Leaders of Hong Kong universities have been under pressure after clashes between police and protesters on their campuses this week during the citywide strike.
Thousands of black-clad protesters gathered in the campuses and roads near the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist University in the past few days. They blocked nearby roads and built walls with bricks they dug out from pedestrian paths.
At CUHK, masked students set up counters at the entrances to check the identities of people coming in, to prevent police infiltration. Canteens were operated by students and masked protesters to serve free meals while university buildings for accommodation and medical treatment were open. Apart from protective equipment such as gas masks, umbrellas and helmets, weapons such as bows and arrows, catapults and gasoline bombs were also observed.
There was a serious clash at the university’s No 2 Bridge on Tuesday evening, with police firing about 1,000 teargas canisters at protesters, who retaliated with firebombs. A water-cannon truck sprayed blue-dyed water at the crowd, forcing them to step back. Police retreated as the university’s vice-chancellor, Rocky Tuan, promised to manage the situation.
On Wednesday and Thursday, black-shirted protesters continued to occupy the bridge and drop debris on to Tolo Highway, a key road connecting New Territories North with Kowloon.
Similar situations were seen at Polytechnic University. Students and protesters occupied the campus and checked ID at the entrances. They threw debris and firebombs at the Hung Hom MTR (Mass Transit Railway) station and Cross Harbour Tunnel, which are key traffic points in the city.
Meanwhile, bricks and umbrellas were scattered around Junction Road, Kam Shing Road and Renfrew Road near Hong Kong Baptist University, which is adjacent to the People’s Liberation Army’s Kowloon East Barracks, and also Cornwall Street and Tat Chee Avenue near CUHK.
Riot police fired many rounds of teargas at Polytechnic University, Baptist University and City University, but not the Chinese University over the past three days.
Early on Friday, three masked people said the crowd at CUHK had decided to open part of Tolo Highway at 6am as a gesture of goodwill to commuters. They urged the government to guarantee that the District Council election would go ahead as scheduled on November 24.
However, the Student Union of Chinese University and many other protesters said they weren’t involved in the decision.
In a statement, Tuan condemned the irresponsible and illegal activities of the masked protesters, who set fires, removed bricks from walkways, stole vehicles, and broke into university buildings and hostels, wrecking property, damaging facilities and assembling a large supply of gasoline bombs.
“We have reason to believe that the majority of these masked protesters are not CUHK students.… I strongly request that all outsiders leave our university campus immediately,” he said.
Alumni and students strongly debated the vice-chancellor’s statement. Some suggested Tuan had taken the side of the police. However, a lot of alumni said they believed Tuan used strong language with the hope that the crowds would dissipate. His prime concern was the safety of the students, they said.
At a media briefing late in the afternoon, Senior Police Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said universities were no longer respected fortresses for academic thought. Instead, they had become dangerous weapons warehouses for rioters.
At 6pm, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung vowed to take decisive measures to end the chaos in the city.
Meanwhile, leaders of nine universities issued a joint statement that university campuses had become major political battlefields while the complicated and challenging situations could not be resolved through university disciplinary processes. They urged the government to take the lead with swift and concrete action to resolve this political deadlock and to restore safety and public order.
At 8pm, dozens of masked people at CUHK threw debris to block Tolo Highway again. Police had shown up about 200 meters away but then retreated. Protesters set up several piles of debris on the No 2 Bridge and planned to burn them one by one when police got close. At around 9:30pm, they burned one of them before leaving armed with firebombs and bows and arrows.
A protester who preferred to stay anonymous told Asia Times that protesters would come back to block Tolo Highway at any time, preferably on weekdays. She added that protesters had to avoid occupying one site for a long time but move from place to place.
In the late evening, riot police fired many rounds of teargas canisters at hundreds of protesters in Mong Kok and chased them in district for hours. A Commercial Radio reporter was shot with a sponge grenade, but it hit his backpack he was uninjured. The Hong Kong Journalists Association condemned the police for allegedly abusing their powers.