On Tuesday, hundreds of black-clad protesters, many of them students, attempted to block riot police from entering the prestigious and largely isolated Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) near Tai Po. Under a barrage of constant tear gas, protesters hurled bricks and petrol bombs at police.
The fierce confrontation continued well into the early hours, as police kept threatening a clearance of the campus. Throughout Wednesday, protesters kept fortifying the campus, building massive barricades and stockpiling weapons, even constructing a makeshift catapult to fire bricks and petrol bombs at police.
As of late Wednesday evening, police have made no attempt to enter the campus, even as they cleared multiple other protest camps across the city with tear gas and baton charges.
Unrest is expected to continue throughout the week, and CUHK will likely be the main focus, as protesters on campus arm themselves with with unconventional weapons including bows and arrows and javelins.
Campus under ‘siege’
In one of the densest cities in the world, CUHK is a world apart. Its sprawling campus sits in the hills of city’s New Territories, accessed only by a handful of roads and one train station, which, combined with the fact that many students live on site, give it a self-contained, small town-like feel.
Many students, however, regarded Tuesday’s police operation as an unwarranted encroachment and a threat to academic freedom, and reacted fiercely, circulating a message accusing police of laying “siege” to the university.
Around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, police said they had “reached a consensus in search for a peaceful solution,” but blamed students for spoiling it by throwing “bricks, petrol bombs, launched arrows and even fired a signal flare at Police officers.'”
“Such violence has reached a deadly level, posing a serious threat to Police officers and everyone at scene. The rioters threw hard objects and petrol bombs onto Tolo Highway, endangering road users’ safety,” police said. “Police warn all rioters to stop all illegal and violent acts, and to leave immediately.”
With protesters determined to continue defending the campus Wednesday, there was a strong likelihood of further clashes. In a statement, CUHK said “the risk of conflict is extremely high, and many nearby roads are blocked, and many places and facilities on the campus have been severely damaged.”
This week has seen a major escalation in political unrest that has rocked the Asian financial hub for almost six months, after the government introduced a now-shelved extradition bill with China.
Since then, demonstrations have expanded to include five major demands, including an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and wider democratic reforms.
The nonstop protests have also sent retail and tourism numbers plunging, with the city falling into recession in October.
In the same day, another shocking video showed a man being doused with flammable liquid and set on fire after a dispute with protesters. He remains in hospital in a critical condition.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Monday that the city was being brought “to the brink of no return” by the violence, adding that “if there is any wishful thinking that by escalating violence the (Hong Kong) government will yield to pressure to satisfy protesters’ so-called demands, I’m making this clear that will not happen.”