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Hong Kong to shut all schools on Thursday for 'safety reasons'

Hong Kong to shut all schools on Thursday for 'safety reasons'

Hong Kong has been upended by five months of huge, often violent protests seeking greater democratic rights and police accountability. (Photo: AFP/Dale De La Rey)

HONG KONG: All Hong Kong schools will suspend classes on Thursday (Nov 14) due to "transportation and safety reasons", the Hong Kong Education Bureau said on Wednesday.

The bureau made the announcement in a statement, according to Reuters and urged protesters to stop all violent acts.

Protesters vandalize Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong, November 12, 2019.. (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

The new phase in the crisis, which has forced schools and shopping malls to close as well as the shutdown of large chunks of the vital train network, prompted police to warn on Tuesday the city was "on the brink of total collapse".

Masked protesters dressed in their signature black were also locked in a series of tense standoffs at university campuses following battles on Tuesday that continued through the night with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

The chaos was part of the largely anonymous protest movement's new strategy of "blossom everywhere", in which small groups of people target as many parts of the city as possible to cause maximum disruption and stretch police resources.

Protesters had until this week largely confined their actions to evenings and the weekends.

The campaign began with an effort to shut down the train network and enforce a city-wide strike on Monday.

The already tense atmosphere escalated on Monday when a police officer shot an unarmed 21-year-old protester, leaving him in a critical condition.

It was the third confirmed time a police officer had shot someone with live bullets since the unrest began in June.

A masked person on Monday then doused a 57-year-old man, who had been arguing with protesters, with a flammable liquid and set him on fire. He was also hospitalised in a critical condition.

The chaos prompted the city's education authorities to tell parents earlier on Wednesday they could decide whether to send children to school "due to traffic and emergencies", while some international schools remained closed for a second straight day.

The education bureau made the decision citing "traffic and emergency conditions and that some major traffic lines have been seriously affected", according to a statement on the Hong Kong government's website.

"The bureau stressed that schools should keep their premises open, arrange sufficient manpower as far as possible to take proper care of students who have arrived at school, maintain communication with parents, and allow students to return home only under safe conditions.

"(Students) must not wander on the streets or go to potentially dangerous places, and should never participate in unlawful activities."

The protest movement has been fuelled by fears that China is choking the liberties and freedoms Hong Kong is meant to have under the terms of the handover deal with the British.

Protesters are demanding the right to freely elect their leaders.

READ: Timeline - Fresh violence erupts in Hong Kong on Tuesday


China has responded with ominous warnings that it is prepared to further curb freedoms, and that it wants tougher security measures in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of China's ruling Communist Party, warned that local district elections due to be held on Nov 24 may be cancelled if the protesters do not back down.

"Only by supporting the police force to decisively put down the riots can (Hong Kong) return to peace and hold fair elections, to help Hong Kong start again," the commentary said.

University students in a standoff with riot police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Nov 12, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu) University students standoff with riot police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Protesters sit near a barricade as university students standoff with riot police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Nov 12, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Other powerful arms of the Chinese state media have also again raised the prospect this week of the Chinese military being deployed in Hong Kong to end the crisis.

Still, China is not yet prepared to take such drastic action as military intervention as it plays a longer game of weakening and intimidating the protest movement, according to Ben Bland, Sydney-based director of the Southeast Asia Project at the Lowy Institute, a policy think-tank.

"It still seems, as far as we can tell, that the most likely response is going to continue to be led by the Hong Kong authorities and the Hong Kong police," Bland told AFP on Wednesday.

READ: Hong Kong clashes rage on university campus and business district

But the events this week have deepened concerns that Hong Kong's police cannot solve the crisis, and that a political solution must be found.

The police force's spokesman, Kong Wing-cheung, appeared to echo those fears on Tuesday.

"Hong Kong's rule of law has been pushed to the brink of total collapse," he said.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: AGENCIES/aa


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