Hong Kong students arm themselves for showdown amid talk of curfew

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Hong Kong, China Nov 14, 2019, 03.25 PM (IST)

Pro-democracy protesters paralysed parts of Hong Kong for a fourth day on Thursday, forcing schools to close and blocking highways as students built barricades and stockpiled makeshift weapons, setting the stage for campus showdowns.

China's Global Times tabloid, owned by the state-run People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, briefly said on Twitter that the Hong Kong government was expected to announce a weekend curfew after some of the worst violence in decades in the Chinese-ruled city.

It deleted the post after a short time. Its editor said there was "not sufficient" information to back it up.

Thousands of students hunkered down inside several campuses, surrounded by piles of food, bricks, petrol bombs, arrows with heads wrapped in cladding, catapults and other homemade weapons.

Police said Chinese University, in the New Territories, had become a "weapons factory and an arsenal" with bows and arrows and catapults.

"It is also evident that it has become a manufacturing base for petrol bombs," police said.

Protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police stations and trains, dropped debris from bridges on to traffic below and vandalised shopping malls and campuses, raising questions about how and when more than five months of unrest can be brought to an end.

"I am not prepared to fire the arrows unless there’s no other resort," student Cheung, 18, told Reuters. "I am also new in learning how to use arrows. I think arrows can't really hit them but if the police fire live rounds, we will die."

Police said arrows were fired at officers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the morning.

Several universities announced there would be no classes on campuses for the rest of the year.

Baptist University, next to a Chinese People's Liberation Army base in Kowloon Tong, issued an "urgent appeal", telling students to stay away from campus.

"Your safety is so dear to our hearts and to your parents' and friends’ hearts," it said. "Please stay away from harm’s way."

The Global Times' short-lived announcement about a curfew cited unnamed sources. It did not elaborate but, but online rumours have swirled along those lines.

"We don’t want to see a curfew, but we think it will happen sooner or later," Polytechnic University student Alex, 19, told Reuters. "We think it will be twinned with the postponement of the district council elections.”

The elections are due on November 24

Police gather

Hundreds of protesters occupied roads in the city's business district, home to some of the world's most expensive real estate, in the middle of the day.

Across the harbour, black-clad protesters and university students maintained their blockades of major roads, including the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Hong Kong island to the Kowloon area, and a highway between Kowloon and the rural New Territories.

Police fired tear gas near the tunnel early on Thursday to try to clear the protesters. Roads were strewn with bricks and other debris, leading to widespread traffic jams.

Dozens of riot police gathered outside several universities early in the day as students fortified their positions with metal poles, bricks and chairs.

At the Polytechnic University, near the Kowloon entrance of the Cross Harbour tunnel, hundreds of students wearing gas masks readied for confrontation.

Boxes of petrol bombs were placed at vantage points overlooking roads, including the tunnel, which has been blocked since Wednesday evening.

Students also poured litres of cooking oil across the ground in an attempt to thwart police should they try to enter.

Violence has escalated in recent days, with police shooting and wounding one protester at close range and one man described as a "rioter" dousing a man with petrol before setting him on fire.

The man who was shot was in stable condition in hospital. The man who was lit on fire suffered burns to his torso and head, and was in critical condition.

The demonstrations were initially spurred by what many residents see as the stifling by Beijing of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Anger grew about what many see as police brutality as the protests intensified. Police deny brutality and say they have shown restraint in the face of potentially deadly attacks.

Police said on Thursday they would appoint 100 Correctional Services Department staff, who look after prisons, to reinforce the streets.

“I cannot see how adding 100 special police will help much," democratic lawmaker Tanya Chan told Reuters. "I don't know why the government doesn't adopt measures that can soften the tension rather than intensify conflict.”

China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble. Police deny using excessive force.

Story highlights

Thousands of students hunkered down inside several campuses, surrounded by piles of food, bricks, petrol bombs, arrows with heads wrapped in cladding, catapults and other homemade weapons.