On front lines in Hong Kong bat­tle

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Alice Fung

A teenage pro­tester hold­ing out on a col­lege cam­pus sur­rounded by po­lice tries to fig­ure out next move.

HONG KONG — Pale and thin, a teenager wan­dered the nearly de­serted cam­pus of Hong Kong Polytech­nic Univer­sity at about 1 a.m. Wed­nes­day. He wrapped his arms around his body — al­though it was un­clear whether it was to ward off the cold or to re­as­sure him­self.

Only a hand­ful of pro­test­ers re­main at “Poly U,” which hun­dreds oc­cu­pied for sev­eral days, fight­ing pitched bat­tles with po­lice in the sur­round­ing streets. Au­thor­i­ties have cut off the cam­pus and are ar­rest­ing any­one who comes out, at least 700 since Sun­day.

The teen, who wouldn’t give his ex­act age but said he is un­der 18, is one of the hold­outs. He fig­ured he had slept about 10 hours in to­tal since ar­riv­ing at the cam­pus about five days ear­lier. He said he had eaten only two bis­cuits all day be­cause his mind was too dis­tracted, ob­sessed with one thought: How am I go­ing to get out?

Else­where in Hong Kong, schools re­opened Wed­nes­day af­ter a six-day shut­down, but stu­dents and com­muters faced tran­sit dis­rup­tions.

Work­ers be­gan clean­ing up de­bris block­ing a ma­jor road tun­nel, but it was un­clear when it would re­open. Of­fi­cials warned pro­test­ers not to dis­rupt elec­tions sched­uled for the week­end.

Also Wed­nes­day, a for­mer Bri­tish Con­sulate employee said he was de­tained in main­land China and tor­tured by se­cret po­lice try­ing to ex­tract in­for­ma­tion about ac­tivists in­volved in the move­ment — rev­e­la­tions sure to add to pro­test­ers’ fears about Bei­jing’s tight­en­ing grip.

The cam­pus takeovers were the lat­est es­ca­la­tion in an anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment that has di­vided the city for more than five months. The pro­test­ers’ de­mands in­clude fully demo­cratic elec­tions and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged po­lice bru­tal­ity in crack­ing down on the de­mon­stra­tions.

The teen ar­rived at Polytech­nic late last week, heeding a call for sup­port from pro­test­ers who were oc­cu­py­ing five ma­jor univer­si­ties in Hong Kong.

Like many of the pro­test­ers, he spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, fear­ing ar­rest, and would only ap­pear on cam­era with his face cov­ered.

In his mind, as for many others, the po­lice have be­come as big a prob­lem as the gov­ern­ment.

Riot of­fi­cers be­gan rain­ing tear gas on their de­fense line out­side the univer­sity Satur­day night, be­fore bat­ter­ing them re­peat­edly with wa­ter can­nons and tear gas on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

The teen jumped into the fray. He joined others wield­ing um­brel­las — they call them “shields” — and tak­ing the full brunt of the of­ten pep­per-spray-laced bursts of wa­ter.

Three times he faced the bar­rages, dash­ing in­side the cam­pus strong­hold af­ter each at­tack to wash off the sting­ing wa­ter, change his clothes and re­turn for the next round.

“I was at the very front,” he said. “It hit me straight on and I was soaked. If I hadn’t been wear­ing a jacket, my whole body would have felt like it was burn­ing. Just my lower body re­ally stung, and the wa­ter also got all over my face and into my eyes.”

It’s one of the roles of the front-line pro­test­ers, those who en­gage the po­lice di­rectly. Wear­ing gas masks, they throw home­made gaso­line bombs and snuff out tear gas can­is­ters to try to keep the po­lice at bay.

He ac­knowl­edges that others are likely see their ac­tions as ag­gres­sive — the po­lice call them law­break­ing ri­ot­ers — but he says their role is im­por­tant be­cause the gov­ern­ment didn’t back down when hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple peace­fully marched in the streets in the sum­mer.

By Sun­day evening, the po­lice had be­gun to ap­proach from all direc­tions, set­ting up a cor­don around the area. They warned that ev­ery­one in­side would be sub­ject to ar­rest.

Some pro­test­ers tried es­cap­ing on Mon­day and Tues­day; most were caught or ran back to cam­pus. The gov­ern­ment of­fered to let those un­der 18 leave with­out fac­ing im­me­di­ate ar­rest, though their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion would be taken down and they could be charged later.

Others turned them­selves in. The teenager wasn’t swayed. He said he prefers to fight with all the strength he has. Sur­ren­der­ing would show that he had given up the fight and agrees with the gov­ern­ment and the po­lice, he said.

“Even if you get ar­rested or die, you know that you’ve tried your best and you’ve got no re­grets,” he said.

And so he waits, as the hours turn into days, with less and less com­pany around him.


A “Poly U” pro­tester, one of the few left, is in­ter­viewed.

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