Violence in Hong Kong as students and police clash

Police attempt to storm Polytechnic University with 200 demonstrators inside

November 18th, 2019: Eyewitness footage captures riot police confronting a student journalist in Hong Kong's barricaded Polytechnic University. Video: PolyU Campus Radio


Student protesters occupying a Hong Kong university on Sunday set fire to a bridge, shot a policeman with an arrow and hurled petrol bombs and rocks at advancing riot police, who responded with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Hong Kong police threatened on Monday to respond with live bullets if “rioters” used lethal weapons and committed other acts of violence, amid a standoff with protesters who have been hurling petrol bombs outside a university campus. Police issued a statement urging people they described as rioters to stop using lethal weapons to attack officers, adding that police would respond with force and could use bullets if they did not.

The Guardian reported that police attempted to storm Polytechnic University after a daylong battle with protesters. It said about 200 demonstrators remained inside the building at dawn on Monday morning when police in riot gear moved in and that as they advanced, protesters set fire to one of the entrances to the university and explosions could be heard. The university sits in a strategically important position, in the city centre and next to the main cross-harbour tunnel linking Hong Kong Island and Kowloon on the mainland, which protesters have blocked for the past week.

From early on Sunday morning, police deployed water cannon trucks and tear gas, while protesters fired arrows, rocks and petrol bombs.

Barricaded university

After a 10-hour standoff outside the campus, many of the protesters retreated inside their barricaded university while others set fires on bridges leading to it. A fire blazed for hours on a footbridge leading from the university to the metro station as police closed in.

During the clashes in the afternoon, a media-liaison policeman was struck by an arrow that went through his calf. From a balcony in the university, a 22-year-old engineering student called Lewis was launching petrol bombs 30 or 40 metres from a homemade catapult that he and his classmates had recently assembled – the missiles bursting into flames close to a water-cannon truck and an armoured patrol vehicle.

“I do not like violence, and our protests were originally peaceful, but the police have made us this way. We must protect ourselves,” he said.

Lewis, who was born just a few weeks after the British handover in 1997, said the protests were the result of a steady efforts to erode Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“Today is a consequence of Hong Kong people doing nothing for 22 years and letting China take more and more control. Finally, we had to say no more,” he said.

Assembled weapons

Inside the compound the students had fortified exits with mounds of desks, chairs and barriers, and assembled weapons at multiple vantage points. About 40 people worked in one room siphoning petrol into bottles.

A 19-year-old radiology student named Ivy was on the team responsible for keeping the frontline stocked with petrol bombs. Dozens of bottles clinked as she gently pushed a shopping trolley to a grass patch close to the barricade, while two other masked students carried boxes full of the firebombs behind her.

Two people have died in the anti-government protests this month, and more than 2,000 have been injured and 4,000 arrested since they began five months ago.

“I am afraid. We all are, I think, but we have no choice. We cannot stop now,” she said. “They are trying to make Hong Kong to be just like any Chinese city. Like a dictatorship.”

Since last week the protesters have called for a mass strike and embarked on a campaign of citywide blockades and vandalism, aimed at spreading police resources and causing maximum disruption. With many roads blocked in the city, some residents formed groups to clear the streets over the weekend, leading to occasional confrontations with protesters.

“I am sick of it. I can’t go to work. Kids can’t go to school. Sick people can’t go to hospital,” a woman surnamed Leung said as she worked with a group in Mong Kok to clear the streets.

“I am tired of these protests and all the disruption. I just want to get on with a peaceful life,” she said.

People’s Liberation Army

Around the corner from the university is a People’s Liberation Army barracks. On Saturday, a group of PLA soldiers left their barracks to join in the cleanup effort and help remove some of the debris and barricades on the streets.

The government downplayed the move, saying it was “purely a voluntary community activity”, but it stirred controversy as according to the “one country, two systems” framework the Chinese soldiers should remain in barracks unless requested by the Hong Kong government to help deal with natural disasters or public order breakdowns.

“It was their first step, the first time to quietly come outside of the barracks,” Ivy said. “We guess they will come out more and more.”

With no signs of tensions abating, the government announced on Sunday that all schools would be shut again on Monday, as protests and widespread traffic disruptions were expected to continue.