Chief Executive Carrie Lam has called for a peaceful end to the two-day police siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus.
“I make a very strong plea that for everyone of us who are concerned about the situation, we will use whatever means to continue to persuade and arrange for these remaining protesters to leave the campus as soon as possible, so that this whole operation would be able to end in a peaceful manner and lay the basis for the subsequent work by the police to stop violence in Hong Kong,” Lam said at a press conference on Tuesday ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting.
Lam cited police figures, saying that around 600 people – roughly 200 of whom were under age 18 – had left the university campus, whereas about 100 remained on-site as of Tuesday morning.
Demonstrators have been occupying PolyU for more than a week in keeping with a larger plan to mobilise a citywide strike and class boycott. Police encircled the university from Sunday evening onwards, blocking all campus exits.
PolyU student leaders appealed to the public for help after officers entered the campus in the early hours of Monday, arresting those inside including people wearing first aid vests. In response, crowds gathered in the Yau Tsim Mong District on Monday, forming supply lines, staging a sit-in and setting up defence lines in various spots.
On Monday evening, former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang, the University of Hong Kong law lecturer Eric Cheung and several secondary school principals were given permission to enter PolyU to try to persuade the protesters to leave.
Lam said that she had been in close communication with the police force and asked them to try to reach a peaceful resolution.
“This objective could only be achieved with the full cooperation of the protesters – including of course the rioters – that they have to stop violence, give up their weapons and come out peacefully, and take the instructions from the police,” she said.
Lam said those who leave will be immediately arrested except for those underage, who will have their personal data collected by officers. Police reserved the right to take follow-up actions including arrests, she added.
The city’s leader said authorities have taken a “humanitarian approach” by allowing medical personnel to enter the school to treat the injured, as well as making special arrangements for those who are under the age of 18 by not making arrests on the spot.
Asked why she did not go to PolyU to speak to the protesters, Lam said: “I want to persuade the students to leave in person too, but my appearance will likely only worsen the situation, making it more difficult to resolve it peacefully.”
Lam defended an act by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel last Saturday to clear debris left by protesters at Hong Kong Baptist University in Kowloon Tong.
Critics have questioned the legality of the PLA action. Chinese military troops can only operate in the city if local authorities request it, according to the Basic Law. The government said earlier that it did not request the PLA to cleanup the streets.
Lam said it was not uncommon for the garrison to undertake voluntary and charitable activities in Hong Kong, citing examples of the PLA tidying up after Typhoon Mangkhut last year and occasional visits to elderly homes.
She said that the PLA cleanup took place near their barracks. Members of the public were also seen clearing debris in front of the camp. She said that it was normal for anyone to want to give a “helping hand” in such a situation.
Lam asked the media not to overinterpret the event, adding that the government remains confident in its ability to handle the current crisis without having to request assistance from the PLA.
District Council elections
Lam said the government position has always been to hold the District Council elections as scheduled but whether they are able to take place on Sunday depends on the protesters.
“The government is not in the driving seat. It is not the government that is creating violence and making threats,” she said.
Lam claimed that the personal safety of everyone in the city – not just that of police officers and people with opposing political views – is now under threat because of the unrest.
She urged people to stop all violent acts, including disrupting major throughways and vandalising public transport facilities.
“If voters cannot vote in a safe environment, we cannot ensure that the elections will be fair and just,” she said.
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