Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ as campus protest siege deepens

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For the first time in months of protests, Hong Kong police warned Monday that they could use “live rounds” after pro-democracy demonstrators shot arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers on a siege university campus as the crisis hitting the city escalated dramatically. Since June, demonstrations have trembled through the global financial center, with many in the city of 7.5 million people angry over eroding Chinese rule’s freedoms.

China has repeatedly warned that the opposition will not be tolerated, and fears have been raised that Beijing might send troops to end the spiraling unrest.

A day of serious, rolling clashes on Sunday, when a police officer was hit by an arrow in the leg and protesters were exacerbated by police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs. Clashes spread around Kowloon, with the epicenter around Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, where dozens of defiant protesters set big fires to prevent police from carrying out a planned raid on campus.

They hunkered down from sporadic water cannon fire under umbrellas and threw Molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it on a near-campus flyover. Police proclaimed the campus to be a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in prison — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau gave a strong warning in a live broadcast on Facebook. I advise rioters hereby not to use petrol bombs, arrows, vehicles or other offensive weapons to assault police officers, he said.

We will have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to shoot back if they continue these dangerous actions.

In the unrelenting months of protests, three demonstrators were fired by police, but all in scuffles carried out as violent street fights — all without a sweeping notice being issued by a force that relies heavily on tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets. Crazy demonstrators are still stuck inside the campus on Monday — whose occupation is a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far characterized by its fluid, unpredictable nature.

I’m scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end, one protester in front of the university building said joining the barricade.

Owen Li, a member, and student of the PolyU Council said “panic” had captured the remaining few hundred demonstrators. Some friends feel powerless … we’re calling on the whole community to come out and support us.

Activists parried attempts by police to break into the campus on Sunday, shooting rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP photographer saw a group of masked archers— some holding sports bows— patrolling the area.

In recent days, violence has worsened, with two people killed in separate incidents related to this month’s protests.

This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping released his most strident remarks about the crisis, saying that it challenged the “one nation, two systems” structure under which Hong Kong has been governed since the British transition of 1997.

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