Fresh university clashes in Hong Kong as protesters hurl petrol bombs

Fresh university clashes in Hong Kong as protesters hurl petrol bombs

Police launch water cannon and tear gas outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Police launch water cannon and tear gas outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to disperse protesters in Hong Kong on Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong protesters shot bows and arrows and hurled petrol bombs from a barricaded university campus on Sunday (Nov 17), as police charged and charged again, firing tear gas and blue liquid from water cannon after fiery clashes overnight.

Several protesters fired arrows from rooftops at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University amid some of the most dramatic scenes in over five months of unrest in the Chinese-ruled city.

Police said a media liaison officer was hit in the leg by an arrow. He was taken to hospital for treatment. A metal ball bit another officer in the visor, but he was not wounded.

Protesters stripped down to their underwear, before being hosed down by colleagues with fresh water to wash off thewater cannon dye, not knowing what it contained.

Police also fired tear gas to try to break up protesters on the artery of Nathan Road in the Kowloon district of Mong Kok, a frequent venue for unrest.

READ: Arrow fired by Hong Kong protester hits police officer: Authorities

READ: Government supporters march in Hong Kong after week of chaos

A fire is seen on a footbridge between Hung Hom MTR Station and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
A fire is seen on a footbridge between Hung Hom MTR Station and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

Huge fires had lit up the sky at the university in the heart of Kowloon district overnight as protesters hurled petrol bombs, some by catapult, and police fired volleys of tear gas to draw them on to the open podium of the red-brick campus.

The clashes spread into Sunday evening, with protesters greeting each water cannon charge with petrol bombs. Police were trying to clear the bridge above the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, where protesters took cover behind umbrellas.

Protesters set fire to debris on the bridge, in turn setting off a series of small explosions, forcing many to flee. The fire brigade moved in after about half an hour to douse the flames.

An armoured police vehicle was also set ablaze by a barrage of petrol bombs as it tried to clear a flyover of protesters. As flames engulfed the front of the vehicle the driver slowly reversed, according to live-streamed video of the incident shown by several local media. 

"Rioters continue to launch hard objects and petrol bombs with large catapults at police officers," police said in a statement. "The shooting range of such large catapults can reach up to 40m ... Police warn that the violent activities in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University have escalated to rioting."

An AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers - several carrying sports bows - patrolling the campus.

"PREPARED FOR JAIL"

In the university courtyard, civil engineer Joris, 23, said he would be prepared to go to jail in his fight against the government. Those shooting arrows were protecting themselves, he said.

"The police violence has been over the top," he told Reuters. "The protesters have been reacting to the police. We haven't fought back as much as we could. I would be prepared for jail. We are fighting for Hong Kong."

Parts of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus looked more like a fortress with barricades and black-clad protesters manning the ramparts with improvised weapons-like bricks, crates of fire bombs, and bows and arrows at the ready.

"We are not afraid," said a year-three student Ah Long, who chose not to disclose his full name. "If we don't persist, we will fail. So why not (go) all in," he said.

The campus is the last of five universities to remain occupied, with activists using it as a base to continue to block the city's central Cross-Harbour Tunnel.

"We don't want to attack the police, we just want to safeguard our campus," said Chan, a 20-year-old Polytechnic student. "We want citizens to join the mass strike and protect Hong Kong."

Reuters correspondents heard a high-pitched wailing coming from at least one police vehicle, suggesting a new tactic to try to clear the crowds. Police confirmed use of a "Long Range Acoustic Device".

CRATES OF BOMBS

Hours earlier, squads of Chinese soldiers dressed in shorts and T-shirts, some carrying red plastic buckets or brooms, emerged from their barracks to help clear debris that has blocked some key roads in the city for days.

The presence of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers on the streets, even to help clean up, could stoke further controversy over Hong Kong's autonomous status at a time many fear Beijing is tightening its grip on the city.

Hong Kong did not request assistance from the PLA and the military initiated the operation as a "voluntary community activity", a spokesman for the city's government said.

The Asian financial hub has been rocked by months of demonstrations, with many people angry at perceived Communist Party meddling in the former British colony, which was guaranteed its freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing denies interfering and has blamed the unrest on foreign influences.

READ: Police suspect Chinese University of Hong Kong used as 'weapons factory' during protests

Protesters clash with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong
A protester hides behind a shield during clashes with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

Clashes between protesters and police have become increasingly violent in the Chinese-ruled city, which is grappling with its biggest political crisis in decades.

The demonstrations pose the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Xi has said he is confident the Hong Kong government can resolve the crisis and until Saturday Chinese troops in the city had remained inside their base during the protests.

Chinese state media repeatedly broadcast comments made on Thursday by President Xi, in which he denounced the unrest and said "stopping violence and controlling chaos while restoring order is currently Hong Kong's most urgent task".

READ: China says Britain fuelling protests after Hong Kong minister jostled

Protesters clash with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong
Protesters clash with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)
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Protesters clash with police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong
Tear gas engulf umbrellas during clashes with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

Previous efforts on Saturday to clear roads that have been blocked for days, causing massive disruption, followed some of the worst violence seen this year after a police operation against protesters at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Tuesday.

The authorities have since largely stayed away from at least five university campuses that had been barricaded by thousands of students and activists stockpiling makeshift weapons.

Earlier, hundreds of pro-China demonstrators gathered by the city's legislature and police headquarters, waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags.

Some held up posters reading "Police we stand with you", while others chanted "Support the police". Pro-China protests have so far attracted much smaller numbers than those angry at Beijing.

RARE TROOP PRESENCE

By late afternoon on Saturday, PLA soldiers had left the streets outside Baptist University beside their barracks in Kowloon Tong.

Chinese troops have appeared on streets only once since the 1997 handover, to help clear up after a typhoon in 2018. It was not clear how many were involved on Saturday.

A People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier in riot gear stands guard inside a military base
A People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier in riot gear stands guard inside a military base near Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

The PLA garrison in Hong Kong said that when residents began cleaning, some troops "helped clear the road in front of the garrison gate".

Demosisto, a pro-democracy organisation, said Saturday's clean-up operation could set a "grave precedent" if the city's government invites the military to deal with internal problems.

In August, Beijing moved thousands of troops across the border into Hong Kong in what state news agency Xinhua described as a routine rotation.

Standing beside a black flag with the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times," James Wong, 23, was among protesters manning a bridge at Baptist University.

"We didn’t want to confront the people and the PLA troops directly," he told Reuters. "We are not directly against the PLA, but rather the government. But the PLA should not leave their base because this is Hong Kong territory."

Protesters clash with police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong
A protester's umbrella is seen on fire during clashes with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

Police shine torches at protesters across a barricade during clashes at the Polytechnic University
Police shine torches at protesters across a barricade during clashes at the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Laurel Chor

"SQUEEZE THE ECONOMY"

Demonstrators last week engineered a "Blossom Everywhere" campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong's train network and closed schools and shopping malls.

The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing their ability to switch tactics.

The protests started against a now shelved Bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the city.

Two people have died this month as the violence worsened, while the financial hub has been pushed into a recession by the turmoil.

Hong Kong's airport authority on Sunday said October traffic figures were down 13 per cent on last year with 5.4 million passengers as the economy takes a battering.

A poster circulating on social media called for the "dawn action" to continue on Monday.

"Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure," it said.

The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: Agencies/mn/zl

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