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Hong Kong police enter university after protest siege


HONG KONG • Hong Kong police yesterday entered a ransacked university campus where the authorities had faced off for days with barricaded pro-democracy protesters, looking for petrol bombs and other dangerous materials left over from the occupation.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University became the epicentre of the territory’s increasingly violent protest movement when clashes broke out on Nov 17 between police and protesters armed with bows and arrows as well as Molotov cocktails.

The stand-off settled into a tense stalemate during which hundreds fled the campus – some making daring escapes, others caught and beaten by officers during failed breakouts – leaving a dwindling core of holdouts surrounded by police cordons.

But in recent days, the last few people barricaded in the campus seemed to have disappeared.

Late on Wednesday, a lone masked man spoke to reporters inside the campus, saying some 20 protesters remained.

But there was no sign of them yesterday when police and firefighters moved in, 11 days after the siege began, for what was billed as an operation to secure dangerous objects now littering the once placid campus and to collect evidence.

During the Nov 17 battle, the sheer volumes of petrol bombs thrown by protesters succeeded in stopping police officers and crowd control vehicles from breaking through the barricades, forcing the stalemate that led to the siege.

Yesterday, riot police in tactical gear began gathering hundreds of discarded petrol bombs and bottles of chemicals that had been looted from the university laboratories, as well as archery bows.

Explosives experts went from room to room followed by a gaggle of reporters, passing walls daubed with graffiti insulting the city’s police force and calling for greater freedoms under Chinese rule.

Officers gathered a rapidly growing pile of items – from half-full jerry cans of petrol, to Molotov cocktails made out of wine bottles and various chemicals in glass bottles. They were carefully labelled and boxed up before being taken away.

Police spokesman Chow Yat-ming told reporters the priority for yesterday’s operation was not the arrest of any holdouts who might still be hiding.

“The objective is not about people, it’s about the dangerous items on campus. But if we encounter any protesters or any person remaining inside, then we’ll try to convince them to seek medical treatment or even a body check-up.”

The university now faces a mammoth clean-up operation.

Swathes of the red-brick campus just a stone’s throw from the city’s famous harbour resemble an abandoned battleground covered in debris, barricades and the shattered bottles of Molotov cocktails.

A foul odour from rotting food in a canteen and overflowing garbage bins permeated parts of the campus. A Starbucks outlet has also been trashed. The coffee chain has become a target for protesters because its local subsidiary is owned by a family conglomerate seen to be close to Beijing.

University leaders on Wednesday called for the police to end their siege and for the government to help with the disposal of dangerous materials.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE





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