Protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University use umbrellas to protect themselves against a water cannon used by police to disperse protesters in Hong Kong on November 17. Picture: ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP
Protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University use umbrellas to protect themselves against a water cannon used by police to disperse protesters in Hong Kong on November 17. Picture: ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

Hong Kong — Protesters fired arrows and hurled petrol bombs from a barricaded university on Sunday at police who fired teargas and a water cannon in some of the worst violence in the Chinese-ruled city since antigovernment unrest erupted five months ago.

For the first time Hong Kong police warned that they may use “live rounds” against the pro-democracy protesters.

Several protesters took up positions on the rooftops of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, armed with bows and arrows, as unrest spread across the territory’s central Kowloon district.

Police said a media liaison officer was treated in hospital after being hit in the leg by an arrow. Another officer’s visor was struck by a metal ball though he was not hurt.

Protesters, who were sprayed with blue liquid from a water cannon, stripped off and hosed each other down to wash it off.

Police fired teargas to try breaking up protests on Nathan Road, a large thoroughfare in Kowloon’s Mong Kok district, which was strewn with loose bricks, and in Yau Ma Tei district, where successive volleys of gas canisters temporarily cleared the streets.

Clashes intensified during the night.

Chinese soldiers

“Rioters continue to launch hard objects and petrol bombs with large catapults at police officers,” police said, warning that the “violent activities” at the university “have escalated to rioting”.

Chinese soldiers, some dressed in riot gear with canisters on their chests, were seen monitoring developments with binoculars in a base close to the university.

Chinese troops, some carrying red plastic buckets or brooms, emerged from their barracks in shorts and T-shirts on Saturday in a rare public appearance to help clean up debris.

The presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers on the streets, even to clean up, risks stoking controversy about Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous area. Protesters are angry at perceived Communist Party meddling in the territory, whose freedoms were guaranteed when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

I would be prepared for jail; we are fighting for Hong Kong
Joris, civil engineer

Beijing denies interfering and has blamed foreign influences for the unrest.

Huge fires lit up the sky at the university on Saturday night and into Sunday morning after protesters threw petrol bombs.

In the university courtyard, civil engineer Joris, 23, said students fired arrows to protect themselves.

“The protesters have been reacting to the police. We haven’t fought back as much as we could. I would be prepared for jail; we are fighting for Hong Kong,” Joris said.

Set ablaze

The campus is the last of five universities to be occupied by activists, who have used the site as a base to block the Cross Harbour tunnel, which connects Kowloon to Hong Kong island.

A police truck, deployed to clear the bridge above the tunnel, retreated in reverse after being set ablaze.

“We are not afraid,” said third-year student Ah Long, who also did not give his full name. “If we don’t persist, we will fail.”

The violence has posed the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Xi has said he is confident Hong Kong’s government can resolve the crisis. Chinese troops have appeared on Hong Kong’s streets only once since 1997, to help clear up after a typhoon last year.

Reuters