HONG KONG — One of Hong Kong’s main universities became the focus of a battle between police and students, as the two sides fought for hours for control of a bridge that spans a highway near the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Protesters armed with Molotov cocktails, bricks, and javelins were met by police with water cannons and tear gas, and cars were set ablaze on the bridge. After nearly six months of unrest, the scenes at the CUHK, and similar clashes at universities across the city, suggest a new front for violence between the police and pro-democracy protesters.
Tensions in Hong Kong have escalated since a student, Alex Chow, died on Friday after falling from a parking garage where police were dispersing protesters. He is the first official casualty of the demonstrations. Protest chants over the weekend turned to calls for revenge.
The past few months have seen a shift in law enforcement tactics, with a ban on people wearing face coverings in public, subway closures, and police sometimes firing live rounds. In October, Hong Kong police shot a protester with a live bullet for the first time. On Monday, another protester was shot at point-blank range, while a different man was set on fire after scolding protesters, according to widely circulated videos on social media.
Students at CUHK barricaded themselves at the campus, near a bridge that riot police had occupied since Monday. In an afternoon clash on Tuesday, students threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at a line of riot police. After numerous rounds of tear gas, police charged forward and wrestled protesters to the ground, making several arrests. One appeared to be bleeding from the head. After a group of protesters retreated onto an athletic field, locking the gate, and police responded by firing more tear gas.
Late in the afternoon, Rocky Tuan, vice-chancellor and president of CUHK, served as an intermediary between police and students.
Emotions were high throughout the day as students pleaded for their campus to be free from police. At one point while the negotiations were underway, a young protester walked down the long road toward police, revving a chainsaw. Immediately before he was stopped by a group of protesters who convinced him to turn it off and put it down before encircling him in a hug.
When Tuan returned from negotiations, he offered a solution to students that university security would guard the bridge and police would stay back, if students stopped throwing things on the highway. But students were unsatisfied, some began crying and demanding answers of why police were on their campus at all.
Frontline protesters at CUHK refused to disperse until they were assured by police that those arrested were safe.
“Those are our two demands, otherwise we’re not leaving,” a frontliner told BuzzFeed News as a fire was still crackling in the background.
As night fell across campus, protesters carried barricades, fresh Molotovs and supplies back near the bridge where riot police remained and new clashes quickly erupted. The small intersection filled with thick clouds of tear gas, extensive fires, and rounds of rubber bullets.
Despite the heavy fire, student protesters managed to slowly push police back across to the other side of the bridge. They carried umbrellas, held shields, and threw Molotov cocktails to gain ground.
Others used leaf blowers to clear tear gas from the air.
Police used a water cannon that forced students to retreat from the bridge. But minutes later they built new fires and began pushing for ground again across the bridge. Eventually, police retreated and students built barriers on the bridge to hold their ground, even dragging a burned-out car and golf carts to help block the bridge.
As the hours wore on, hundreds of protesters remained on the bridge early Wednesday morning.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, office workers gathered in Hong Kong’s central business district during lunch, interrupting buses and trains.