HK students hunker down for showdown

By AAP Newswire

Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters have paralysed parts of the Chinese-ruled city for a fourth day, forcing schools to close and blocking highways as students built barricades and stockpiled makeshift weapons, setting the stage for campus showdowns.

China's Global Times tabloid, owned by the state-run People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, briefly tweeted that the Hong Kong government was expected to announce a weekend curfew after some of the worst violence in decades in the former British colony.

It deleted the tweet soon afterward without an explanation.

Thousands of students hunkered down inside several campuses on Thursday, surrounded by piles of food, bricks, petrol bombs, arrows with heads wrapped in cladding, catapults and other homemade weapons.

Protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police stations and trains, dropped debris from bridges on to traffic below, and vandalised shopping malls and campuses, raising questions about how and when more than five months of unrest can be brought to an end.

Police said one arrow was shot from Hong Kong Polytechnic University early in the morning.

The Global Times' short-lived announcement cited unnamed sources. It did not elaborate but but online rumours have swirled along those lines.

Hundreds of protesters occupied roads in the Central business district, home to some of the world's most expensive real estate, during their lunch hour.

Many were dressed in office attire and wore the now-banned face masks as they marched down a major thoroughfare that connects luxury shopping malls and glittering skyscrapers.

Hundreds of protesters also set up barricades near a popular shopping mall in the eastern part of Hong Kong island, dragging traffic cones and orange gates to block roads.

Across the harbour, black-clad protesters and university students maintained their blockades of major roads, including the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Hong Kong island to the Kowloon area, and a highway between Kowloon and the rural New Territories.

Police fired tear gas near the tunnel early on Thursday to try to clear the protesters. Roads were strewn with bricks and other debris, leading to widespread traffic jams.

Dozens of riot police gathered outside several universities early in the day as students fortified their positions with metal poles, bricks and chairs.

At the Polytechnic University, near the Kowloon entrance of the Cross Harbour tunnel, hundreds of students wearing gas masks readied for confrontation.

Boxes of petrol bombs were placed at vantage points overlooking roads, including the tunnel, which has been blocked since Wednesday evening.

Violence has escalated in recent days, with police shooting and wounding one protester at close range and one man described as a "rioter" dousing a man with petrol before setting him on fire.

The man who was shot was in stable condition in hospital. The man who was lit on fire was in a critical condition.

The demonstrations were initially spurred by what many residents see as the stifling by Beijing of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Anger grew about what many see as police brutality as the protests intensified.

China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble. Police deny using excessive force.

Police said on Wednesday violence had reached a "very dangerous and even deadly level".

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam met senior officials late on Wednesday, media reported, amid speculation of new emergency measures to deal with the crisis.