HONG KONG: Hong Kong's embattled leader said on Tuesday (Nov 19) that protesters occupying a major university had to surrender if the three-day stand-off was to be resolved peacefully.
In her first public comments on the siege at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), Carrie Lam said she believed around 100 people remained at the campus, surrounded by police who were trying to quell the unrest.
"This objective could only be achieved with the full cooperation of the protesters, including of course the rioters that they have to stop violence, give up the weapons and come out peacefully and take the instructions from the police," she told a press conference.
About 200 of the protesters who have left the PolyU campus are under the age of 18, she added.
Although police have said anyone leaving campus will be arrested, minors should be treated "in a very humanitarian way" under these "special circumstances", Lam said.
The authorities have arranged for school principals and religious group representatives to enter the campus to persuade these minors to come out peacefully.
If they do we'll just "put down their data" and they may then leave campus and return home, she said.
Dozens of protesters on Monday escaped a police siege at the university by shimmying down ropes from a bridge to waiting motorbikes.
In an apparently coordinated effort, thousands of protesters streamed towards the PolyU campus to break the siege, as clashes simultaneously raged with police nearby in Kowloon.
Despite huge police deployments and almost 4,500 arrests, protesters continue to take to the streets in Hong Kong, sparking warnings from Beijing that it is ready to intervene.
A brief weekend appearance on the streets of People's Liberation Army soldiers based at Hong Kong garrison - ostensibly to clean up protesters' debris - fuelled concerns that China is ready to make good on its threats.
A garrison of thousands of PLA troops has long been stationed in Hong Kong.
The city's Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs its autonomy, states those troops can be deployed to "maintain public order" at the Hong Kong government's request.
The central government can also effectively suspend Hong Kong's Basic Law and take full control if there is a "state of war" or "turmoil" that endangers national security.
On Monday, China's ambassador to Britain said if the situation "becomes uncontrollable", the central government would act.
Lam said on Tuesday it was not uncommon for the PLA garrison to conduct "voluntary and charitable activities" in Hong Kong. The troops helped clear collapsed trees during Super Typhoon Mangkhut last year, she said.
There is no need to "over-interpret this particular act of voluntary involvement", she added.
Asked under what conditions she would ask the garrison for help, Lam said if the city's authorities could not competently deal with the "rioters" and escalating violence.
"But right now we are still displaying and demonstrating competence to handle the situation ourselves."
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