Hong Kong police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on Monday to pin back frantic anti-government protesters fleeing a university where hundreds were holed up with petrol bombs and other homemade weapons amid fears of a bloody crackdown.
Dozens, choking on the tear gas, tried to escape again and again from the Polytechnic University after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city in which roads were blocked and a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.
Many protesters, dressed in regular clothes and without gas masks, made runs for it, dodging tear gas canisters and sponge grenades, only to be forced back inside.
Some were arrested, tackled to the ground, as others scrambled and tripped over barricades and fences as police pointed guns at them and threw punches. Some were pulled back into campus by other protesters.
“The police might not storm the campus but it seems like they are trying to catch people as they attempt to run,” Democratic lawmaker Hui Chi-fung told Reuters.
“It’s not optimistic now. They might all be arrested on campus. Lawmakers and school management are trying to liaise with the police but failed.”
Police were putting up barricades of their own to keep the protesters in one place.
Earlier, police urged the protesters to “drop their weapons” and leave.
“We’ve been trapped here for too long. We need all Hong Kongers to know we need help,” said Dan, a 19-year-old protester on the campus, as he burst into tears.
“I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this. We may need international help.”
There were also running battles in the nearby commercial area of Nathan Road where activists stopped traffic and forced shopping malls and stores to shut.
Thirty-eight people were wounded overnight on Sunday, the city’s Hospital Authority said. Reuters witnesses saw some protesters suffering from burns from chemicals in jets fired from police water cannons.
“Remember you have life in your hands. Why do you need to push us to death?” one person shouted at police from a campus rooftop as protesters wearing gas masks and clutching umbrellas looked for ways to escape.
Live video showed protesters with their hands tied behind their backs sitting cross-legged on a road as riot police stood guard in one of the busiest commercial and tourist districts in the former British colony.
Police said they fired three live rounds when “rioters” attacked two officers who were attempting to arrest a woman. No one was wounded and the woman escaped amid a dramatic escalation of the unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into chaos for almost six months.
Demonstrators angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in Hong Kong’s promised freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.