Continuing clashes turn Central, university campuses into battlegrounds

Protesters hold up five fingers during a protest in Central today, signifying “five demands, not one less.” Photo by Chad Williams.
Protesters hold up five fingers during a protest in Central today, signifying “five demands, not one less.” Photo by Chad Williams.

Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters clashed with riot police in the city’s business district and on university campuses Tuesday, extending one of the most violent stretches of unrest seen in more than five months of political chaos.

The confrontations followed a particularly brutal day on Monday, when police shot a protester and a man was set on fire, prompting calls from Western powers for compromise but further fury in China against the challenge to its rule.

“Hong Kong’s rule of law has been pushed to the brink of total collapse,” police spokesman Kong Wing-cheung told a press conference on Tuesday afternoon as he denounced the latest rounds of violence.

In Central, a district that is home to many blue-chip international firms and luxury brands, thousands of office workers occupied roads for hours on Tuesday chanting: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong!”

Hundreds of hardcore protesters, dressed in their signature black clothes and masks, also used a passenger bus to barricade a key road in the area.

They threw bricks and other objects before retreating when riot police fired tear gas in the shadow of high-end stores.

The scenes in Central were a vivid illustration of how moderate people are continuing to back the pro-democracy movement even as their radical allies adopt more violent tactics.

Meanwhile, universities emerged as a new battleground with sustained clashes at major campuses for the first time.

At Chinese University of Hong Kong, police fired multiple volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in the afternoon at hundreds of protesters, who had built barricades afters an hours-long stand-off between the two sides.

Protesters responded with bricks and petrol bombs, while a vehicle used in a barricade was set alight.

At City University, protesters used a three-person slingshot to fire bricks at police from a footbridge.

Masked activists also built barricades and blocked roads at Hong Kong University, while at Polytechnic University, clashes broke out as police tried to arrest a female student.

During the morning rush hour hardcore protesters blocked roads, threw objects onto rail tracks and held up subway trains, sparking yet another bout of transport chaos throughout the city.

Protesters are demanding a right to freely elect their leaders, as well as an independent inquiry into police’s heavy-handed use of force.

But China has steadfastly refused to give any concessions to the protesters, and instead warned of even tougher security measures.

On Monday, protesters rampaged through train stations, vandalized shops, and barricaded streets.

Tensions had initially spiked following the death last week of a young man who fell from a height inside a multi-story car park as police conducted a clearance operation nearby.

Monday’s unrest prompted the United States and Britain to urge Beijing and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to find a compromise with protesters.

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