Asia Pacific

Hong Kong police end campus siege

New protests planned as government refuses to budge after local elections

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Hong Kong police on Friday ended their 13-day siege of a university after finding no protesters there during two days of intensive searches for anyone who could still be holed up.

Hundreds of police officers and firemen concluded their search at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Kowloon before noon. The police retrieved a slew of weapons purportedly made or brought in by protesters who had occupied the campus.

“The police would like to reiterate that we will not tolerate any kind of violence … or illegal activities, and we will stringently follow up the investigation in a professional and impartial manner,” assistant police commissioner Chow Yat-ming told reporters outside the campus.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters occupied the university earlier this month, making the nearby thoroughfare, one of Hong Kong’s major arteries that connect to Hong Kong Island, unpassable.

They clashed with police around the campus most fiercely on Nov. 17, when they threw bricks and firebombs and shot arrows at police who were closing in. The police fired tear gas and deployed water cannons and armored vehicles as the violence lasted through the night.

The police then cordoned off the area and arrested hundreds of protesters for alleged “rioting.” Those who were injured or ill were sent to hospitals for treatment.

The police say that in the aftermath they found around 4,000 firebombs, 1,200 gas canisters and hundreds of liters of corrosive liquid. Among the other items discovered were flammable liquid, bomb-making materials, 27 bows and 200 arrows, an air pistol and some tire-piercing spikes. They also found 44 damaged vehicles.

An earlier search by university staffers had found one woman who refused to leave the campus.

A male protester had told reporters late Wednesday that he and some 20 others remaining in the campus would not surrender. It is unclear whether they had since gotten out or remained somewhere in the university.

“We didn’t find anyone. We didn’t encounter anyone. No arrests,” Chow, the assistant police commissioner, said Friday. “Our operation objectives are twofold. … It’s all about the dangerous items and (evidence-collecting at the) scene of crime.”

Mass protests began in Hong Kong in June over a now-withdrawn bill that sought to allow extraditions to mainland China. The protests increasingly turned violent in the ensuing months, resulting in frequent clashes with the police.

The protests have presented the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government with its biggest challenge yet since the former British colony’s handover to China in 1997.

Protesters’ demands have expanded to include police accountability and greater democracy.

Pro-democracy parties won a landslide victory in Sunday’s district council elections, showing public support for the movement remains strong despite the government’s efforts to contain the protests.

Activists vowed to hold fresh rallies and strikes in the coming days.

Renewed calls to hit the streets came after Beijing and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused further political concessions despite the victory for pro-democracy parties in the elections last weekend.

Sunday’s district council polls delivered a stinging rebuke to the financial hub’s pro-Beijing establishment and undermined their argument that a silent majority were tired of the nearly six months of increasingly violent protests.

They also ushered in a rare period of calm following weeks of spiraling unrest, with no clashes or tear gas battles between protesters and police for more than a week.

But the calm spell looks set to end as public anger grows once more over the lack of response to the election results by Beijing and Hong Kong’s leaders.

In China this week, state media have sought to downplay and discredit the weekend ballot.

Lam, who has record-low approval ratings, has acknowledged public dissatisfaction but ruled out further concessions. “I have every confidence that Hong Kong can bounce back as we always do,” Lam told reporters on Friday during an official visit to Thailand.

But online forums used to organize the mass movement have filled with calls for a major rally on Sunday and a strike on Monday targeting the morning commute.