HONG KONG - Student protesters in Hong Kong engaged in fierce clashes with police at a university campus into the early morning hours of Monday, in what appeared to be some of the worst violence since anti-government protests began five months ago.
Police late Sunday raided the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where a group of student protesters had barricaded themselves for most of the week, stockpiling makeshift weapons, including bricks, slingshots, and Molotov cocktails.
Police advanced in waves throughout the night, firing tear gas and water cannons before retreating, as protesters lobbed petrol bombs and other weapons. At one point, an armored police vehicle appeared to be completely on fire.
Police eventually surrounded the campus and gave several deadlines for the protesters to exit the campus. Just after midnight local time, police warned they may use live rounds on protesters if they kept attacking the police.
There were no immediate reports of deaths. A group of international journalists, including some from VOA, stayed behind on the campus, with many vowing to stay until the situation was resolved.
On the streets outside the campus, police also engaged in clashes with protesters, some of whom appeared to be trying to come to the rescue of the besieged students. Calls on social messaging sites issued calls for Hong Kongers to stream in from all directions to help free the students.
Since June, Hong Kong has seen massive, regular demonstrations, which started in opposition to a proposed bill that would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to the mainland. The protests quickly morphed into wider calls for democracy and opposition to growing Chinese influence.
A smaller group of hardcore protesters, many of whom are college students, have also increasingly engaged in more aggressive tactics - clashing with police, destroying public infrastructure, and vandalizing symbols of state power. The students have defended the tactics as a necessary response to police violence and the government's refusal to accept their demands.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University is one of at least five campuses where students this week barricaded themselves in, blocking roads and collecting makeshift weapons in case of an attack by authorities. Most of the protesters had left the other campuses by Saturday, though a group of hardcore protesters remained at Polytechnic.
The protests escalated in the past week, following the first death of a protester who fell from a building during clashes between protesters and police.
On Saturday, dozens of Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers helped clear protester barricades from a street, emerging from their barracks for the first time since the latest round of protests began.
Pro-democracy lawmakers immediately condemned the move as a violation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini constitution, which forbids interference by mainland Chinese soldiers unless formally requested by the Hong Kong government.