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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong arrests mount to 1,100 as campus siege continues

Beijing denounces court ruling against mask ban

Riot police detain a protester at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong in this Nov. 18 photo.   © AP

HONG KONG -- About 1,100 people were arrested in Hong Kong over the past day, police said Tuesday, including hundreds of protesters who surrendered at a university that had been the scene of violent clashes with police since the weekend.

In other developments on Tuesday, Beijing condemned a Hong Kong court ruling that declared the ban on face masks unconstitutional, the city's police commissioner hit back at "fake news" that he alleged was undermining the force's credibility, and concerns are growing that the government will postpone Sunday's local elections.

The roughly 1,100 arrests since Monday covered various offenses, including participating in a riot and possession of an offensive weapon, police said. Chemicals that could be used in making petrol bombs had been stolen from another university.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, told reporters earlier on Tuesday that about 600 people, including roughly 200 under the age of 18, had left the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University and that about 100 people remained inside.

The minors were permitted to return to their homes after police recorded their names and other personal details. "We have not done any immediate arrests of these underage protesters or other participants within the campus, but of course we will have to reserve the right to undertake further investigations in future," Lam said.

Public broadcaster RTHK said the other 400 who had left the campus were arrested on suspicion of rioting.

"We will use whatever means to continue to persuade and arrange for these remaining protesters to leave the campus as soon as possible, so that this whole operation could be able to end in a peaceful manner and lay the basis for the subsequent work by the police to stop violence in Hong Kong," Lam said.

The turmoil has created an unprecedented test for Hong Kong's rule of law and judicial autonomy under China's "one country, two systems" principle -- a key assumption for the many multinationals choosing the city as a business and financial hub. 

Protesters wait to receive medical attention at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus during protests in Hong Kong on Nov. 19.   © Reuters

Lam said she was "confident" that police in Hong Kong can handle the situation, which has grown increasingly violent and intense over the past week.

Thousands of protesters demonstrated and blocked roads on Monday in parts of the Kowloon section of Hong Kong, where PolyU is located. Clashes between protesters and police have rocked the PolyU campus since Sunday. Demonstrators attacked police with gasoline bombs and bows and arrows, and set fires to thwart officers using tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds.

Kwok Ka-chuen, chief superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch, addressed reporters later on Tuesday.

"Apart from PolyU, the management of the Chinese University of Hong Kong also reported theft of dangerous chemicals from their laboratory," Kwok said.

On Monday, "over 3,900 petrol bombs were seized, which is the highest number recorded in one single location," Kwok said, adding that "CUHK has become a manufacturing base for petrol bombs."

Meanwhile, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body, "expressed deep concern" Tuesday over a ruling a day earlier by the Hong Kong High Court that the anti-mask law and the Emergency Regulations Ordinance were unconstitutional.

Zang Tiewei, a spokesperson for the Legislative Affairs Commission, said that "some NPC deputies have voiced strong dissatisfaction" over the ruling, according to a report from the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The spokesperson said that China's constitution and Hong Kong's Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution, "together form the constitutional basis" of Hong Kong, according to the report.

Zang said that whether a Hong Kong law conforms with the Basic Law "can only be judged and decided by the NPC Standing Committee, and no other organ has the right to judge or decide," the report said.

The laws were invoked by Hong Kong's government in early October to rein in escalating violence, but a group of pan-democratic lawmakers immediately launched legal challenges.

Hong Kong sociologist Cheung Yuk-man said Beijing's flat denial of the Hong Kong court ruling was not surprising.

"It is another sign of defect to the separation of three powers in Hong Kong, but it is consistent with what we have been seeing since 2016," said Cheung, associate professor at Ritsumeikan University's College of International Relations in Kyoto.

The major turning point occurred that year, when the NPC Standing Committee used the prerogative to interpret the Basic Law in order to disqualify pro-democracy members of the local legislature. Even though the power is conferred to China's top legislature according to the Basic Law, this was the first time the central government used it to overturn an election result.

"Anything could be 'interpreted' [in Beijing's favor] anyway, so people sense that there will be guessing and surmising to come," Cheung told the Nikkei Asian Review.

Also on Tuesday, Hong Kong's new police commissioner, Chris Tang, warned of law-breaking on "a massive scale" in the city and alleged that a sector of the community condoned "illegal" activity.

"We also realize that there is a lot of fake news, which may undermine the credibility of the police force," he said.

Hong Kong is preparing for district council elections Sunday, but officials cited the possibility that the government would postpone the vote.

The chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, Barnabas Fung, said on Tuesday that the election would be postponed a week, to Dec. 1, if an incident occurred that could not be resolved in 90 minutes, RTHK said.

Officials said that four polling stations had been moved, including those at PolyU and Chinese University of Hong Kong, RTHK reported. Fung said that police officers and additional security personnel would be dispatched to voting locations, the report said.

Patrick Nip, Hong Kong's secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said Monday that the recent violence at PolyU and other campuses in the city made it less likely that elections would be held as planned.

Meanwhile, primary and secondary schools will resume classes Wednesday after being closed for several days, as road and traffic conditions have stabilized, the government said Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Kenji Kawase in Kyoto.

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