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Regional News

Student protesters hold out as Hong Kong leader urges peaceful resolution

HONG KONG (Reuters) — Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she hoped a standoff between police and a hold-out group of anti-government protesters at a university could be resolved and she had told police to handle it humanely.

A last group of about 100 defiant protesters remained in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which has been surrounded by police, after more than two days of clashes in which more than 200 people have been injured.

Lam spoke at a news conference shortly after the city’s new police chief urged the support of all citizens to end five months of unrest, triggered by fears that the Beijing government is stifling the city’s special autonomy and freedoms.

Lam said her government was very much on the “reactive side” but did not rule out further violence even as she urged peace.

“If the protesters are coming out in a peaceful manner...then there is no situation when that sort of violence would happen,” she said.

However, police would have to take “necessary action” if the situation changed, she said. Lam also said she had been shocked that campuses had been turned into “weapons factories.”

She said 600 protesters had left the campus, including 200 below the age of 18.

The university is the last of five that protesters occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city, blocking the central cross-harbor tunnel and main roads and forcing the closure of businesses including shopping centers, in order, they said, to put the government under economic pressure.

Around a dozen protesters tried to flee through the university’s sewerage system on Tuesday morning, according to a Reuters witness who saw them lower themselves into a tunnel wearing gas masks and plastic sheets to cover their bodies.

Hundreds of protesters fled from the university or surrendered overnight amid running battles on surrounding streets as police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets and protesters lobbed petrol bombs and bricks.

At one stage, dozens of mask-wearing protesters staged a dramatic escape from the campus by shimmying down plastic hosing from a bridge and fleeing on waiting motorbikes as police fired projectiles.

Police allowed two prominent figures onto the campus late on Monday to mediate but many protesters refused to leave even though food was running out.

Many protesters, some injured, huddled together inside the main campus building, wearing protective foil covers and blankets to keep themselves warm as they waited for medical workers to help them leave.