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Hong Kong protests: foreign students start to leave as unrest shifts to universities

Protesters at the Chinese University in Hong Kong set up barricades outside the occupied campus.
Protesters at the Chinese University in Hong Kong set up barricades outside the occupied campus. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Foreign students have started fleeing Hong Kong as political unrest paralysed parts of the city for a fourth day in a row.

Many roads were empty and schools were closed as protesters faced off against police and disrupted transport links.

Police fired teargas at a group of protesters near Polytechnic University in the morning. In the evening, student demonstrators blocked campus entrances in preparation for further clashes with police. Protesters set tollbooths on fire in tunnels connecting Kowloon and Hong Kong.

In recent days, universities have become a focus of battles between riot police and anti-government demonstrators demanding greater democracy. On Tuesday police raided the Chinese University of Hong Kong, setting off violent clashes and a swell of criticism.

(February 1, 2019) 

A new Hong Kong extradition law is proposed, which would allow people to be transferred to mainland China for a variety of crimes. Residents fear it could lead to politically motivated extraditions into China's much harsher judicial system.

(March 31, 2019) 

Large public demonstrations start as thousands march in the streets to protest against the extradition bill.

(May 11, 2019) 

Hong Kong lawmakers scuffle in parliament during a row over the law.

(May 30, 2019) 

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, introduces concessions to the extradition bill, including limiting the scope of extraditable offences, but critics say they are not enough.

(June 12, 2019) 

The scale of protests continues to increase as more than half a million people take to the streets. Police use rubber bullets and teargas against the biggest protests Hong Kong has seen for decades.

(June 15, 2019) 

Lam says the proposed extradition law has been postponed indefinitely.

(July 1, 2019) 

The protests continue as demonstrators storm the Legislative Council, destroying pictures, daubing graffiti on the walls and flying the old flag of Hong Kong emblazoned with the British union flag. The protests coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the UK back to China.

(July 21, 2019) 

Armed men in white T-shirts thought to be supporting the Chinese government attack passengers and passers-by in Yuen Long metro station, while nearby police take no action.

(July 30, 2019) 

44 protesters are charged with rioting, which further antagonises the anti-extradition bill movement.

(September 1, 2019) 

By now the protest movement has coalesced around five key demands: complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, withdrawal of the use of the word "riot" in relation to the protests, unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped, an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.

(September 15, 2019) 

The mass protests enter their fifteenth week, with police resorting to teargas and water cannon against the demonstrators, and a wave of "doxxing" using digital techniques to unmask police and protesters as a new front in the battle.

(October 1, 2019) 

Police shoot a protester with live ammunition for the first time, as demonstrations continue on the day marking the 70th anniversary of the declaration of the People's Republic of China.

(October 7, 2019) 

The first charges are brought against protesters for covering their faces, after authorities bring in new laws banning face masks in order to make it easier to identify or detain protesters.

(October 11, 2019) 

Hong Kong officials spark outrage in the city as it revealed that nearly a third of protesters arrested since June have been children. Seven hundred and 50 out of the 2,379 people arrested  were under 18, and 104 were under 16.

(October 16, 2019) 

Lam is forced to deliver a key annual policy speech via video link after after being heckled in parliament, as the legislative council resumed sessions after it was suspended on 12 June. Later in the day one of the protest leaders, Jimmy Sham, was attacked by assailants wielding hammers and knives.

(October 23, 2019) 

Chan Tong-kai, the murder suspect whose case prompted the original extradition bill is released from prison, saying that he is willing to surrender himself to Taiwan. The extradition bill is also formally withdrawn, a key demand of protesters.

(November 8, 2019) 

Chow Tsz-lok, 22, becomes the first fatality of the protests. Chow, a computer science student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), was found injured in a car park in Tseung Kwan O in Kowloon, where he was believed to have fallen one storey. Protesters had been trying to disrupt a police officer’s wedding, which was being held in the area.

(November 14, 2019) 

A 70-year-old cleaner who is thought to have been hit by a brick during a clash between protesters and pro-Beijing residents becomes the second person to die.

On Thursday students from Europe as well as mainland China and Taiwan were leaving the city after a night of clashes that resulted in several serious injuries.

A 15-year-old believed to have been hit in the head by a teargas canister reportedly sustained a skull fracture, and an elderly worker for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department was struck by an object during a scuffle between protesters and resident. Both were reported to be in critical condition.

A man in his 30s dressed in black was found dead in Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong’s New Territories, according to police, who said he appeared to have fallen from a building.

Nordic students at Hong Kong Baptist University were being moved after anti-government demonstrators moved on to its grounds, and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) urged its 36 students in Hong Kong to return home.

Elina Neverdal Hjoennevaag, a Norwegian student, told the broadcaster NRK on Wednesday they were being sent to a hotel, adding: “I don’t really know what is happening. I must pack.”

She said she and several other exchange students had been told to pack and move away. “People walked out with their suitcases. Many cried.”

The Norwegian foreign ministry said on its website that “students should continuously evaluate campus safety if teaching is interrupted due to protests”.

Anders Overgaard Bjarklev, the head of DTU, said the decision to move came after some of the riots shifted to the campuses. “Some of our students have been forced to move from their dormitories because they were put on fire,” he said, adding that DTU would resolve “any academic challenges associated with the interrupted course”.

After more than five months of demonstrations – initially over an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China – violence has reached a new height following the death of a demonstrator last Friday. On Monday police shot a 21-year old student at close range in the stomach and a 57-year old man was set on fire while arguing with demonstrators.

A pro-democracy protester builds a brick wall during a demonstration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
A pro-democracy protester builds a brick wall during a demonstration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

The unrest is expected to continue. Hong Kong’s Education Bureau suspended classes from Friday to Sunday, having called them off on Thursday, and advised parents to keep their children at home. Several universities have cancelled lectures for the rest of the semester or moved them online.

Police said Hong Kong’s annual gay pride parade would have to be a stationary rally. Other events such as the WTA Hong Kong Open, K-pop performances and an annual trail run hosted by Oxfam have been cancelled or postponed.

There were reports, including from China’s state-run newspaper Global Times, that a curfew would be implemented over the weekend. The Hong Kong government issued a statement saying such rumours were “totally unfounded”.

As tensions have ticked higher, Beijing has issued increasingly dire warnings. The state broadcaster CCTV called the protesters’ actions “naked terrorism”. It said: “What needs to be said has been said. There have been enough recommendations and warnings. The unrest must stop.”

Police have accused the Chinese University of Hong Kong of being a “manufacturing base for petrol bombs and a refuge for rioters and criminals” after some protesters fired burning arrows – taken from the university sports centre – at officers and threw 400 petrol bombs.

Police fired more than 1,500 rounds of teargas and more than 1,300 rubber bullets at the demonstrators. The city was paralysed, with much of its public transport suspended and all universities closed.

Mainland Chinese students have also fled the unrest, taking advantage of a programme that offers them a week of free accommodation in hotels and hostels in the neighbouring city of Shenzhen.

Chinese media reported that one hostel had received more than 80 applications for rooms by Wednesday morning.

The Beijing Evening News reported that protesters had broken into the dormitories of mainland students, spray-painting insults on walls and banging on doors.

Hong Kong police said on Wednesday that they had helped a group of mainland students leave their campus after it was barricaded by demonstrators.

Taiwan’s representative office in Hong Kong has reportedly helped 71 Taiwanese students return home.

The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, called on Hong Kong’s government to cease “acts of repression,”, saying they threatened freedom and the rule of law.

Commenting on the police assault on students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tsai tweeted that police in Taiwan used similar tactics during the years of martial law, which was lifted in 1987. She wrote: “Our dark past, which we have worked so hard to put behind us, has become the present reality for Hong Kong.”

China’s foreign ministry warned the US not to interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs, saying the city was part of China.

A ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said at a daily briefing on Wednesday that members of the US Congress should stop trying to promote bills on human rights or democracy in Hong Kong. “I want to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong. Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and cannot be interfered by any external forces,” he said.

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