Last campus protesters hold out as Hong Kong schools reopen

A small group of protesters are still refusing to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Hong Kong schools reopened Wednesday after a six-day shutdown but students and commuters faced transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus.

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City officials tried to restore a sense of normalcy as primary and secondary classes resumed. Workers began cleaning up debris blocking a major road tunnel, but it was unclear how soon it could be reopened.

A small group of protesters refused to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the remnants of hundreds who took over the campus for several days. They won’t leave because they would face arrest. Police have set up a cordon around the area to prevent anyone from escaping.

The occupation of Polytechnic capped more than a week of intense protests, the latest flareup in the often violent unrest that has gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for more than five months.

Since a police siege of the campus began Sunday, more than 1,000 people have been arrested and hundreds of injured treated at hospitals, authorities said.

It was unclear how many protesters remained, but they appeared to number less than 100. About two dozen scrounged through supplies in the cafeteria looking for food in the morning.

Trash litters public areas, and a stench permeates the campus.

One protester, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears arrest, remained adamant.

“I think if you go out and surrender, it just shows you agree with what the police and that government are doing or have given up the fight,” he said.

There were scattered incidents of protesters stopping trains by opening emergency doors and blocking traffic Wednesday but on a much smaller scale than last week.

Television footage showed long lines at some stations because of train delays. A few stations remained shut because of damage from earlier protests.

A group of protesters, joined by students in uniform, blocked traffic at one intersection. Others in the area argued with them, removing some of the metal barriers that protesters carried into the street.

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Even as the latest violence wound down, a fundamental divide suggests the protests in the former British colony are far from over.

Office workers joined protesters at lunch time in the central business district to show support for the movement, as they have every day since last week. Police kept the crowds on the sidewalks, so they wouldn’t block traffic.

Hong Kong’s protests began over an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China to face trial. Opponents saw it as a threat to the “one country, two systems” framework that gives Hong Kong its relative autonomy.

The bill has been withdrawn, but protesters are now demanding fully democratic elections and an independent investigation into police actions in suppressing the protests. City leaders have rejected these demands, and said violence must stop before meaningful dialogue can begin.

Medical workers transport an injured protester on a stretcher at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. About 100 anti-government protesters remained holed up at the university Tuesday as a police siege of the campus e

The city sent inspectors to examine the damage to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, as workers used heavy equipment to remove the debris left on the approach road.

Protesters set fire to the toll booths during their occupation of Polytechnic University, which overlooks the approach. The road tunnel is one of three connecting Hong Kong Island with the rest of the city.

The Hong Kong government joined China in condemning passage of legislation by the U.S. Senate that mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who commit human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that the U.S. grants Hong Kong.

“The passage of this bill is an important step in holding accountable those Chinese and Hong Kong government officials responsible for Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy and human rights violations,” said Sen. Marco Rubio.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement that the aim of the bill was to “bolster anti-China, extremist and violent radicals who attempt to disrupt Hong Kong (and) damage Hong Kong's prosperity and stability” as part of a plot to contain China’s development.

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A Hong Kong government statement called the legislation “unnecessary and unwarranted” and said it would “harm the relations and common interests between Hong Kong and the U.S.”