Thursday 5 December 2019

University siege ends as protests ease off ahead of Hong Kong vote

Masked identity: A protester attempts to escape scrutiny by the police
Masked identity: A protester attempts to escape scrutiny by the police

Simon Denyer

Protesters trickled out of a besieged Hong Kong university campus yesterday as a week-long siege appeared close to an end, while the city geared up for local elections that pose a test of public support for the pro-democracy movement.

Half a dozen protesters, holding hands and wearing face masks, left Hong Kong Polytechnic University and surrendered to police around dawn, with two more following shortly afterward, bringing to around 30 the number who have turned themselves in over the past day and leaving only a handful inside.

Police chief Chris Tang called on the remaining protesters to leave, but said there was no deadline to clear them. "The situation is really dangerous inside the campus, we encourage them to come out as soon as possible," he said.

The stand-off, sparked by the police shooting of an anti-government protester and the death of another, was the most dramatic escalation in more than five months of unrest.

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Demonstrators pushing back against China's growing influence on the territory are calling for full democracy and police accountability, among other demands.

Police have said those who surrender could face charges of rioting, which carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence, and there have been fears of more violence if police storm the campus. So far, the police have been content to wait out the remaining protesters, whose supplies were diminishing in a campus they transformed into a fortified base.

"Not all of them want to leave," said student leader Owen Li. "They still insist on staying and are refusing to be arrested."

Stung by the arrests of hundreds of protesters this week, the city's pro-democracy movement has spent the past few days regrouping and mobilising for local elections tomorrow which it hopes will deliver a resounding message of popular support.

Protesters have refrained from large demonstrations in the past few days, either because they needed a break or for fear that trouble could tempt authorities to suspend the vote. (© Washington Post)

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