Hong Kong protesters respond to online calls to ‘paralyse’ city by disrupting traffic and rail services

Martin Choi

Protesters have responded to online calls to “paralyse” Hong Kong by disrupting road traffic and rail services on Wednesday, with the police siege of a university campus in its fourth day.

A fight broke out at Tin Shui Wai station in the morning forcing its closure, and the obstruction of train doors on Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Tseung Kwan O and Island lines caused delays, the city’s rail operator said.

Large queues formed at the interchanges of Kowloon Tong, North Point, Mong Kok and Yau Tong as the impact of the direct action took its toll on the morning commute.

Overcrowding measures were in place at Kowloon Tong, an interchange connecting the busy commercial hubs of Kowloon with northern parts of the city.

Six MTR lines were blighted by service delays or station closures for much of the morning. There remained disruption on the East Rail and West Rail lines, as of 12.30pm.

Classes resumed at primary and secondary schools on Wednesday, with about 100 pupils in Kwun Tong marking their return by disrupting traffic at the junction of Hip Wo Street and Tsui Ping Road. Riot police arrived on the scene.

Mask-wearing secondary students in their school uniforms marched from Kwun Tong MTR station to the intersection before the start of classes. Some blocked roads with bricks, rubbish bins and metal railings as they called for the government to meet all five demands of the protest movement.

It led to disputes as commuters got off the bus and tried to clear the road.

As students across Hong Kong return to school, about 100 of them took the streets in Kwun Tong. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Activists issued calls on social media for protesters to “paralyse the whole of Hong Kong” on Wednesday morning.

The first trains of the day on part of the East Rail line were delayed for staff to clear several objects off the track near Fanling, including a bicycle hanging from an overhead cable.

Trains skipped Yuen Long station in the morning because of protester disruption. Tactics included stopping trains leaving by blocking doorways and opening emergency doors.

A bicycle was left hanging on an overhead cable on the MTR track in Fanling, leading to service delays. Photo: Handout

At Diamond Hill station, where carriage doors were not closing, more than 100 passengers were unable to board trains during the rush hour.

A 58-year-old clerk at an accountancy firm in Central, who gave her name as Ms Wong, said she would be more than an hour late for work because of the delays at Diamond Hill, and feared having to take the whole day off.

“I feel angry. I wanted to go to work, but there’s nothing I can do ... The [protesters] have affected our livelihood, bringing Hong Kong to a standstill,” Wong said.

Another commuter at Diamond Hill station felt less put out by the disruption, saying her boss would understand why she was late.

Meanwhile, the Transport Department has put on free ferry services and diverted buses to cope with the ongoing closure of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which connects Kowloon with Hong Kong Island.

A statement issued by the government on Wednesday morning urged employers across the city to make flexible working arrangements for staff affected by transport disruption.

“The government will similarly handle government employees in such situations with understanding,” it said.

Wednesday saw the return of classes at primary and secondary schools following several days of suspensions from the transport chaos caused by protesters.

At Po Leung Kuk Lee Shing Pik College in Tsuen Wan, its student concern group said riot police had “entered the school premises” after arriving at the scene of a protest held outside the gates.

Some 50 pupils tried to stop their peers entering the school from 7am in an attempt to “pressurise” management into suspending classes indefinitely until “society returns to normal”.

Riot officers were among those who turned and were checking the identities of students, including two pupils on site, the concern group said. No one was arrested.

Protesters blocked roads in Kwun Tong early on Wednesday morning. Photo: Martin Choi

Elsewhere, many pupils arrived early after demonstrators said they would take direct action across swathes of the city, with several saying they were glad to be back in school.

Adrian, a Form Four student studying in St Paul’s College near to the University of Hong Kong, arrived at school at 7.10am, an hour early. He said it was good to be back after spending the last few days at home.

Form Six student, Bill Chan, who lives in Tung Chung, said the railway service was normal for his journey to school.

“It’s been a week since school closed. I am quite eager to go back for classes and meet my classmates,” he said.

Over at Polytechnic University, officers continued to surround the campus in a lockdown imposed since Sunday evening after a day of extreme violence in the area which the force declared a riot.

According to police, about 1,100 people had been arrested or surrendered during the clashes, as of Tuesday afternoon.

The PolyU campus resembled a disaster zone early on Wednesday with unused petrol bombs, cans of petroleum gas, loose bricks and protest equipment scattered across the ground, while many buildings had glass windows and doors smashed in.

It is understood those on the campus were still exploring ways to escape, including via manholes.

A manhole cover is removed from the PolyU campus. Protesters are understood to be considering escaping through the city’s sewage system. Photo: Jeffie Lam

University of Hong Kong’s Vice-Chancellor Zhang Xiang made a surprise appearance at PolyU shortly after midnight.

He wanted to meet HKU students stranded at the PolyU campus. But 1½ hours later, he said he could find not any of them.

In a voice message to students before his arrival, the HKU leader said: “I am worried about you. Please stay safe. I want to see you again.”

Among those who remained inside PolyU in the early hours of Wednesday was a Chinese University student, who said: “I want to leave, but I won’t surrender.

“I might be arrested if I continue to stay here. But if I just walk out now, I will definitely [be arrested].”

The PolyU campus has descended from learning hub to the scene of some of the worst clashes since the protest crisis was sparked in June. Photo: Google Maps

Another protester, Chan, said he had been searching in vain for secret passages to make good his escape since Sunday. The 24-year-old has still not told his parents he was inside PolyU because he did not want them to worry.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “It’s the police’s actions on protesters [since June] that has driven us to this.”

He said not everyone who remained inside the campus were frontline protesters. Some just helped cook food at the canteen while others were simply supporters, he added.

More than 1,100 arrests have been made since last week over the violent clashes and subsequent siege at PolyU, which has become a stalemate. Photo: Sam Tsang

The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Ha Chi-shing, spent four hours at PolyU with Reverend Yuen Tin-yau until the early hours of Wednesday trying to convince protesters to leave the campus peacefully, to no avail.

“They are tired. They are anxious and puzzled. They still haven’t decided their next steps,” Ha said.

“We tried to listen to them and let them know our thoughts … I hope they can understand that there is still a way out of this.”

By Wednesday, no first aid volunteers could be seen inside the campus.

According to education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who was inside the campus at the time, about 40 of the medical volunteers left on Tuesday night.

They were not arrested as they departed, but police told them they might face investigation in the future.

Police have been calling on those inside the campus to surrender and leave the campus through police checkpoints.

Those that do run the risk of being arrested for rioting offences, which can bring a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

During the violent clashes on Sunday, radical protesters threw a large number of petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

They were some of the ugliest scenes since the anti-government protests erupted in June, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

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