HONG KONG police on Monday trapped hundreds of protesters inside a major university, sealing off roads in the area after almost two straight days of standoffs that have raised fears of a bloody showdown with both sides refusing to back down.
Hundreds of defiant protesters inside Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University faced off against a police water cannon and armored vehicles in raging battles that lasted an entire day and through the night.
A police officer was shot in the calf by an arrow as anti-government protesters, many of them students, responded to police with salvos of petrol bombs and bricks hurled by homemade catapults.
Police threatened to fire live bullets if “rioters” did not stop using lethal weapons in the latest flare-up in anti-government protests that have convulsed the Chinese-ruled city for five months.
Scores of protesters were injured, some with scalding burns from chemicals in the jets fired from the water cannon.
The protesters at Polytechnic University had blocked one of Hong Kong’s major highways, the Cross Harbour Tunnel linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula for much of the past week, with authorities desperate to restore the link yet encountering tenacious resistance from the trapped activists.
As police approached the barricaded front gate of the university in the predawn hours, protesters retreated into the university while starting huge fires at the gate as well as on a footbridge.
The campus was a flurry of uncertainty and activity on Monday morning. Some protesters discussed trying to leave, while others carried boxes of petrol bombs to positions around the complex.
Thousands of residents and protesters flocked overnight to various districts around the university including Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei, to try to penetrate the riot-police lines to rescue the trapped students.
“If we can only hold on till dawn, more might come,” said one young activist in the university who was close to exhaustion.
The violence in the Asian financial hub has posed the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Xi has said he is confident Hong Kong’s government can resolve the crisis.
In Monday’s statement, police warned people whom they described as rioters to stop using lethal weapons to attack officers and to halt other acts of violence, saying officers would respond with force and possibly live bullets if necessary.