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Hong Kong Protests: Police Threaten to Use Lethal Force Amid Standoff

HONG KONG — A besieged Hong Kong university was gripped with tension into the early hours of Monday morning, as the police force threatened to use lethal force to arrest anyone who did not surrender.

After a nearly 24-hour standoff on the fringes of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in which protesters set two bridges on fire and shot an officer using a bow and arrow, lawmakers scrambled to stop riot police officers from charging inside and arresting hundreds of antigovernment demonstrators who had occupied the campus for days in a fiery siege.

After some journalists and first-aid volunteers fled the scene, local lawmakers and an American pastor called for the government to intervene to prevent bloodshed on the campus.

The clashes on Sunday — intense even by the standards of an increasingly violent protest movement — shattered a fragile calm that had returned to the Chinese territory after a workweek marred by severe transit disruptions, street scuffles and a police shooting.

Schools across Hong Kong were canceled for Monday, and the city’s political crisis showed no sign of abating ahead of local elections scheduled for Nov. 24.

The Hong Kong protests began in June over legislation, since scrapped, that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, and have expanded to include a broad range of demands for police accountability and greater democracy.

Here’s the latest:

An American pastor and a half-dozen Hong Kong lawmakers said late on Sunday that they were calling on the Hong Kong government to prevent any bloodshed. They said they had asked the United States Consulate to get the police to allow them inside the campus to ensure protesters’ safety.

The pastor, William Devlin, said in a telephone interview that he had been on campus for at least four hours as the clashes unfolded, and had left at 8 p.m. But he was trying to re-enter with the lawmakers at a northwest entrance.

Mr. Devlin estimated there were many hundreds of determined activists still inside when he left, perhaps up to 1,000. He said they were spread out across all parts of the campus, with at least 200 in the cafeteria.

“They were all in good spirits,” he said. “They were not being deterred. They were ready to be arrested. They said, ‘We stand for freedom, dignity, democracy, human rights.’ They said they were staying.”

Mr. Devlin said he had been on the front line with the activists in the late afternoon when the police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons against protesters. Much of that took place outside a main southwest entrance to the university that is a 15-minute walk from the bustling commercial strip of Nathan Road.

He said he had seen protesters throw 10 to 20 petrol bombs to deter the police from advancing. Officers deployed at least one water cannon truck and two armored vehicles. At least two protesters were armed with bows and arrows, he said.

Mr. Devlin said he would call an American diplomat before midnight to ask for help getting the police to grant him permission to re-enter the campus with six Hong Kong legislators. They want to “make sure the students are being treated fairly,” he said.

William Lau, 22, a protester on campus, said around midnight that about 500 activists were still on campus. “I know that there is a possibility that the police will fire live bullets on us tonight, but right now we have no choice,” he said.

About 50 activists were arrested after trying to leave via a northwest entrance, he said, so others were wary of trying to exit.

“The police would never just let us walk out like that,” he said. “I know that some want to leave now but don’t know how, while a fair number wants to stay and fight.”

Scores of protesters in nearby areas of Mong Kok confronted the police in an attempt to draw forces away from the campus. On Hong Kong Island, protesters with the same aim put up barricades in Central, the main business and luxury shopping district.

Louis Lau, the police superintendent, said before midnight that an officer had fired a live round at a vehicle that charged toward officers.

“Coldblooded rioters can only imitate terror acts,” he said, warning that live rounds could be used as a “necessary minimum force.” The police also said they might use lethal force if the protesters do not leave the campus.

Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group that organized large, peaceful marches in the early weeks of the six-month-old movement, urged the government and the police to de-escalate what it called “state violence.”

“With the tense atmosphere and escalation of the use of force by police,” the group said in a statement, “we worry that the protesters, most of whom are our young and future generation, will face arrest with bloodshed.”

For hours on Sunday, the police fired gas and sprayed water cannons at young demonstrators who were continuing a multiday occupation of the campus and blockading an adjacent tunnel that connects Hong Kong Island with the Kowloon Peninsula.

Ensconced above the Kowloon streets in fort-like enclosures, some of the protesters spent hours throwing gasoline bombs, some from improvised catapults. Others were armed with bows and arrows, and the police said an officer had been hit in the calf with an arrow.

After nightfall, the protesters set fire to a flyover near the tunnel and a pedestrian bridge leading to the campus, forcing an armored police vehicle to retreat and setting another on fire. A riot police officer warned that protesters were surrounded and that the force would use lethal force against them if they did not surrender.

“Time is running out,” the officer said on a loudspeaker.

Dozens of hard-line protesters also clashed with riot police in several working-class neighborhoods nearby, apparently in an attempt to divert the force’s energies away from the campus.

The PolyU campus, which sits beside the harbor tunnel and a Chinese military barracks, is one of several that young protesters had occupied days earlier, turning them into quasi-militarized citadels. Most of the other sieges gradually tapered off.

The Sunday clash came on the heels of a particularly intense week of transit delays, street scuffles and flash-mob-style demonstrations across the city. The unrest was prompted in part by the police shooting of a young demonstrator at point-blank range. He survived.

On Saturday, Chinese soldiers jogged out of their barracks near Hong Kong Baptist University and cleared bricks from streets that had been swarmed days earlier by young demonstrators.

The soldiers wore T-shirts and basketball jerseys, rather than military uniforms, and carried brooms instead of weapons. Their appearance threatened to inflame tensions in the semiautonomous Chinese territory, where many are deeply sensitive about what they see as Beijing’s growing influence over their lives.

The Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army is based in 19 sites once occupied by the British military before the former colony returned to Chinese control in 1997. But even though Chinese troops have been stationed in Hong Kong for years, it is highly unusual for them to venture into the city.

Hong Kong’s mini-Constitution says that P.L.A. forces “shall not interfere” in local affairs and that the local government may ask for the army’s assistance for disaster relief and maintaining public order. The Hong Kong government said in a statement on Saturday that the soldiers’ cleanup had been a self-initiated “community activity.”

The cleanup, which was lauded in China’s state-run news media, prompted a torrent of criticism from local residents. On Saturday, 24 lawmakers from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislative minority issued a joint statement saying that the local government and the P.L.A. had ignored restrictions imposed on the troops by local laws.

Ezra Cheung, Paul Mozur and Keith Bradsher contributed reporting.


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