Hundreds leave PolyU campus peacefully after days of standoff

November 20, 2019 14:27
A group of protesters attempt to flee PolyU on Tuesday night before being chased by police deployed outside the campus. Photo: AFP

Hundreds of anti-government protesters left the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hung Hom peacefully on Tuesday, following days-long standoff with the police.

The police said in a statement shortly before midnight "a total of around 800 people have left the [PolyU campus] in a peaceful manner and cooperated with police investigation”, as of 11 pm.

Among them, 300 were below the age of 18, according to the police, who also said a group of 20 volunteer first-aiders left at around 10 pm through the main entrance.

The police said they had always emphasized "two fundamental principles: peaceful resolution and flexibility”, and that they "actively engaged with different sectors for dialogues and solutions."

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu on Wednesday morning told media that among those, almost 900 in total, who have turned themselves in from the PolyU campus so far, about 500 to 600 were adults, while the others were minors aged below 18.

Lee said everyone leaving the university campus would be arrested on suspicion of rioting, but the police would look into each case and the relevant evidence to decide whether to press ahead with a rioting charge.

Earlier, some public figures, including former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer at the Department of Law of the University of Hong Kong, began negotiation efforts from late Monday night in persuading the protesters, mostly students, and negotiating with the police.

After negotiations, the police agreed to let underage protesters to leave freely without being arrested on the spot after their pictures and personal data were taken, but not those aged 18 or above. The police said they reserve the right to undertake further investigations.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen and a delegation of secondary school principals were also there negotiating with the police and assisting students in leaving the campus freely.

Cheung said the public figures had assisted about 500 protesters in leaving the campus.

As of the print deadline around midnight, there were still roughly below a hundred protesters staying in the campus, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported on Wednesday.

PolyU insisted that it did not reach a consensus with the police on sealing off its campus for the purpose of making arrests, reiterating that it had requested the police not to enter its campus for the time being.

At around 10 pm, Chris Tang Ping-keung, who replaced Stephen Lo Wai-chung and became the new Commissioner of Police on Tuesday, was seen showing up the outside the PolyU campus, being accompanied by anti-riot officers.

Tang inspected the police cordon lines on Cheong Wan Road and Chatham Road South, and was spotted talking to some officers stationed there, before leaving the scene about 20 minutes later.

In a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Kwok Ka-chuen, newly appointed Chief Superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch, disclosed that around 1,100 people were arrested and got their details taken down by officers in and around the university.

Most of the protesters who voluntarily left the campus were not PolyU students, he said.

The police revealed that after some protesters were found escaping from a bridge and then riding on motorcycles waiting for them on Monday night, officers quickly made a move and arrested a total of 37 people, including the drivers, on the spot.

Around 10 protesters were also arrested on Tuesday night as they tried to run away when the medics were leaving.

Meanwhile, it was said that a number of the people who voluntarily left the campus showed symptoms of hypothermia, before they were covered by foil blankets, waiting to be sent to hospitals.

According to a person who had been sent to a hospital, the automatic water sprinkler systems on PolyU campus had turned on and soaked people there, adding to the cold weather. Quite a number of people saw their health deteriorate due to cold surroundings in the past few days.

As per the Hospital authority, a total of 235 people, aged 13 to 67, were injured in the PolyU incident as of 5 pm on Tuesday, with one of them being critical and another 12 being serious.

In related news, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where protesters and the police clashed severely last week, began implementing new campus access management measures on Wednesday.

The controls came after the police claimed that they found more than 3,900 petrol bombs on the campus, and amid allegations that about 11 liters of highly corrosive chemicals were stolen from the school facilities.

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