Hong Kong protests: Government criticised across political spectrum for inaction as demonstrations take over university campuses

Hong Kong protests: Government criticised across political spectrum for inaction as demonstrations take over university campuses

In his first public comments on the protests, Chinese President Xi Jinping says putting an end to violence and restoring order remains the city's most urgent priority

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Anti-government protesters set up defences outside Baptist University in Kowloon Tong in preparation for clashes with police.
Photo: SCMP/ Xiaomei Chen

The Hong Kong government came under criticism from people across the political spectrum on Thursday for its failure to bring normalcy back to the city, as protesters blocked roads and overtook university campuses for the fourth day in a row.

The Cross-Harbour Tunnel was effectively closed for an entire day as protesters put up barricades of chairs, tables and boards they had commandeered from neighbouring Polytechnic University. Later at night, they again set the tollbooths on fire and then, hiding behind their canopy of umbrellas, they unfurled a giant Chinese flag that they set alight.

At the University of Hong Kong, in the cover of night, protesters had cemented a low wall of bricks on one road. Up north, on Tolo Highway, next to Chinese University, protesters now control a bridge overlooking it, threatening to throw petrol bombs at any passing traffic.

Black-clad protesters are also guarding side roads they have barricaded with bamboo poles and improvised structures, making travel into the city for residents in New Territories towns especially difficult. Several drivers had petrol bombs flung at their cars when they tried to pass through the barriers on Thursday morning.

At Chinese and Polytechnic universities, parts of the campuses have been taken over by black-clad protesters who spend their nights gathering objects for barricades, making petrol bombs and practising shooting arrows and throwing the fire bombs.

Riot police fire tear gas as anti-government protesters set up roadblocks at the Cross Harbour Tunnel and the bridge linking Hung Hom MTR Station and the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong.
Photo: SCMP / Nora Tam

On Thursday, supporters and well-wishers flooded their collection points with cup noodles, clothes, gadgets and power banks, among other donations piling up. At several locations, at these two universities and at Baptist University in Kowloon Tong, protesters stood guard to inspect the identification and bags of those entering the campus facilities.

Amid the government’s seeming inaction over this week’s protests, President Xi Jinping spoke on the political crisis on Thursday night, saying that putting an end to violence and restoring order remained Hong Kong’s most urgent priority. Without naming Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, he said he firmly supported the administration “led by the chief executive to execute its functions in accordance with the law”.

News reporter diagnosed with chloracne after repeated exposure to tear gas

“We sternly support the Hong Kong police to take forceful actions in law enforcement, and the Hong Kong judiciary to punish those who have committed violent crimes in accordance with the law,” he was also quoted as saying on a post on the Weibo account of the People’s Daily, while attending the BRICS annual summit in Brazil.
 
In his first public remarks on the troubled city at an international forum, Xi described the continuing violence as a threat not just to law and order and the city’s prosperity and stability but also “a blatant challenge to the bottom line of the ‘one country, two systems’” governing principle.
 
Lam did not make a public appearance over the past two days but held a late-night meeting with her minister on Wednesday at her residence at 10pm, fuelling speculation that the government was coming up with a proper plan to defuse the weekday mayhem of the past four days.
 
 
But hopes of a decisive action to restore the city to normalcy quickly dissipated on Thursday morning after Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said at the Legislative Council that while senior officials were trying to identify a solution, no cure had been found yet to calm things down and move towards reconciliation.
 
Cheung made matters worse when he described the huddle at Lam’s residence as “an ordinary meeting last night”.
 
“There was no special meaning attached to it. It was just a matter of time and we were all busy with other meetings. It was not the first time we met at night,” he said.
 
Civilians clear the road to pass where anti-government protesters set up roadblocks and defenses outside the Baptist University in Kowloon Tong in preparation for clashes with riot police.
Photo: SCMP / Xiaomei Chen

Pro-Beijing legislators implored the city’s leader to stiffen her resolve and adopt more measures to restore peace.

“People need to see that it’s not just the police fighting violence. People need to see that the chief executive and top officials are helping,” said Starry Lee Wai-king, leader of the city’s largest pro-government party.
 
In another sign of the camp’s growing impatience, pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po had rare strong words for Lam when its editorial declared Hong Kong people were losing confidence in the government’s ability to stop violence.
 
 
Opposition lawmakers, such as the Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok, said Lam and her colleagues had lost the legitimacy to govern.
 
Overnight rumours circulated that Lam was planning to impose a curfew on Hong Kong, sparking fears the government was once again making a blunder with a decision it could not follow through, much like the widely ignored anti-mask law it passed early last month.
 
Global Times, a tabloid affiliated to Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, also cited sources and tweeted that the city’s government was expected to announce the curfew. The tweet was later deleted, and a government source said there was no such plan, but by then the speculation had been picked up by foreign media.
 
 
A government source said top officials had mulled the possibility of imposing a curfew under the existing Public Order Ordinance before it enacted the mask law.
 
“The top members of the government later considered the idea not feasible, as it is difficult to enforce it. There is no change of the government’s position despite the mayhem since Monday,” he said.
 
Another source said of the late-night meeting in which the curfew and elections were discussed: “After two hours, they decided on nothing.”
 
On their secret communication channels, protesters said they were planning more surprises on Friday.

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