Asia

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ as campus protest siege deepens

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HONG KONG: Hong Kong police on Monday (Nov 18) warned for the first time that they may use "live rounds" after anti-government protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city sharply escalated.

Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.

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China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.

Protesters clash with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.

READ: Arrow fired by Hong Kong protester hits police officer

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Hong Kong police tweeted images of the injury to the police officer after an arrow pierced through his leg. (Photo: hkpoliceforce)

Clashes spilled across Kowloon, with the epicentre around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.

They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armoured police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.

Police declared the campus a "riot" scene – a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail – and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.

"I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers," he said.

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"If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back."

Anti-government protesters prepare molotov cocktails during clashes with police, outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University. (REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha)

Three protesters have been shot by police in the unrelenting months of protests, but all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out – and without a sweeping warning being given by a force which overwhelmingly depends on tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.

Fear gripped protesters still trapped on Monday inside the campus – whose occupation is a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.

"I feel scared. There's no way out, all I can do is fight to the end," said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.

Owen Li, a PolyU council member and student, said "panic" had taken hold of the estimated few hundred protesters who remained.

"Many friends feel helpless … we appeal to all of society to come out and help us."

Throughout Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers – several carrying sports bows – patrolling the site.

Protesters clash with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the "one country, two systems" model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.

READ: Hong Kong protesters threaten 'one country, two systems' principle: President Xi

'SQUEEZE THE ECONOMY'

Demonstrators last week engineered a "Blossom Everywhere" campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong's train network and close schools and shopping malls.

The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters' ability to switch tactics.

The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrRead More – Source

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