacefully and take the instructions from the police," Lam told a press conference.

Lam said children who surrendered would not be arrested, though protesters aged over 18 would face charges of rioting.

But, with police custody their best option, some those who remained inside voiced determination to remain.

"Even if we surrender they will still put us to jail. It seems we have two options, but actually we only have one... which is jail," one of the protesters, a mechanical engineering student who gave his name as Matthew, told AFP inside the campus.

Lam said about 100 people remained inside on Tuesday morning.