Protesters hurl petrol bombs in fresh HK clashes

A protester hides behind a shield during clashes with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China Nov 17, 2019. REUTERS

A protester hides behind a shield during clashes with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China Nov 17, 2019. REUTERS

Fresh violence erupted around a besieged Hong Kong university campus todayy morning as protesters braced for a possible final police push to clear them after fiery clashes overnight.

Huge fires lit up the night sky at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Kowloon district hours earlier as protesters hurled petrol bombs and police fired volleys of tear gas to force them up onto the podium of the red-brick campus.

After a few quiet hours, police fired fresh rounds of teargas shortly after 10am. Activists hurled petrol bombs in return, igniting trees outside the campus.

Hours earlier, squads of Chinese soldiers dressed in shorts and T-shirts, some carrying red plastic buckets or brooms, emerged from their barracks in a rare public appearance to help residents clear debris blocking key roads.

Parts of the campus looked more like a fortress on Sunday morning, with barricades and black-clad protesters manning the ramparts with improvised weapons like bricks, crates of fire bombs, and bows and arrows at the ready.

"We don’t want to attack the police, we just want to safeguard our campus....and we want to safeguard Hong Kong," said Chan, 20, a year-three student at the university who did not want to provide her full name.

The campus is the last of five universities to be occupied, with activists using it as a base to continue to block the city's central cross-harbour road tunnel.

The presence of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers on the streets, even to help clean up, could stoke further controversy over Hong Kong's autonomous status at a time many fear Beijing is tightening its grip on the city.

Hong Kong did not request assistance from the PLA and the military initiated the operation as a "voluntary community activity", a spokesman for the city's government said.

Pro-democracy lawmakers condemned the PLA's actions in a joint statement, warning that under the city's Garrison Law the military must not interfere in local affairs unless it was asked by the government to help with disaster relief or public order, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported.

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