Hong Kong university siege winds down as hunt for protesters comes up empty

Hong Kong university siege winds down as hunt for protesters comes up empty

HONG KONG: As the final searches for any protesters still hiding in Hong Kong's Polytechnic University came up empty on Wednesday (Nov 27), academic authorities prepared for the clean-up following a near two-week siege of the campus by riot police.

Police still guarded the perimeter as a security team prepared to scour the maze of buildings for a second day. Polytechnic University Executive Vice President Dr Miranda Lou said no one had been found so far.

READ: Commentary: Hong Kong campus siege widens split between moderates, radicals

"We hope we can re-open the school soon to start our renovation work and reduce the impact on our students and our research projects," said Lou.

The red-brick university on Kowloon peninsula was turned into a battleground in mid-November when protesters barricaded themselves inside and clashed with riot police in a hail of petrol bombs, water cannon and tear gas. About 1,100 people were arrested last week, some while trying to escape.

The university on Wednesday asked government departments for help removing "dangerous materials" from the site, which is littered with rotting waste and detritus of the siege, urging authorities to take a "humane" approach.

The city's largest pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, urged authorities to send medics to the site to take any remaining protesters to hospital.

The Polytechnic University campus was the last of five that protesters had occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city, blocking the nearby Cross-Harbour Tunnel linking Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and other arteries.

The protesters had blocked the tunnel's mouth, smashed toll booths, lit fires and cemented bricks to the road, but it was reopened early on Wednesday, and Hong Kong television showed a steady flow of vehicles passing through.

THOUSANDS ARRESTED SINCE JUNE

Hong Kong authorities hope that a lull in clashes over the weekend during local elections, where pro-democracy candidates scored a landslide victory, can translate into more calm after nearly six months of turmoil.

Hundreds of people are facing potential jail time in connection with the unrest.

Secretary for Security John Lee said on Wednesday police had arrested more than 5,800 people since June, the numbers increasing exponentially in October and November, and had charged 923.

Smaller scale protests continued on Wednesday, as crowds in the central business district took to the streets around noon.

A "Thanksgiving" protest, in appreciation of the US Congress passing legislation supporting protesters, is scheduled for Thursday, the date of the US holiday.

READ: Hong Kong authorities appeal for calm as major highway reopens​​​​​​​

Reuters also reported that China's leaders had set up a crisis command centre in the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, to deal with protests that have become the biggest populist challenge since China's leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Office in Hong Kong called the report "false", without elaborating, in a statement posted on its website Tuesday. "No matter how the situation in Hong Kong changes, the Chinese government's determination to safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests is unwavering," it said.

Despite the euphoria among protesters over the electoral victory, in which democracy advocates swept around 86 per cent of the 452 district council seats, fresh demonstrations were planned for the weekend, including a march to protest the use of teargas on "children".

The city-wide elections drew a record turnout and were seen as a vote of no-confidence against Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam over her handling of the financial hub's worst crisis in decades.

One Hong Kong newspaper, Sing Pao, published a front-page spread for the second successive day calling for Lam's resignation. "Hong Kong people had enough, Carrie Lam quit," it read.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula put in place at that time.

READ: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: Reuters/nc

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