The acting president of a student union at a besieged university in Hong Kong was among those who left the campus after more than a week on Saturday, as the long-running stand-off continued to peter out.
Ken Woo Kwok-wang, 22, was accompanied by Rodney Chu Wai-chi – an assistant professor from Polytechnic University’s department of applied social sciences – and lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki as he left the Hung Hom campus at about 6pm. He was escorted to a police vehicle.
Kwok said Woo was arrested, though it was unclear why, and taken to Hung Hom Police Station.
He described the arrest as “unnecessary” and said Woo was just protecting the school and providing support to those on campus as a students’ union leader.
Before he left, Woo told the media his duty had been completed.
“There have been fewer people inside PolyU and we did not find any new cases requiring our assistance,” he said.
Another protester, known as “the chef”, left at around 4pm.
He was accompanied by Theresa Chan Kam-mi, a pastor and the wife of Reverend Yuen Tin-yau, the former president of the Hong Kong Christian Council.
Chan said “the chef” boarded an ambulance and went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment.
“He was emotionally disturbed and felt weak as he hadn’t slept for a few nights,” Chan said.
Another protester, who gave his name as Ah Cheung and had been on campus for about a week, admitted he had also experienced fluctuating emotions in the past few days and expressed concerns about those who remained.
“Normal people should not be able to stand it after being trapped for six or seven days,” the 20-year-old protester said. “People might be in a state of giving up, crying, and feeling immensely stressed.”
He worried the trapped would develop suicidal thoughts, which had also appeared in his mind for a flashing moment.
“Every day seemed very long and it was hard to get through,” he said.
Ah Cheung, who said the risks of trying to escape were too high, estimated that around 50 to 100 people were still inside the campus.
At 1.15am on Saturday, the fire department answered a call to search for missing radicals thought to have tried to flee via underground tunnels, when abandoned personal belongings were discovered next to a manhole. Firefighters and divers were deployed, but the operation was later judged a false alarm.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung on Saturday morning said it saddened him to see radicals occupying campuses in recent weeks, turning the academic institutions into arsenals “strewn with explosives” and anti-government strongholds.
But the veteran minister admitted the city had much to do to reconnect with the younger generation.
Speaking on a radio programme, Cheung said it was time for the last holdouts to leave.
“The government and police are both worried about the people staying there and hope they can stay calm and come up peacefully and sensibly,” he said.
Heaps of rubbish, plastic bottles and bags, clothes and other items littered different corners of the university’s podium and indoor areas. Unused petrol bombs, chemicals, gas cylinders and bottles of cooking oil were all seen in several areas, but few protesters were still visible.
The campus has been a war zone for almost two weeks. Radicals first occupied the site in support of Chinese University students who clashed with police on their Sha Tin campus, the latest escalation in nearly six months of political unrest.
Police used water cannons and tear gas on and around the PolyU campus, while protesters hurled bricks, petrol bombs and other projectiles in return.
More than 1,000 people have been arrested or had their details recorded by police since officers besieged the PolyU campus on Sunday evening – including 300 under the age of 18.
Businessman Lew Mon-hung – better known for his moniker Dreambear – appeared on campus at around 8.30pm.
He said he was there to convince people who were staying – which he believed to be at least 32 – to leave peacefully.
“[The next day] is district council elections. If this incident can end in a peaceful manner [on Saturday night], it will be a good news for the entire society,” he said.
Lew said he and his team managed to convince 21 people leave on Thursday night, and hoped to continue the work on Saturday.