On Hong Kong campus, elusive protesters and an uncertain future

by AFP/ pic by AFP

HONG KONG – Staff at one of Hong Kong’s top universities picked through the chaotic aftermath of a violent occupation by protesters for a second day Wednesday as the school searches for elusive holdouts – and a way forward for a devastated institution.

Compared to the city’s more hot-house campuses, Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) had a more relaxed vibe, its students known for parties and light-hearted hazing as they pursued degrees in design, engineering, and other technical disciplines.

But the school, a stone’s throw from Hong Kong’s dramatic harbour, now resembles a disaster zone 10 days after the start of a violent siege that saw clashes between police and protesters during the latest flare-up in the city’s political turmoil.

The first task before a police cordon can be dismantled and normality can return is to determine whether any hidden protesters remain.

But sweeps through the campus by university personnel have been inconclusive.

Just one young female protester was found by university officials – though AFP journalists saw another suspected holdout – suggesting that the dozens of hardcore protesters who had held their ground in recent days may have melted away.

Either way, a university that regularly makes lists of top-ranked Asian institutions faces a massive clean-up and uncertain future.

Its entrance is scarred with the charred evidence of a savage fight last week when protesters armed with bows, arrows, and petrol bombs held their ground against police wielding tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon.

AFP journalists at the site found a battleground covered by brick fragments – flung at police by protesters – and the shattered bottles of Molotov cocktails.

Helmets, gas masks, and goggles are among the debris, as well as discarded clothing stained with the blue dye fired by police water cannon.

Liberty or death

A foul odour from rotting food in a canteen and overflowing garbage bins permeates parts of the campus, and defiant graffiti has been scrawled everywhere by protesters, part of a movement resisting a perceived Chinese encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“Give me liberty or give me death,” read one, not far from where a makeshift Statue of Liberty stood.

Others denounced Beijing as “Chi-Nazis”, and declared “I will only marry a brave fighter in my life”.

In a gymnasium, the floor was covered by dozens of yoga mats, discarded clothing, shoes and face masks, underneath a huge group photo of student athletes lined up and smiling during happier times.

A nearby room was turned into a triage unit, strewn with supplies such as disinfectant, bandages, and asthma inhalers.

A major concern for university authorities is widespread vandalism to PolyU’s laboratories and other technical facilities.

“A large number of facilities at the site, including many laboratories, were damaged to varying degrees, and some chemicals and dangerous goods were also missing,” university officials said in a statement Wednesday.

“At the same time, many scientific research projects were interrupted due to the incident, which will seriously affect PolyU’s teaching and research.”

The school already has cancelled on-campus classes for the remainder of the year, moving some to online instruction.

Executive Vice President Miranda Lou told reporters Wednesday: “We hope PolyU’s campus can be reopened so that the university can begin repair projects immediately.”