Two police announcements changed the reckoning – what felt tense inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University became desperate.
First, the deadline. After 10pm on Saturday, no one would be let in or out of the campus, police said.
Those protesters still there had already made their minds to stay. But it meant everyone was waiting for a police assault when the deadline passed.
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When none came, they made their way out of the main entrance and made a fierce battle.
They threw some of the hundreds of pre-prepared petrol bombs. Police would later call the university a “weapons factory” and it was an accurate description.
Protesters took a huge amount of tear gas and water cannon in return. Dozens of people were stripped off and hosed down, some lying prone, to sluice away the irritants.
The “frontliners” wear black, covering as much skin as possible from tear gas, then masks, goggles and helmets. So to see bare bodies and identifiable faces stumbling around was strange.
The second announcement came just before midnight; police threatened to use live ammunition. It didn’t have the same everyone-to-battle-stations effect.
People became more nervous. Some we spoke to affirmed their willingness to die. Others said they were scared.
But nothing happened inside. We finished our video edit around 4am, then went to bed down on a classroom floor.
At 5.15am, someone burst into our room and shouted in Cantonese. Our local journalist, Bo Chau, translated: “It’s happening.”
We ran downstairs to find a massive fire raging in front of our building. It boomed as gas canisters went off.
Protesters said the police were coming. They weren’t. But in their panic the occupiers had torched all their defences. Everything was ablaze.
From here, it became clear that there was to be no large-scale resistance.
Now, everyone thought of escape. Some changed into civilian outfits, trying subterfuge.
Others marched out in black, with umbrellas, determined to break their way through. They were routed, their dismal column retreating under a shroud of tear gas.
The rest of it was surprisingly calm, even as protests raged elsewhere in Hong Kong. Inside it felt abandoned, even with several hundred people still there.
There was little food or water at this stage. People wanted to leave, still, and some had already tried to break out, then returned. But the chances of escape were slim.
The siege of Polytechnic University was reaching its end.
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