Fearing a bloody crackdown, tens of thousands of protesters attacked riot police on Monday who were putting a Hong Kong university campus under siege.
Police cordoned off a wide area surrounding the Polytechnic University in a bid to force the 500 or more protesters holding out inside to surrender.
The police were then themselves surrounded and came under attack for several hours, as tens of thousands of angry students showered them with petrol bombs and rocks.
A 20-year-old female protester named Anna said they feared the police would make violent arrests, so they were trying to break the cordon to help those trapped break free.
“If enough of us come out and we attack them for long enough, from every side, we can make gaps,” she said. “They think they are putting the students under siege, but we are putting them under siege too,” she said.
A protester named Jason, a 23-year-old computer science student, said they had to confront the police to help their friends inside.
“We can have no fear now and we must just attack the police. Hurt them,” he said.
He was swinging a seven-iron golf club for the close combat, which he said he had already used to hit a policeman after he was baton-charged.
“I got him right across the side of the head, banging his helmet,” he said. “He slowed down, and then I could get away”.
Others were not so lucky. Across the street rows of people were kneeling down, facing shuttered shops, with their hands cable-tied behind their backs. At least two were bleeding from head wounds. Police said about 154 had been arrested over the past day. More than 40 were hospitalised.
In a pre-dawn raid, police broke through the university perimeter in an effort to end the two-day stand-off but were driven back by a wall of firebombs.
The protesters tried to rush through the cordon later in the morning but police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat them back into the campus.
Dozens managed to escape on Monday night by abseiling down from a footbridge, where they were picked up by motorcyclists and driven away. Several other escape attempts throughout the day were unsuccessful as the police tightened the cordon and a helicopter flew low overhead.
At least 500 protesters were believed to be still holed up inside the campus late on Monday night, according to the students’ union. A spokesman said three people were seriously injured and about 40 were suffering from hypothermia after being hit by water cannon. Food supplies were very low, and there were hygiene issues, he said, adding there were concerns about the levels of toxicity in the air after 3,000 rounds of tear gas had been fired into the campus over the past week.
Police chief superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen said the force was looking for a peaceful way to end the university stand-off, but he said anyone inside would be arrested for rioting, a charge that carries a prison term of up to 10 years.
“If the protesters can drop their weapons, follow the police instructions and shoulder their legal responsibility, police will not use force,” he said.
Outside the university were hundreds of anxious and tearful parents, waiting for news of their children inside.
“I told him not to come to Poly university. I told him. I told him,” a mother of a 20-year-old boy inside the campus said. “I told him, if you get in trouble I will not come and help you. It’s your problem, not mine. But I have one son, what can I do?”
While she was tearful as she spoke, another mother beside her was crying so hard she could not speak. A man held her around the shoulders as she shook.
A woman surnamed Chan said that some parents had approached the police as a group and made one request.
“We just asked them. Please, whatever you do, please do not hurt our children.
“The police said they would not hurt our children, they promised that. But they said they would be arrested for their criminal actions.”
As the protests tore at the fabric of the city, Hong Kong’s high court ordered on Monday that a contentious ban on the wearing of face masks in public was unconstitutional.
Away from the university, the major shopping street Nathan Road was a smouldering battlefield that went on in a straight line for miles and miles. The pavements were like sandy beaches, stripped to the foundations after all the paving bricks had been ripped up to be used as barricades and weapons
Two parallel human chains that ran for more than a mile passed supplies up to the frontlines where thousands of hardcore protesters were clashing with police. Huddled groups set up work stations in the middle of the road and produced boxes and boxes of petrol bombs.
Two young women in business suits who were in the human chain said they had rushed out after work to support the pro-democracy protesters.
“This is the revolution of our times, we must show our support,” a 31-year-old banker called Imelda said, as she passed Molotov cocktails and bricks up the chain towards the frontlines.
An Irish student who had to leave Hong Kong because escalating violence, has told of how he and other Irish students sheltered in a hotel before making the decision to return to Ireland a month early.
Rex Lloyd, a student at NUI Galway, told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show that he had been studying at the Baptist University in Hong Kong for his semester abroad and was due to return at Christmas.
He, and other Irish students were living on campus where they felt safe until recently when the campus was barricaded and the students were advised to leave.
“We saw them making petrol bombs outside the library.”
There were 15 Irish students in total in Hong Kong at the time, he said, seven of them from NUI Galway. “We were put up in a hotel and made a group decision that it was time to get out. There were five of us together.”
The students were in contact with the exchange committee in NUI Galway while they were deciding on the best course of action.
Mr Lloyd added that he had observed many students in the university getting caught up in the independence movement, but not in the violence. “Some of them got involved because they didn’t see any alternative.”
Many of the students at the university feared the police crackdown and he had been alarmed at the level of police brutality. “They were worried about their friends and family.”