Hong Kong police surround university as violent standoff with students continues

By Ben Westcott, Jessie Yeung and Steve George, CNN

Updated 0314 GMT (1114 HKT) November 19, 2019
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1:50 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

Analysis: Everything is speeding up, and no one knows how bad it's going to get

From CNN's James Griffiths

After months of it feeling like the Hong Kong protests were almost settling into if not a lull, then at least some kind of routine, the last week has been nothing but escalation.

Only a week ago, a Hong Kong university student was shot by a police officer; later in the same day a man was set on fire following a dispute with protesters. A 70-year-old man was struck on the head with a brick and later died. Protesters fortified multiple campuses and police launched intense clearance operations.

This week shows no signs of slowing down. Today has already seen dramatic clashes at Polytechnic University, where a siege of the campus is still ongoing and police are cracking down on all those who leave, even as protests spring up elsewhere across the city in an attempt to relieve the pressure.

Throughout clashes Sunday night into Monday morning, protesters used petrol bombs and flaming arrows, as police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

Both sides seem to be preparing for greater violence, with protesters making Molotov cocktails filled with a napalm-like substance and even apparently setting explosive booby traps on the PolyU campus. Meanwhile police have deployed snipers and officers could be seen patrolling with assault rifles after the force said it may use live rounds if the dispute continues.

It seems inevitable that images coming out of PolyU will further exacerbate anger and fuel more protests, even as the last major misstep by the government -- a ban on the wearing of masks using a colonial era law -- was ruled unconstitutional by a court this morning.

After almost six months of unrest, everything seems to be speeding up, and we may be on the verge of a turning point. The protests have not been bloodless, but those deaths which have occurred did so on the edges of the unrest -- the last week seems to indicate that we may be getting towards the point where fatalities become routine.

1:56 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

Police spotted in Jordan with M4 assault rifles

From CNN's Rebecca Wright in Jordan

Black-uniformed riot police have been seen in Jordan, where a clearance operation is ongoing, carrying what appear to be assault rifles.

The weapons, which did not have the usual orange markings that designate less-than-lethal rounds, appeared to be M4 carbines with .556 rounds. It was unclear whether the weapon was loaded with live ammunition, but police said in a statement last night that they were prepared to use live rounds if the disruption continued.

6:04 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

All schools are canceled tomorrow -- again

The Hong Kong Education Bureau just announced that classes for all schools will be canceled again tomorrow due to the weeklong unrest.

A statement from the bureau said the decision was made because of "unstable factors" and transit disruptions.

The cancellations include all education levels. The bureau said most classes are expected to resume on Wednesday, while some schools for students with disabilities will remain closed until Sunday.

This is the fourth consecutive school day that classes have been cancelled -- the bureau first closed all schools last Thursday after safety complaints from parents.

"The EDB (Education Bureau) reminded students again to stay at home and not to wander in the streets. They should stay away from danger and must not participate in unlawful activities," the statement said.
1:35 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

In photos: The bloody clash outside the university

Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019.
Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

About 20 minutes ago, police and protesters clashed outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, after protesters who had been barricaded inside attempted to leave.

Scenes from the ground show protesters with bloodied faces after the clashes. Some were tackled to the ground, and held down by numerous riot police officers.

Police tackle protesters near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019.
Police tackle protesters near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

The clash erupted suddenly, and was over just as quickly, in a matter of minutes. Earlier, the street had been full of police and protesters dressed in black, trying desperately to run away and tussling on the ground. Now, the area is empty, with some protesters having fled and many arrested.

Protesters clashed with police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019.
Protesters clashed with police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

1:32 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

Foreign Correspondents' Club accuses police of obstructing journalists

People are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on November 18.
People are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on November 18. Dale de la Rey/AFP

The Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) has accused police of trying to obstruct press coverage of the Polytechnic University siege.

In a strongly worded statement, the club said police had barred journalists from entering the fortified campus, and searched others or demanded they provide press identification.

"The FCC considers this a serious breach of press freedom and the right of the media under Hong Kong law to cover the protests free of intimidation or violence," the statement said.

In one incident, the FCC alleged three student journalists who attempted to leave the Polytechnic University campus were told to stay where they were or risk being fired upon.

"We again call for an independent investigation into police violence against journalists and any interference with the media’s right under Hong Kong law to cover the unrest," the statement said.

1:21 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

Protesters are making napalm-like substance

From CNN's Isaac Yee in Hong Kong

A source at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University has revealed how protesters barricaded inside the campus have made a napalm-like substance to attack police lines.

According to the source, the manufacturing of the substance was carried out in an organized manner, with some protesters focusing on mixing household substances, while others focused on mixing the napalm like substance with petrol in glass bottles.

Hundreds of glass bottles filled with the substance have been strategically positioned across campus, ready to be used should police finally enter inside, the source claimed.

On Sunday, protesters used slingshots to hurl the substance towards police lines. In one incident, an armored police vehicle caught fire when protesters launched a barrage of bottles filled with the substance towards advancing police lines, said the source.

The latest escalation in violence between protesters and police has pushed protesters to experiment with newer and more deadly makeshift weaponry, including bows and flaming arrows and catapults.

1:15 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

Analysis: Do police want protesters to leave campus or not? They're sending dangerous mixed messages

From CNN's James Griffiths in Hong Kong

Do police want to clear the Polytechnic University campus, or do they want to make arrests? At the moment they seem to be trying to have it both ways -- and are working against their own stated objectives.

While some protesters managed to flee the besieged campus this morning, many were sent rushing back inside after police fired a barrage of tear gas at them. They have been trapped there since.

Moments ago, more attempted to leave but were tackled to the ground and detained, often violently, live video footage showed from the scene.

While police have grounds to make arrests, the point of doing so at this stage seems unclear. They have said since this morning that they want to clear the campus and restore calm -- allowing those protesters remaining inside to leave would do this.

By targeting anyone who steps outside they are only further prolonging the siege, and the images of violent arrests will be spreading like wildfire around Hong Kong, where multiple sympathy protests have already sprung up, further exacerbating tensions today.

The past six months have often been characterized by the police and government acting in ways that undermine their own goals, and today looks like it will be no different.

1:19 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

Protesters and police engage in bloody fight outside the university

Police fire tear gas at protesters near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019.
Police fire tear gas at protesters near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

A bloody fight has broken out between protesters and riot police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where upwards of several hundred student protesters have been barricaded inside for days.

Live video streams from local media show a large group of black-clad protesters trying to run, before being pursued by riot police. The scene quickly descended into shocking violence, with protesters and police officers tussling on the road, tripping over bricks that had been pried loose.

Video showed officers throwing protesters with bloody faces to the ground and beating them with batons. The air is heavy with thick white tear gas.

There are fires on site as well, and a police water cannon vehicle heading toward the scene.

For hours, police have ordered protesters inside the university to leave. In a statement earlier this morning, police said they were using "the minimum force necessary." They asked protesters to "drop their weapons" and leave "in an orderly manner," warning them to "follow police instructions."

Many protesters were reluctant to leave the university all day for fear of being arrested or beaten by the police. It's not clear how many remain still inside the university, or how many have been injured in the stand-off that has now been going on for more than 24 hours.

1:09 a.m. ET, November 18, 2019

38 people injured since Sunday morning, five in a serious condition

Five people are in a serious condition after being injured in the past 36 hours, Hong Kong's Hospital Authority said Monday.

In total, 38 people have been admitted to hospital with injuries since Sunday morning, although it wasn't clear how many were injured in the siege of Polytechnic University.

The Authority said that three men and two women were in a serious condition. The others were either stable or had been discharged.

There is no information at this stage how many of the injured are police and how many are protesters.

In a statement earlier in the day, the president of the Polytechnic University's student union said a number of protesters on the campus were suffering from hyperthermia after being hit with the water cannon.