Isolated band of protesters holds out on trashed Hong Kong campus

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Inside the increasingly empty and trashed campus of a Hong Kong university only a handful of activists held out on Thursday as they desperately searched for ways to escape or hide while squads of police encircled the grounds. Much of Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University, which teemed with 33,000 students, faculty and staff in the most recent school year, has become a deserted wasteland. Hundreds of anti-government protesters had fortified the campus and engaged in street battles with riot police earlier this week. But now the number of protesters has dwindled to fewer than 100, turning the grounds into an eerily empty compound scattered with debris and defaced with political slogans. Trash and debris from homemade petrol bombs were strewn across the grounds. Many protesters have abandoned their equipment, including gas masks and umbrellas. Much of the campus is damaged, with rooms vandalised and windows shattered. Electricity and water are still functioning. In a library, most books were untouched but makeshift petrol bombs were left on desks. The protesters appeared to be outnumbered by media and people hoping to help, including some university staff, a group of Catholic clergy, and principals of secondary schools looking for any children still holding out. A Catholic priest said his group had found the remaining protesters largely unwilling to engage. Some protesters told Reuters they were holding out not for a showdown with police, but because they were innocent and looking for an escape route. Related CoverageSenior China diplomat says Beijing will never allow anyone to destroy HK’s stabilityExplainer: U.S. legislation on Hong Kong: what does it mean?See more stories “I won’t consider surrendering. Surrendering is for people who are guilty. None of us inside are guilty,” Michelle, a 20-year-old student, said on the Polytechnic University’s Kowloon peninsula campus. More than 1,000 protesters who tried to leave earlier this week were arrested, and most of those who remain say they hope to avoid being arrested for rioting or on other charges. Hong Kong has had a brief respite from months of often violent demonstrations, with relative calm across the city for the past two days and nights ahead of District Council elections set for Sunday. The government said late on Wednesday it was monitoring the situation to see whether the elections could be held safely. The university is the last campus still occupied by activists during a week that saw the most intense violence since the anti-government demonstrations escalated more than five months ago. Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing has said it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong autonomy. The unrest marks the most serious popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Some protesters have surrendered while others were held during escape attempts that included clambering down from a bridge to waiting motorbikes and fleeing through the sewers. TRAIL OF DAMAGE Graffiti sprayed on campus buildings read: “I have nothing to lose. I have no stake in society,” summing up the mood of many protesters on Thursday morning. Some looked for breakfast in a university canteen still stocked with food, including noodles and tomatoes. One protester, dressed in black with gloves, elbow and knee pads, had about a dozen colourful lighters strapped to his chest, apparently to light petrol bombs. He told Reuters the hold-outs were discussing what to do next. In the past two weeks, protesters have torched buildings, a footbridge, mass transit stations and toll booths at the city’s Cross Harbour Tunnel linking Hong Kong island to Kowloon. The protesters say that they are angry at the way the MTR, Hong Kong’s public rail network, has helped riot police, and shutting down key infrastructure forces the government to listen to their demands for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police violence, among other things. The Cross Harbour Tunnel remained shut because of extensive damage, authorities said. Some train services also remained shut, MTR said, while the rural Yuen Long station in New Territories would shut by 2 p.m., to pre-empt demonstrations marking four months since suspected triad gang members attacked protesters and commuters there. As of the end of October, passenger volume on the metro system was down nearly 26% year on year, according to the latest MTR data. Volume on the express train from the city’s airport plunged by more than 43% over the same period. ‘ERRONEOUS SIGNAL’ China has accused the United States and Britain of stirring up trouble in Hong Kong and criticised the U.S. House of Representatives for passing two bills aimed at supporting the protesters and sending a warning to China about human rights. China opposed the bills and would never allow anyone to undermine the “one country, two systems” principle, or to destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said. China’s state Xinhua news agency said a top Chinese official in Hong Kong, Xie Feng, had summoned the U.S. consul-general to denounce the legislation as gross interference and a violation of international law. The Hong Kong government said bills would harm Hong Kong’s relations with the United States. “The two acts will … also send an erroneous signal to the violent protesters, which would not be conducive to de-escalating the situation,” the city government said. Anger over the U.S. legislation, which President Donald Trump is expected to sign, comes as the two countries are locked in delicate trade talks.

Written by ideasexplorer

An incurably curious mind that loves to learn about culture, society, history, the environment, and so much more! Join me in exploring the ideas of yesterday, today, and tomorrow!

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