Hong Kong, Molotov cocktails, barricades made from furniture, a trail of masks, helmets, umbrellas and backpacks and a nauseating smell greet one at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where the police entered on Thursday after an 11-day siege.
The campus has become ground zero for a battle, which broke out between radical protesters and the police on November 18, although it now seems like a post-apocalyptic setting, where life has frozen, Efe news reported.
The students inside were ready for a real war. They placed flowerpots, bricks, and stones on the parapets to throw; they equipped a Molotov cocktail factory with bottles, chemicals and gasoline; they built catapults and smashed the university’s furniture to erect barricades at all the accesses.
Piles of clothes, toiletries, food supplies and even half-finished instant soup packets can be seen everywhere on the campus, where around 20 radical protesters are believed to be still holed up although not without the possibility that they may have fled.
Plainclothes officers, with only a vest identifying them as a police officials, entered the campus around 8 a.m. (local time) on the heels of a team of firefighters to look for dangerous objects, such as petrol bombs or explosive chemicals that students stole from the laboratory.
“Our objective is not trying to find them or grab them. We want to avoid confrontation. Even if there’s a few, they are well hidden. But if we encounter them, we will try to persuade them, so we expect that there’s highly unlikely to have violence today,” police superintendent Lau Sin Hon, coordinating the teams, told EFE.
Nonetheless he did not confirm if the police would lift the siege it laid on the university 11 days ago as that depends on the time they need to comb the premises and clear it of dangerous items.
He did, however, explain that the police, divided into teams of 10 each, will inspect the campus until dusk to hand it over to the university authorities as soon as possible, thereby ending one of the most violent episodes since the start of protests in Hong Kong nearly six months ago.
Although the police do not expect to run into any rioters, an activist, with his face covered, was seen at dawn prowling outside the university building, which is painted with phrases such as “Free Hong Kong” – a motto of the protest movement – and even “Until Victory, Always” in perfect Spanish, the motto of the Cuban Revolution.
“We know that the police want to enter. We don’t think it’s right. We will do what we have to do,” he told journalists without specifying how many more people were inside.
Although the police promised a few days ago to let those still barricaded inside the university go free, the protesters fear they will take their details in order to arrest them a few days later.
Their demand is that officials withdraw unconditionally from the university, considered the intellectual cradle of the protests.
After fencing the PolyU campus, authorities stormed the premises on Nov. 18 and a battle broke out that ended with around 1,100 arrests, including 300 minors, and dozens injured.
This takes the number of detainees since protests began to around 5,500, according to the police’s data.
Those still inside the PolyU remain elusive. Civilian search teams, made up of university staff, health workers, psychologists and social workers, tried to find them on Tuesday and Wednesday without success.
They are thought to be huddled up on the topmost floors of the buildings or in the thousand nooks and crannies of the huge campus. For security purposes, most of them have cut off any communication with the outside world and have left the Telegram groups that have been used during these past few months to convene protests and call for action.
As the siege dragged on, dozens of them managed to escape or surrendered.
The last three students to abandon the campus on Monday said the situation inside was desperate: several have resorted to self-harm, refused to eat or are talking openly about suicide.
They are also living in unsanitary conditions with no running water in flooded bathrooms, from where emanates an unbearable stench that mixes with the stench of rotting food in the canteen, where flies and cockroaches roam freely.
A statue of Confucius dressed as a protester stands at the canteen’s entrance while a sign at the door of the library warns “Keep Clean.”