Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Nov. 18 to force back pro-democracy protesters trying to escape a university where hundreds are holed up with petrol bombs and other homemade weapons amid fears of a bloody crackdown.
Dozens tried to flee the Polytechnic University after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city in which major roads were blocked and a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.
Many were arrested near the university on Nov. 18, public broadcaster RTHK reported, while in the nearby commercial area of Nathan Road activists stopped traffic and forced shopping malls and stores to shut.
“We’ve been trapped here for too long. We need all Hong Kongers to know we need help,” said Dan, a 19-year-old protester on the campus, as he burst into tears.
“I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this. We may need international help.”
Thirty-eight people were wounded overnight on Sunday, the city’s Hospital Authority said. Reuters witnesses saw some protesters suffering from burns from chemicals in jets fired from police water cannons.
“Remember you have life in your hands. Why do you need to push us to death?” one person shouted at police from a campus rooftop as protesters wearing gas masks and clutching umbrellas looked for ways to escape.
Many protesters, dressed in regular clothes and without gas masks, made runs for it, dodging tear gas canisters and sponge grenades, only to be forced back inside.
Some were arrested, tackled to the ground, as others scrambled and tripped over barricades and fences as police pointed guns at them and threw punches. Some were pulled back into campus by other protesters.
“The police might not storm the campus but it seems like they are trying to catch people as they attempt to run,” Democratic lawmaker Hui Chi-fung told Reuters.
“It’s not optimistic now. They might all be arrested on campus. Lawmakers and school management are trying to liaise with the police but failed.”
Police were putting up barricades of their own to keep the protesters in one place.
Earlier, police urged the protesters to “drop their weapons” and leave.
Live video showed protesters with their hands tied behind their backs sitting cross-legged on a road as riot police stood guard in one of the busiest commercial and tourist districts in the former British colony.
Police said they fired three live rounds when “rioters” attacked two officers who were attempting to arrest a woman. No one was wounded, and the woman escaped amid a dramatic escalation of the unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into chaos for almost six months.
Demonstrators angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in Hong Kong’s promised freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.
The United States condemned the “unjustified use of force” in Hong Kong and called on Beijing to protect Hong Kong’s freedom, a senior official in President Donald Trump’s administration said.
Chinese soldiers in a base close to the university were seen on Sunday monitoring developments at the university with binoculars, some dressed in riot gear.
‘We need to fight’
The city’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel, next to the Polytechnic university, linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula, remained closed after protesters torched a bridge above the toll booths on Sunday.
Some train services and many roads across the Kowloon peninsula were closed. All schools were shut.
As police approached the barricaded front gate of the university in the predawn hours, protesters retreated into the campus and started fires at the gate and a footbridge.
Some protesters discussed trying to leave, while others reinforced barricades and carried boxes of petrol bombs to positions around the complex.
Thousands of residents and protesters flocked to districts around the university including Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei, to try to penetrate the riot-police lines to rescue the trapped students.
“If we can only hold on until dawn, more might come,” said one young activist in the university.
University President Teng Jin-Guang said he had brokered a truce with police to allow protesters to leave the campus peacefully, however it was unclear whether a truce was taking effect.
Some of those trapped on the sprawling red-brick campus close to the city’s harbor said they would never surrender.
“We need to fight until the end. If we don’t fight, Hong Kong will be over,” said Ah Lung, 19.
The unrest in Hong Kong poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Reporting by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret.