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Hong Kong students’ desperate dash for freedom

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Anti-government protesters holed up in a Hong Kong university searched for escape routes after more than two days of clashes with police.

About 100 protesters were trapped in the Polytechnic University a day after students – some tired and fearful of police storming the campus – tried again and again to flee, only to be beaten back by police firing rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas.

Some 235 injured were taken to hospital on Tuesday, the Hospital Authority said.

[IMAGE]media_cameraPolice detain protesters and students after they tried to flee outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus in the Hung Hom district. Picture: Getty Images

“I just want to leave. I feel very tired,” said Thomas, 20, a student at another university who has been on the campus since the siege began.

“I didn’t throw Molotovs. I was here to support the protest.”

He then walked slowly, with about 10 others, towards police, who searched and arrested him. He had the phone numbers of lawyers written on his right forearm.

[IMAGE]media_cameraAbout 1100 people were arrested in 24 hours. Picture: Getty Images

Late in the evening, another small group tried to run for it through the main gate.

Most, if not all, ended up running back into the campus as police shouted at them and flashed their torches rather than firing.

Police said nearly 800 people had left the campus peacefully by 11pm local time and would be investigated, including nearly 300 under the age of 18.

About 20 volunteer medics had also left.

[IMAGE]media_cameraMany of the protesters are aged under 18. Picture: Getty Images

About 1100 people had been arrested in the past 24 hours on charges including rioting and possession of offensive weapons, police added.

The total since citywide protests began in June is more than 5000.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she hoped the stand-off could be resolved and she had told police to handle it humanely.

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[IMAGE]media_cameraAbout a dozen students trapped inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University tried to flee via a sewer. Picture: Getty Images

Lam spoke shortly after the Chinese-ruled city’s new police chief urged the support of all citizens to end more than five months of unrest triggered by fears that China’s central government is stifling the former British colony’s special autonomy and freedoms, including its independent judiciary.

Hundreds of protesters fled from the university or surrendered overnight and on Monday amid running battles on nearby streets, where demonstrators threw petrol bombs and rocks at police.

Some made it out by rope and motorcycle.

[IMAGE]media_cameraInjured protesters wrapped in emergency thermal blankets leave the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Picture: Getty Images

About a dozen tried and failed to flee through the university’s sewers.

A Reuters witness saw them lower themselves into a tunnel wearing gas masks and plastic sheets, but the tunnel was too narrow.

There were rumours others had made it by the same route on Tuesday.

[IMAGE]media_cameraAn injured protester is wrapped in an emergency thermal blanket after fleeing from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus. Picture: Getty Images

“I feel I’m in trouble,” said a 22-year-old who gave his name as Marcus, sitting with two friends in the campus canteen at a table piled with dirty dishes and plastic cups.

“We keep trying to think how to escape, but every time we pick a spot we see many police nearby. But if we give up, we’re finished.”

In the campus central square, a giant “SOS” call for help was spelled out in pink, blue and yellow bath towels.

The university is the last of five that protesters have occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city, blocking the Cross-Harbour Tunnel outside and other arteries.

[IMAGE]media_cameraNew Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang Ping-keung at the scene of the siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus. Picture: Getty Images

Lam said her government was very much on the “reactive side” in dealing with the protests but she did not rule out more violence even as she urged peace.

Lam said she had been shocked that campuses had been turned into “weapons factories”.

In what many will see as an illustration of Beijing’s tightening grip, China’s legislature questioned the legality of a Monday Hong Kong court ruling that a ban on face masks worn by protesters was unlawful.

The National People’s Congress said Hong Kong courts had no power to rule on the constitutionality of city legislation.

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