Last campus protesters hold out as Hong Kong schools reopen

Last campus protesters hold out as Hong Kong schools reopen

Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown, but students and commuters faced transport disruptions as the last anti-government protesters remained holed up on a university campus, surrounded by police.

City officials tried to restore a sense of normality as primary and secondary school classes resumed. Workers began cleaning up debris blocking a major road tunnel, but it was unclear when it would reopen.

Officials warned protesters not to disrupt elections scheduled for the weekend.

A small group of protesters refused to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the remnants of hundreds who took over the campus for several days. They will not leave because they would face arrest, and police have set up a cordon around the area to prevent anyone from escaping.

A bulldozer clearing rubbish (Ng Han Guan/AP)
A bulldozer clearing rubbish (Ng Han Guan/AP)

The occupation of Polytechnic capped more than a week of intense protests, the latest flare-up in the often-violent unrest that has gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for more than five months.

Since a police siege of the campus began on Sunday, police have arrested 700 people who left to surrender, while 300 minors were allowed to go home but may still face prosecution, Chief Superintendent Ricky Ho told reporters.

Among those arrested were people involved in an apparent escape attempt through a sewer. Mr Ho said officers saw four people remove a manhole cover and lower a rope into the drain to help two others climb out. He said all were arrested but did not give further details.

It is unclear how many protesters remain on campus, but they appear to number fewer than 100. About two dozen scrounged through supplies in the cafeteria looking for food in the morning.

One protester, who spoke on condition of anonymity, remained adamant, saying: “I think if you go out and surrender, it just shows you agree with what the police and that government are doing or have given up the fight.”

Police wait outside the Polytechnic University (Ng Han Guan/AP)
Police wait outside the Polytechnic University (Ng Han Guan/AP)

There were scattered incidents of protesters stopping trains by opening emergency doors and blocking traffic, but on a much smaller scale than last week.

Television footage showed long queues at some stations because of train delays. A few stations remained shut by damage from earlier protests.

A group of protesters, joined by pupils in uniform, blocked traffic at one junction. Others in the area argued with them, removing some of the metal barriers that protesters carried into the street.

Even as the latest violence wound down, a fundamental divide suggested the protests in the former British colony are far from over.

Office workers joined protesters at lunchtime in the central business district to show support for the movement, as they have every day since last week.

Hong Kong’s protests began in June over an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China to face trial. Opponents saw it as a threat to the “one country, two systems” framework that gives Hong Kong its relative autonomy.

The bill has been withdrawn, but protesters now demand fully democratic elections and an independent investigation into police actions in suppressing the protests. City leaders have rejected these demands and said violence must stop before meaningful dialogue can begin.

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