A temporary calm has been restored to Hong Kong Polytechnic University following violent clashes between police and protesters in almost two straight days of stand-offs, which saw part of the campus in flames, local media reported.
Just before 7am, the head of PolyU, Teng Jin Guang, announced he had reached an agreement with police for a ceasefire, on the condition that the protesters stopped their attacks, broadcaster RTHK reported.
Professor Teng said he hoped protesters would accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner. But it was unclear whether this information had reached police on the ground.
At about 8am, police fired tear gas at a large group of students, who had left the campus and had started walking along nearby Science Museum Road, forcing them to retreat back inside. The same also happened to a group on Austin Road, RTHK reported.
Police detained dozens of protesters in Tsim Sha Tsui East, near the PolyU campus. At least 30 could been seen on television feeds sitting on the ground with their hands restrained. It was unclear how many protesters and students were still on campus.
Earlier on Monday, police trapped hundreds of protesters inside the university, sealing off roads in the area after they threatened to use live bullets if “rioters” did not stop using lethal weapons, raising fears of a bloody showdown.
The police said they were conducting a dispersal operation and disputed news reports that they had “raided” Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). Tear gas was being fired outside the campus and fires could be seen in some of the live media feeds.
Police’s cordon line remains outside Gun Club Hill Barracks, the site of a People’s Liberation Army garrison. Television images showed other protesters holding umbrellas while wandering through the campus streets, which were littered with bricks and other debris.
The police had earlier tried to enter in force but while they were able to arrest a few protesters at the outer edges of barricades protecting the university, they soon retreated after other students set the barricades on fire and threw dozens of petrol bombs at the police, New York Times reported.
According to AFP reporters at the scene, a large fire burned near the entrance of the university after protesters threw Molotov cocktails to fend off a police advance on the campus.
Hundreds of defiant protesters inside the university faced off against a police water cannon and armoured vehicles in raging battles that lasted an entire day on Sunday and into the night.
As police approached the barricaded front gate of the university in the predawn hours on Monday, protesters retreated into the university while starting huge fires at the gate as well as on a footbridge.
Owan Li, a student representative at PolyU, told reporters earlier on Monday morning that he didn’t know how many people were still in the school, and made a plea to avoid bloodshed.
“We hope to use this opportunity to tell the Hong Kong people that we need the help from all our friends,” he said. “I really hope that there will be a solution” for the students and staff to leave the campus safely.
In the Nathan Road area away from the campus, black-clad protesters roamed streets before dawn, many carrying petrol bombs, while three young women pushed a trolley of petrol bombs down one of the city’s busiest tourist districts. Others dug up paving slabs and used bricks to block roads, some chanting: “Liberate HK, revolution of our time.”
The chaotic scenes came as Hong Kong braced for yet more disruption after protests left the city paralysed much of last week. The Cross-Harbour Tunnel, a main artery linking Kowloon with Hong Kong Island, was closed as the Monday morning commute began due to damage to the administration building and toll booths, the Transport Department said.
Veteran opposition politician Emily Lau said that some Hong Kong residents are getting tired of the mass disruptions, but that many still support the movement’s broader goals.
“Some Hong Kong people have really lost patience with the radical protesters,” Ms Lau, a former chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Party, said on Bloomberg Television. “But there are others who are very sympathetic, who will take to the streets in black to continue to support them. So it is a city that is split asunder.”
Ms Lau stressed that Chief Executive Carrie Lam needed to provide a political solution to break the deadlock before the city’s economy suffers further. “Business is in a terrible state – the hotels are empty, the shops are empty, the restaurants are empty. We’re in a recession, my dear!”
Meanwhile, the People’s Daily said in a front-page commentary that there’s no middle ground or room for compromise on issues related to Hong Kong’s future and sovereignty,
The official Communist Party publication said the unrest shows that it’s necessary and urgent to improve Hong Kong’s governance system, adding that China won’t allow anyone to challenge the “One China” policy.
On Sunday, 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.
Scores of protesters were injured, some with scalding burns from chemicals in the jets fired from the water cannon.
Thousands of residents and protesters flocked 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.
Police confirmed that officers fired three live rounds in Tsim Sha Tsui around 3am on Monday, hours after issuing a warning that officers will retaliate with live bullets if protesters continue attacking them with lethal weapons. But no one was shot, local media reported.
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.
Demonstrators, angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the former British colony that has had autonomous status since returning to Chinese rule in 1997, have said they are responding to excessive use of force by police.
“The protesters have been reacting to the police,” said Joris, 23, a civil engineer who like others did not give his full name. “We haven’t fought back as much as we could. I would be prepared for jail. We are fighting for Hong Kong.”
Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and has blamed foreign influences for the unrest.
Many others trapped on the sprawling red-brick campus close to the city’s harbour, said they would never surrender.
“We’ve been trapped here, that’s why we need to fight until the end. If we don’t fight, Hong Kong will be over,” said Ah Lung, a 19-year-old protester.
Many protesters wore gas masks or tied handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses to protect themselves from clouds of tear gas. Some stripped down to their underwear, after earlier dousings from water cannon that witnesses said contained an irritant.
An armoured police vehicle that was set ablaze by petrol bombs in Sunday’s violence was towed away early on Monday.
The spectre of a bloodier standoff has caused some international concern.
Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said in a statement: “Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has the responsibility to do everything possible to prevent a massacre. She must order the police to use restraint.”
Chinese soldiers in a base close to the university were seen on Sunday monitoring developments with binoculars, some dressed in riot gear.
Chinese troops in shorts and T-shirts, some carrying red plastic buckets or brooms, emerged from their barracks on Saturday in a rare public appearance to help clean up debris.
The presence on the streets of soldiers from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), even to clean up, risks stoking the controversy about Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous area.
Chinese troops have appeared on Hong Kong’s streets only once since 1997, to help clear up after a typhoon last year.