Hong Kong police fired tear gas at protesters as they tried to escape a besieged university on Monday while hundreds more pro-democracy activists stayed inside armed with petrol bombs and other weapons awaiting an expected operation to oust them.
The bloody standoff between security forces and activists at Polytechnic University entered its second day after a night of mayhem in which a police van was set alight and a police officer was shot with an arrow.
Thirty eight people were injured overnight Sunday, the city’s Hospital Authority said. Reuters witnesses saw some protesters suffer burns from chemicals in the jets fired from police water cannons.
"Remember you have life in your hands. Why do you need to push us to death?" one person shouted at police from a campus rooftop as protesters wearing gas masks and clutching umbrellas looked for ways to escape the university.
Police arrested dozens of protesters near the university on Monday morning, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Police warned they were ready to use live bullets if "rioters" continued to used lethal weapons, amid a dramatic escalation of the unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into chaos for almost six months.
Demonstrators angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the former British colony have said they are responding to excessive use of force by police.
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"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."
Photographs of the injured officer were posted on the Hong Kong Police’s Facebook page, showing the arrow sticking out of the officer’s lower leg.
Police confirmed that the man hit was a media liaison officer, who often join police lines acting as a buffer for the press in the protests.
On Sunday afternoon, police deployed water cannons and armoured vehicles, which broke through blockades strewn with bricks and nails and dispersed protesters with bursts of blue dye laced with pepper spray.
Protesters retreated back towards the campus, blocking projectiles and tear gas with umbrellas and makeshift shields. There are estimated to be 200 protesters barricaded inside the university.
Meanwhile, on the roof of the university, protesters fired arrows and catapults with flaming projectiles towards police lines.
Warning shots were reportedly fired by police and tear gas was still being launched towards the university at 4am local time after an ultimatum for students to surrender expired, as tensions showed no sign of easing.
The university is near the Hung Hom cross-harbour tunnel, a 10-lane thoroughfare between the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island.
The crossing has been a key target for protesters, who have vandalised the toll booths at the crossing, shutting down the crucial transport tunnel for more than five days.
Protesters on Sunday night also set fire to a footbridge overlooking the cross-harbour tunnel, causing a large explosion.
The university is stockpiled with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs, many which were strewn on the footbridges in anticipation for a police assault.
University campuses have been the latest battlegrounds of fierce clashes between protesters and police, with multiple campuses across Hong Kong vandalised and barricaded by protesters dressed in black, who say they are defending the universities from the police.
The Polytechnic University is the last remaining campus in Hong Kong still held by protesters, while the others that were once occupied have been largely abandoned.
Speaking on Sunday afternoon, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, urged restraint from Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, and protesters.
“Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has the responsibility to do everything possible to prevent a massacre. She must order the police to exercise restraint and not to use live ammunition or other forms of lethal force," he said.
"A bloodbath on a Hong Kong campus would be devastating for Hong Kong as a whole. I also urge those students who have engaged in violence to stop. I condemn violence on all sides and I call on both sides to show restraint and pull back from the brink.”
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The Hong Kong Education Bureau announced that primary and secondary schools will stay closed on Monday across the city, citing safety concerns.
The protests initially began with the demand to withdraw a now-shelved extradition bill, which pro-democracy figures feared was a sign of increasing control being exerted on Hong Kong from Beijing and the Chinese central government.
The unrest and protests has since evolved into calls for greater democratic reforms and an independent investigation into police violence.