Hong Kong police declared their 12-day siege of a university campus over on Friday, after a sweep of the site revealed that pro-democracy protesters inside had stockpiled nearly 4,000 petrol bombs and more than 1300 other explosive items.
Polytechnic University, known as PolyU, became the scene of the most intense standoff of Hong Kong’s nearly six-month protest movement when police blockaded the campus earlier this month, trapping inside more than 1,000 protesters who had occupied the complex.
Violent clashes broke out between protesters, who were armed with molotov cocktails, catapults and bows and arrows, and riot police, who fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.
Scores of protesters, fearing maximum sentences of 10-years for rioting, managed to escape the campus by crawling through underground tunnels or climbing from overpasses on to waiting motorbikes. More than 800 gave themselves up to police or were arrested as they tried to flee.
About 100 police officers finally entered the campus on Thursday with the intention of collecting evidence and seizing weapons and dangerous items, after university staff reported they had found no signs of protesters still on the grounds.
Police said Friday they had seized 3,989 petrol bombs, 1,339 other explosive items, 601 bottles of corrosive liquids, and 573 weapons, including a dozen bows, 200 arrows and an air rifle.
Declaring the operation over, Assistant Commissioner of Police Chow Yat-ming said police would continue their investigation into what took place at the university, where university staff estimate it could take up to six months to repair damage caused during the operation.
“The force is happy to see that the process has been conducted peacefully, and I want to reiterate that we have always followed two main principles, ‘peaceful resolution’ and ‘flexibility,'” said Chow.
“Police have zero tolerance for violence or lawbreaking, and we will continue to investigate this case.”
The clashes at PolyU marked a dark chapter in the pro-democracy movement, resulting in the arrests of hundreds of protesters, but activists have since been buoyed by positive developments in their struggle. On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed two new laws supporting the protest movement, prompting a “Thanksgiving” rally in the heart of the city Thursday night.
That news came just days after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory over their pro-Beijing rivals in local elections last Sunday, taking control of 17 out of 18 districts.
Cover: Policemen from Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit search for dangerous materials at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus in Hong Kong, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. Police safety teams Thursday began clearing a university that was a flashpoint for clashes with protesters, and an officer said any holdouts still hiding inside would not be immediately arrested. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)