Hong Kong, Nov 18 (AFP/APP): A modern city-centre campus disfigured by fire and strewn with debris, its windows smashed and graffiti covering the red-brick walls — a Hong Kong university has become the epicentre of the city’s nearly six-month crisis.
Cornered and increasingly desperate, a hard core of young pro-democracy protesters found themselves holed up at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) late Monday, running out of supplies and options, with police waiting outside.
The English word “freedom” was spray-painted in cursive letters on a walkway, where a discarded piece of clothing lay after some protesters had changed their black attire and made a dash for escape.
Many were arrested by riot police who dragged those they caught along a footbridge, striking out with batons and, in incidents filmed and shared on social media, appearing to stamp on the necks of some prone protesters.
What began as an energetic, well supplied and tightly organised campus occupation — with a stocked and staffed canteen, yoga mats and blankets to sleep on, and a defiant spirit of volunteerism — gave way to despair as the siege wore on.
Facing arrest or a crackdown and with nowhere to go, the mood among protesters inside the campus was increasingly desolate as night fell on Monday.
Some slumped on chairs, exhausted from two days of running battles. Others cried, consoled by friends.
“There is no way we can get out of the university safely now,” said one 19-year-old, without giving a name.
Supplies of bottled water and fresh food were dwindling, while warnings issued by authorities outside were turning increasingly stark.
Calls were made on phones with depleted batteries throughout the day to family, friends and lawyers. One man sitting alone in a canteen broke off from his lunch and sobbed.
Hong Kong’s protests started in June in opposition to a now-shelved bill that would have allowed extraditions to China.
But the demonstrations quickly spun out into a wider pro-democracy struggle, and angry calls for police accountability.