HONG KONG — Hong Kong police continued to lay siege to one of the city’s universities Tuesday as the former British colony’s embattled leader urged around 100 protesters holed up inside to leave the campus “as soon as possible.”
Some 600 protesters had left Hong Kong Polytechnic University “peacefully,” including about 200 who were younger than 18, chief executive Carrie Lam said in a news conference.
Those under 18 would not be immediately arrested, but could face charges later, she said, adding that the other 400 who have left had been arrested.
The senior management and teachers at the university also urged those inside to give up, and said in a statement that they “continue to make their utmost efforts to persuade people staying on campus to leave.”
It said the university has requested that the police don’t enter the campus for the time being, “to allow people on campus the chance to leave in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
“The university reiterates its hope that all arrested persons will be treated with fairness and in a humanitarian manner,” it added.
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The Hong Kong Red Cross said it treated about 40 people at the university, some of them suffering suspected fractures and head and burn injuries. Twenty-six people were taken to hospitals, it said.
Police said some protesters were seen escaping the campus by abseiling off a footbridge to getaway vehicles below. Officers gave chase and were able to intercept 37 of them, including the drivers.
Police surrounded the campus on Sunday, using water cannons, tear gas and heavy vehicles to hold back the protesters in a dramatic escalation of the demonstrations.
Universities became the latest battleground in Hong Kong last week, as protesters occupied several campuses, including the Polytechnic University.
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Violence has spiraled over six months of protests, and so has the rhetoric.
China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday criticized “irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs affairs” coming out of the U.S.
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was “gravely concerned” by the violence in Hong Kong, including the standoff at the Polytechnic University.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted his support for the protesters Saturday, calling the police response “shameful.” And Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tweeted Sunday saying “Beijing is pushing Hong Kong into a state of siege.” The Republican senators visited Hong Kong in October.
The university standoff continued as the Chinese government slapped down Hong Kong’s highest court, contending that it doesn’t have the authority to strike down a law banning protesters from wearing masks.
For more than five months, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, many of them wearing masks to shield their identities, have taken to the streets, initially to protest a proposed law that would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China.
The measure was withdrawn in September, but the demonstrations have continued as a broader protest of China’s control over the island.