Hundreds of Hong Kong student protesters remain locked in a tense standoff with police at a university where protesters have barricaded themselves since last week.
The students and police have engaged in intense but sporadic clashes for the past 24 hours. Police have intermittently tried to break through protester barricades but have been driven back by molotov cocktails and other makeshift weapons.
Early Monday, dozens of students attempted to flee the besieged campus on foot, but were met by police tear gas. Some managed to escape, according to local media reports, while others were driven back inside.
Smaller groups of people appeared to attempt to leave the campus later Monday, but were also met by police teargas.
Early Monday, VOA saw police arrest dozens of students, who were detained with plastic wire ties around their wrists. Some were marched in front of reporters as they were taken away toward waiting police vans.
Thousands of riot and other police have surrounded the urban campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for the past day, warning the students to drop their weapons. But a hardcore group shows no signs of surrender. A student protester who was in contact with friends inside the campus told VOA that as many as several hundred may be present.
Earlier police said they were arresting students on riot related charges.
It’s not clear how many have been arrested. The number of casualties also isn’t clear. Police on Sunday warned they would use lethal force if they continued to be attacked. Local media reports said live rounds were used in several cases.
Overnight, police advanced in waves, firing tear gas and water cannons, as protesters lobbed petrol bombs and other weapons. At one point, an armored police vehicle appeared to be completely on fire.
Police have also engaged in clashes with protesters on streets outside the campus, some of whom appeared to be trying to come to the rescue of the besieged students. Calls on social messaging sites issued calls for Hong Kongers to stream in from all directions to help free the students.
Since June, Hong Kong has seen massive, regular demonstrations, which started in opposition to a proposed bill that would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to the mainland. The protests quickly morphed into wider calls for democracy and opposition to growing Chinese influence.
A smaller group of hardcore protesters, many of whom are college students, have also increasingly engaged in more aggressive tactics — clashing with police, destroying public infrastructure, and vandalizing symbols of state power. The students have defended the tactics as a necessary response to police violence and the government’s refusal to accept their demands.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University is one of at least five campuses where students this week barricaded themselves in, blocking roads and collecting makeshift weapons in case of an attack by authorities. Most of the protesters had left the other campuses by Saturday, though a group of hardcore protesters remained at Polytechnic.
The protests escalated in the past week, following the first death of a protester who fell from a building during clashes between protesters and police.
On Saturday, dozens of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers helped clear protester barricades from a street, emerging from their barracks for the first time since the latest round of protests began.
Pro-democracy lawmakers immediately condemned the move as a violation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, which forbids interference by mainland Chinese soldiers unless formally requested by the Hong Kong government.