Hong Kong protesters vow to ‘defend’ campus after fierce clashes

At the prominent Chinese University, demonstrators are digging in, and prepared for more confrontations with police.

Hong Kong [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera]
A protester rests under an umbrella at the site of a bloody face-off with police on Tuesday [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera]

Hong Kong, China – After a night of tear gas and bullets, demonstrators gathered at the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong waited in anticipation for a confrontation with police as a tense week of protests continued.

After two days of fiery demonstrations at the prominent institution, anti-government protesters continued to occupy the Sha Tin-based campus late on Wednesday.

Until recently, protests largely remained off university properties, but that changed on Monday when violence engulfed the Chinese University’s campus, morphing into a showdown between security forces and demonstrators. Police fired rubber-coated rounds and water cannon while protesters hurled petrol bombs and fired slingshots.

Stephen Chan, a 20-year-old politics student, said Tuesday’s battle was significant because he considers Chinese University a prestigious institution in the city, and it should be a safe space for young people in Hong Kong.

“It is the home of all students,” Chan told Al Jazeera.

At the campus on Wednesday, there were few signs protesters were planning to vacate any time soon.

Volunteers shuttled in bags of supplies from Tai Po Road, including paper towels, cans of Red Bull, and soap. The items were stockpiled in various locations around campus, with a group of volunteers handing out provisions in front of Number-Two Bridge, which became one of the main sites of the previous night’s standoff.

Near the bridge, protesters sat on the curb next to a makeshift roadblock made from a burned-out car.

Some were armed with javelins – more usually used on the athletics field – while others had bows and arrows. Petrol bombs were rolled underneath a white university vehicle in preparation for any police charge.

Hong Kong [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera]
A man climbs off a spray-painted university bus used by protesters [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera] 

‘Long-time fight’

Chung Yi Cheng, who has taught philosophy at Chinese University for 25 years, said the protests there marked a new stage in the uprising against China’s influence over the semi-autonomous territory.

“It seems they want to use the university campus as the venue for a long-time fight,” he said of the occupiers.

The events follow a particularly violent start to the week after police shot a 21-year-old protester on Monday. In a separate incident, a demonstrator set a pro-Beijing supporter on fire. A network of roadblocks were erected for a mass general strike as calls went out for students and other Hong Kong citizens to boycott classes and skip work.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday called protesters’ actions “selfish” and condemned their attempts to bring the city to a halt. Hong Kong police said demonstrators threw objects onto Tolo highway, a major expressway in Hong Kong, and MTR tracks to block traffic.

Chinese University issued a statement on Wednesday announcing it was ending the term early, citing the disruption to public transportation and damage to the campus.

Several other universities, including Hong Kong Baptist University, announced they would conduct lectures and exams online for the next two weeks.

‘Defensive and prepared’

While classes have stopped, the demonstration at the campus does not appear to be. Two Chinese University alumni sat on Wednesday in the stadium – now equipped with a makeshift catapult consisting of metal poles held together with zip ties and bolts.

“We don’t know when the police will come again so we have to be defensive and prepared,” Jacky, 24, one of the former students, told Al Jazeera.

“We are already graduated and we are trying to protect the students here,” he said, noting the university’s location was strategic for disrupting traffic.

Hong Kong [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera]
Volunteers gather supplies in the university’s sports centre [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera]

Others who came to join the protest from off-campus said they did so in solidarity as former Hong Kong students.

Katniss, 23, arrived in the early hours of Wednesday after seeing messages on social media from students asking for reinforcements. “We’re just coming for support,” she said.

Spencer Ho, 39, who has volunteered as a medic at protests since late July, said this round of violence felt like something he hadn’t experienced yet on the streets.

“They are just students. It’s different. It’s different than the outside,” he said.

The escalation of this week’s protests, including those at the Chinese University, catalysed school closures around the city. Hong Kong’s Bureau of Education – which initially said school attendance was for parents to decide – announced classes for primary and secondary schools would be cancelled on Thursday for safety reasons.

Hong Kong’s anti-government protests started in June in response to a proposed extradition bill to China. Peaceful protests later turned into a call for widespread government reform, including the right to directly elect Hong Kong officials and an independent investigation into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.

Violence between protesters and police has increased in scope and intensity over the past six months.

Hong Kong [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera]
A protester sleeps on a sofa at the Chinese University on Wednesday [Betsy Joles/Al Jazeera]

What next?

How police will respond to the university’s occupation remains unclear.

Jacky So, president of Chinese University’s student union, applied for an injunction on Wednesday to stop police from entering the campus. It was later denied by a Hong Kong court.

Despite the heightened violence, one 21-year-old social work major – who asked to remain anonymous – said protesting at the campus provided a certain comfort level compared to street demonstrations. “It felt different because this is a school,” she said.

Camped out with a group of friends on the floor of the university’s empty canteen, she said she sees the coming together of so many students as a breakthrough – but she has no idea how things will play out.

“I don’t know if we can win. I don’t know the definition of winning. We are just trying our best to defend.”

Source: Al Jazeera