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Student protesters hold out as Hong Kong leader urges peaceful resolution
[HONG KONG] Hong Kong's embattled leader
Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she hoped a standoff between police
and a hold-out group of anti-government protesters at a
university could be resolved and she had told police to handle
About 100 defiant protesters remained in the Hong Kong
Polytechnic University, which has been surrounded by police,
after more than two days of clashes in which more than 200
people have been injured.
Mrs Lam spoke shortly after the city's new police chief urged
the support of all citizens to end more than five months of
unrest that was triggered by fears that China's central
government is stifling the city's special autonomy and freedoms.
In what many will see as an illustration of Beijing's
tightening grip, China's legislature questioned the legality of
a Monday Hong Kong court ruling that a ban on face masks worn by
protesters was unlawful.
The National People's Congress (NPC) said Hong Kong courts
had no power to rule on the constitutionality of city
legislation, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Mrs Lam said her government was very much on the "reactive side"
in dealing with the protests but she did not rule out more
violence even as she urged peace.
"If the protesters are coming out in a peaceful manner ...
then there is no situation when that sort of violence would
happen," she said.
However, police would have to take "necessary action" if the
situation changed, she said. Mrs Lam said she had been shocked that
campuses had been turned into "weapons factories".
On the sprawling Polytechnic campus in the Kowloon district,
a sense of despair prevailed amid the shriek of fire alarms on
"I feel I'm in trouble, I feel a little bit terrible," said
a 22-year-old who gave his name as Marcus.
He and two friends sat in the campus canteen at a table
piled with dirty dishes and plastic cups, debating their
"We keep trying to think how to escape, but every time we
pick a spot we see many police nearby," Marcus said.
"But if we give up, we're finished."
THWARTED SEWER ESCAPE
The university is the last of five that protesters occupied
to use as bases from which to disrupt the city, blocking the
central cross-harbour tunnel and main roads and forcing the
closure of businesses including shopping centres, in order, they
said, to put the government under economic pressure.
Mrs Lam said 600 protesters had left the Polytechnic campus,
including 200 below the age of 18.
Hundreds of them fled from the university or surrendered
overnight amid running battles on nearby streets as police fired
tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets and protesters lobbed
petrol bombs and bricks.
At one stage, dozens of protesters staged a dramatic escape
by shimmying down plastic hosing from a bridge and fleeing on
waiting motorbikes as police fired projectiles.
Later on Tuesday, about a dozen protesters tried to flee
through the university's sewerage system. A Reuters witness who
saw them lower themselves into a tunnel wearing gas masks and
plastic sheets to cover their bodies.
They were not able to escape and had to retreat back onto
'COME HOME SAFELY'
Many protesters say they fear more bloodshed in a standoff
that has seen some of the most intense violence in what has
become the worst crisis since Hong Kong's return from British to
Chinese rule in 1997.
One woman said her son was inside the campus with his
girlfriend and they would come out but for the fear of facing
charges of rioting, which can carry a 10-year sentence.
"I know the young people see there are many unrighteous
things in society, they want to do something to change it," said
the woman, who gave her name as Chan, 50.
"But as parents, we only have one wish. We only want all of
them to come home safely."
Protesters were initially angered by a now-withdrawn bill
that could have sent people to mainland China for trial but
their campaign has broadened into calls for full democracy and
an end to what many see as meddling by Beijing in China's freest
China says it is committed to the "one country, two systems"
formula granting Hong Kong autonomy and has accused foreign
countries, including Britain and the United States, of inciting
Dennis Kwok, a lawmaker with the pro-democracy Civic party,
denounced the NPC statement on the court ruling as "shocking".
"This is not the time to burn down your own house or to
destroy the rule of law in Hong Kong. Respect the courts in Hong
Kong, respect our system - this is the essence of 'one country
two systems'," he said.
Hundreds of people, many office workers wearing masks,
gathered in the business district on Tuesday afternoon.
Police hemmed them in and the protest was largely peaceful.
Such "flash mob" protests in the heart of the city have
happened on a daily basis over the past week, but the number of
people demonstrating has fallen.
However, the violence has worsened since last week, when
police shot a protester, a man was set on fire and the financial
district was filled with tear gas in the middle of the workday.
The city's Cross Harbour Tunnel linking Hong Kong island to
Kowloon remained shut on Tuesday due to extensive damage, while
some train services and many roads were closed.
All schools were shut again.
The unrest poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese
President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.