The all-day standoff began early with police pummeling front-line protesters with water cannons that streamed irritating blue liquid and volleys of tear gas. Protesters responded with barrages of molotov cocktails. At one point, a police media liaison officer was struck in the calf with an arrow.
Much of the battle centered on the bridge leading to campus from the nearby metro station, which protesters had filled with barricades. As night fell, they repeatedly set it alight to prevent the police from advancing on to the university.
Police announced at 9 p.m. that the ânext round of operationâ was beginning, leading to speculation that they would storm the campus. They threatened to arrest those involved on charges of rioting, which can incur penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
University authorities had implored students not to engage in violence. In a statement, they said they were âgravely concerned that the spiraling radical illicit activities will cause not only a tremendous safety threat on campus, but also class suspension over an indefinite period of time.â
The university in Kowloon is next to a key cross-harbor tunnel that protesters blocked in recent days by setting fire to toll booths. Universities have become the latest flash points in the protests that have rocked this semiautonomous territory to its core.
In the face of an increasingly harsh police crackdown, protesters have taken up an eclectic spectrum of weapons, including bows and arrows and javelins â probably appropriated from campus athletic departments.
In Sundayâs battles, though, protestersâ key weapon appeared to be gas bombs. At one point, a police van speeding toward their barricades was set alight by a flurry of molotov cocktails and forced to retreat.
Polytechnic University was one of the last campus strongholds following an intense week of protests centered on the cityâs universities. After police laid siege to the Chinese University of Hong Kong last week, protesters barricaded other campuses as well as major roads, drawing the city and schools to a halt.
On Saturday, members of the Peopleâs Liberation Army, Chinaâs military, left their barracks to help clear the roadblocks that protesters had erected around universities. It was the PLAâs first appearance on the streets of Hong Kong since the pro-democracy protests erupted in June.
As a semiautonomous territory, Hong Kong is legally distinct from mainland China. While the armyâs presence here was not unprecedented â it also appeared in September 2018 to assist with disaster relief after a severe hit from Typhoon Mangkhut â the move was a subtle but significant development. Under Hong Kong law, the PLA may not interfere in local affairs unless invited by the Hong Kong government.
On Saturday, the Hong Kong government denied that it had invited the PLA to clear the roadblocks, saying the work was a âvoluntary community activity,â according to Chinese state-owned CGTN. The development drew sharp criticism from pro-democracy lawmakers, who said it was illegal and a PR stunt by Beijing to normalize the armyâs presence in the territory.
At a peaceful rally in Hong Kongâs central business district, Alex said the development was unacceptable.
âThey cannot be volunteers because they are soldiers,â said the 35-year-old clerk who gave just his first name for fear of retribution. âTheyâre conveying a message that they will be going out. They will take action if the situation is not getting better.â
The Education Bureau announced that all classes would be canceled on Monday. Classes were suspended for most of last week as protests and a strike paralyzed the city. Two university campuses have called off classes for the rest of the semester.
Anna Kam and Tiffany Liang contributed to this report.