'Rioters' turning university campuses into arsenals: police

November 15, 2019 13:51
An anti-government demonstrator looks his phone at a makeshift gate during a standoff with riot police at CUHK on Thursday. Police have accused protesters of turning university campuses into weapons factories and arsenals. Photo: Reuters

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in Sha Tin, where many people, including a large number of students, had faced off with law enforcement personnel since Monday, has been turned into a weapons arsenal, the police said, calling on authorities at the institution to take steps to remedy the situation.

Illegal and alarming weapons activities have also spread to other universities in the city, they said. 

John Tse Chun-chung, chief superintendent of the police's public relations branch, said in a press briefing on Thursday that the police have been communicating with the CUHK management in the hope that they can persuade people in the school to leave, only to be told that it would be a difficult thing to do because quite a number of the people in the campus were not students at all.

Tse claimed that as the "rioters" were in high emotions, the police was doing its best to avoid head-on confrontations and that they wouldn't want anyone, on either side, to get hurt.

When asked by media if there would be a deadline set for students to retreat, the police did not respond directly, while refuting allegations that the force was besieging the campus.

There is no such thing as police officers laying siege to campus, it said, pointing out that everyone there can leave freely and that officers only step in when public safety is affected.

The police urged the university management not to condone activities that result in the campus turning into an arsenal, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

If unlawful acts persist, the police cannot sit back and do nothing, the agency warned.

On Tuesday, riot police had serious clashes with CUHK students near a bridge that leads to the school, with students using means such as petrol bombs and arrow shots against officers who deployed tear gas and a water cannon vehicle.

In a radio program on Friday morning, Jacky So Tsun-fung, president of the CUHK student union, said only about half of the protesters who are staying in the university are CUHK students.

On Thursday, similar clashes erupted on the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hung Hom.

Police spokesman Tse told media that the rioters have turned not only the CUHK campus but also those of other universities into weapon factories and arsenals, saying online footage showed some rioters at CUHK hoarded petrol bombs, bows and arrows and large-size catapults, and that there were also people carrying petrol bombs at PolyU and Hong Kong Baptist University.

“Last night, rioters set fires at different locations in CUHK and even set fire to an electrical control panel. Their acts are another step closer to terrorism,” Tse said.

Police are closely monitoring the situation in the university, Tse said, adding that given the large number of petrol bombs and flammable ingredients stored on campus, there may be heavy casualties if there is a fire.

“It is very sad to see the school has been used as a weapon factory and an arsenal with all kinds of offensive weapons like bows and arrows and catapults,” Tse said.

The alarming trend is spreading "like cancer cells to other universities in Hong Kong," he said.

In other news, a government spokesman said on Thursday that the police commissioner is designating up to a 100 officers of the Correctional Services Department (CSD) as special constables to enhance the police's manpower and strength.

According to the spokesman, the new appointees, who are familiar with anti-riot equipment, will be mainly responsible for guarding government premises as specified by the police commissioner, with their work to encompass activities such as anti-riot operations and handling of emergencies.

During their appointment as special constables, the relevant CSD officers will be temporarily on loan to the police from the CSD on a part-time basis to discharge the duties of special constables.

The government does not preclude the appointment of officers from other local disciplined services as special constables in the future, depending on the police’s manpower needs and the security situation.

Civic Party leader and lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu criticized the appointments of special constables, saying such move may only add fuel to the fire.

As the special constables won't be familiar with the police operational guidelines, it may lead to more questionable conduct during law enforcement actions, Yeung said.

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