HONG KONG–Pro-democracy protesters dug in at several university campuses across Hong Kong on Nov. 13, setting the stage for further confrontations.
Protesters—many of them young students—spent much of Wednesday fortifying barricades and stockpiling food and makeshift weapons, as other roving bands of masked protesters disrupted transport and businesses in many areas.
Demonstrators have been protesting since June about what they see as meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Allegations of police brutality have fueled protesters’ anger.
In the heart of the city’s Central business district on Wednesday night, police used an armored vehicle with an officer firing less-than-lethal rounds from the roof to ram a barricade and disperse protesters who had been blocking traffic.
Earlier in the day, about 1,000 protesters, many of them office workers, blocked roads in the Central district at lunchtime.
Scores of riot police tried to disperse the crowds near the stock exchange, wrestling some people to the ground and beating others with batons.
Police confirmed that they had evacuated a number of mainland Chinese university students from Hong Kong by boat, while Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said dozens of Taiwanese students were also due to leave the city due to safety concerns.
“The youngsters are really the future of Hong Kong so even though I’m worried about being checked by the police I still want to come and support them,” said Cheung, a 30-year-old alumni bringing supplies including food to one campus.
Rows of riot police, some in trucks, watched the students but did not try to break through. The protests typically get more violent as night falls.
Protesters and police had battled through Tuesday night at university campuses—including firing a barrage of tear gas, rubber bullets, and a water cannon at the Chinese University of Hong Kong—only hours after a senior police officer said the city had been pushed to the “brink of a total breakdown.”
Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said all schools would shut on Thursday. Several universities said they would be introducing online learning and other assessment methods for the remaining weeks of the term.
The flare-ups came after police shot a protester at close range on Monday.
‘Painful to Watch’
The turmoil caused delays for thousands of commuters who queued at metro stations across the city early on Wednesday, after some railway services were suspended and roads closed.
“It is very painful to watch my city turn into this. Look at everyone, how angry they are,” said Alexandra, a 42-year-old insurance executive who had been trying to get to work.
“We all want to return to normal, but how can the government do that if they don’t listen to what Hongkongers have been asking for?”
Police said 142 people had been arrested since Tuesday, bringing the total number of arrests to more than 4,000.
Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority said 81 people had been injured since Monday, with two in serious condition. The youngest was 10 months old, but the cause of the infant’s injuries was not known.
Many banks and shops in bustling commercial areas shut on Wednesday, while Hong Kong’s Jockey Club canceled its evening races.
The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines announced on Wednesday that it would cancel the Assembly of Presidents meeting scheduled to take place in Hong Kong later in November. The decision comes a week after major back-to-back conferences on air finance, a key growth area for Hong Kong.
By Kate Lamb and Jessie Pang