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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong police tighten siege on university as clashes intensify

Hundreds of protesters trapped; high court rules mask ban unconstitutional

Protesters inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University find themselves unable to flee after being tear-gassed by police on Nov. 18.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- In one of the city's most disorderly days of protest, police on Monday attempted to storm a university occupied by hundreds of demonstrators, and the Hong Kong high court ruled that an emergency ordinance and mask ban were implemented unconstitutionally.

The protesters remain under siege late Monday inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which police have completely surrounded as they prepare for a major arrest effort once the standoff cools down following the 25th straight weekend of unrest in the city.

Violent clashes between protesters and police broke out Sunday morning in Tsim Sha Tsiu, a major tourist destination. Hundreds of protesters later retreated to the university, in Hung Hom, in Kowloon, but police quickly sealed off all routes of retreat and blocked all major roads leading to the university.

Pitched battles were fought throughout the night. Protesters hurled petrol bombs and bricks, while police fired tear gas and water cannons. At one point, a protester threw a firebomb at an armored vehicle that was moving within meters of protesters' cordon line.

They also set a fire on a footbridge connecting the campus to a railway station as well as burning trash heaps on a staircase near the university's entrance in attempts to keep police from entering the campus.

On Sunday night, police began urging volunteers, reporters and others to leave the campus, warning they could risk committing the offense of "taking part in a riot." The president of the student union said at least 500 people remained trapped on campus as of Monday morning.

Police made dozens of arrests in the morning, but most of the hard-core protesters remain inside, trying to work out how to escape without being arrested. The police said in a statement that 154 people had been arrested over the weekend.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam urged people who are still hiding inside the campus to obey the police's request, and surrender themselves peacefully.

Lam did not appear at a government news conference late Monday afternoon, but she wrote that she visited a police officer who was shot by an arrow in his leg. "The surgery went well. I wish him a speedy recovery," she wrote.

A protestor prepares to fire an arrow during a confrontation with police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 17.   © AP

Clashes also broke out in multiple districts near the university as supporters sought to divert police away from the university. These protesters were met with tear gas.

A police officer who was escorting an arrested female shot three live rounds when "a mob of rioters" attacked a police vehicle and successfully assisted the detainee's escape, according to a police Facebook post.

Meanwhile, hundreds of workers came into the street during their Monday lunch break in Central, the city's finance district, to support the protesters. "Save the students, save Polytechnic University," the crowd chanted.

A police personnel vehicle catches fire as protesters and police clash on a bridge near Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 17.   © Getty Images

"What happened in Poly University is the worst humanitarian crisis in Hong Kong history," said Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, adding that many medical staff were arrested last night.

Tanya Chan of the Civic Party, who represents 24 pan-democratic lawmakers, demanded Chief Executive Carrie Lam meet with the lawmakers as soon as possible to try to de-escalate the situation at the university. She said many protesters who suffered serious injuries and hypothermia after being hit by water cannon blasts remain trapped and cannot receive proper medical treatment. "We urge the government to come up with solutions to let the injured people leave the scene as soon as possible," Chan said.

Patrick Nip, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, warned on Monday that the upcoming district council elections on Sunday could be postponed if the violence did not stop. He said the voters and staff would not be able to make it to polling stations should there be violent clashes, road blockages and vandalization of transport facilities.

A policeman in riot gear detains a protester outside of Hong Kong Polytechnic University as police storm the campus early on Nov. 18, 2019.    © AP

The Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong issued a statement condemning police efforts to obstruct press coverage of the weekend protests. It said reporters were barred from freely entering and exiting Polytechnic University, and some were searched by police.

"We again call for an independent investigation into police violence against journalists and any interference with the media's right under Hong Kong law to cover the unrest," the statement read.

Later Monday, judges at the city's high court ruled that the anti-mask law and the Emergency Regulations Ordinance were unconstitutionally implemented. The laws were invoked by the government to rein in escalating violence since last month, but a group of pan-democratic lawmakers immediately launched legal challenges.

In their decision, the judges said that the ordinance, which gives the chief executive sweeping powers, is "incompatible" with the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution. While the judges were convinced of the legitimate aims of the anti-mask law, implemented under the emergency ordinance, "the restrictions it imposed on fundamental rights also go further than is reasonably necessary for the furtherance of the objective," they said.

Simon Young, associate law dean of the University of Hong Kong, said the "judgment affirms the importance of separation of powers and fundamental freedoms under our constitutional order."

Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista

Riot police fire teargas and rubber bullets as protesters attempt to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18.   © Getty Images
Protesters prepare molotov cocktails at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18.   © Kyodo

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