Dozens of exhausted pro-democracy protesters occupying a Hong Kong university defied warnings to surrender Tuesday on the third day of a stand-off with police, as China sent fresh signals that its patience with nearly six months of unrest was running out.
Fearing arrest or being shot at by police, a dwindling number of protesters remained huddled inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) as night fell.
The siege at PolyU began Sunday with many hundreds of protesters occupying the campus as part of a broader campaign of massive disruption across Hong Kong that began last week.
The ensuing confrontation turned into the most intense and prolonged of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy crisis, which has seen millions take to the streets since June to voice anger at China’s erosion of the territory’s freedoms.
During the siege protesters had repelled police surges with a barrage of Molotov cocktails, arrows and bricks. Police in response threatened to use live rounds.
Some protesters escaped overnight on Monday by shinning down ropes from a footbridge to a road, where they were whisked away on motorbikes.
Others disappeared into manholes to try to probe the drainage system for a route out.
In an apparently co-ordinated effort to distract police, tens of thousands of people streamed towards the PolyU campus on Monday night as clashes simultaneously raged with police in nearby Kowloon district.
Footage on Monday showed armoured police beating fallen protesters with batons as they lay on the ground.
One officer was filmed stamping on the head of a man who was already subdued.
Alleged police brutality is one of the central complaints of the protest movement. Senior officers insist their men are acting proportionately.
In her first public comments on the PolyU crisis, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said surrender was the only way to achieve a peaceful outcome.
“This objective could only be achieved with the full cooperation of the protesters, including of course the rioters.
“They have to stop violence, give up the weapons and come out peacefully and take the instructions from the police,” she said.
Lam said children who surrendered would not be arrested, though protesters aged over 18 would face charges of rioting.
About 1,000 people had been arrested throughout Hong Kong over the previous 24 hours, Chief Superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen said on Tuesday afternoon.
This was roughly a fifth of all arrests since the unrest began in June.
Kwok said those arrested included some who had abseiled from the footbridge, as well as motorcyclists who helped them.
And in an apparent contradiction of Lam, Kwok insisted everyone would feel the force of the law.