Several protesters have attempted to escape from the besieged Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) via underground sewers.

On Tuesday morning, demonstrators sought to leave the blockaded campus through an underground pipe network to avoid capture by the police, Now TV reported. But some of them fell ill during the escape and had to be treated by medics.

"November 19" PolyU Polytechnic University Hong Kong protesters escape sewers firefighters
Photo: Stand News screenshot.

A protester said they had tried to flee through the sewers in pairs but gave up because the pipes were too “stinky,” Stand News reported. They said the group were aware of the risks beforehand but decided to press on because no help was coming from outside.

The two media outlets cited sources on the ground, who said some people had gone missing after descending into the sewers. Divers from the Fire Services Department searched the pipes to no avail.

Hundreds have been occupying PolyU for more than a week in keeping with a larger plan to mobilise a citywide strike and class boycott. Riot police have encircled the university since Sunday, blocking all campus exits.

PolyU student leaders appealed to the public for help after officers entered the campus in the early hours of Monday, arresting groups including those wearing first aid vests.

Police had previously said that anyone who surrendered would be apprehended. However, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a press conference on Tuesday morning that, after giving consideration to special circumstances, minors would be spared immediate arrest. She said the government was committed to finding a “peaceful resolution” to the stalemate.

The two-day siege has driven protesters to seek alternative escape routes. On Monday evening, groups climbed down ropes from a bridge to motorbikes waiting on the road underneath. Dozens managed to flee before police discovered the plan.

Some made a dramatic dash across a footbridge before the route was closed off by police, Citizen News reported. Others unsuccessfully attempted to break through police cordons on Monday but were either pushed back by tear gas or arrested, according to HK01.

Top brass said in a press conference on Tuesday that about 1,100 people had been arrested or had their data collected in the vicinity of PolyU as of 3pm. In response to the rope escape, police said that officers had arrested 37 people involved in the incident, including drivers who picked up the protesters.

Police press conference "November 19"
A police press conference on November 19. Photo:

Around 300 agreed to exit PolyU on Tuesday morning under the escort of former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang and secondary school principals.

Dozens more left throughout the day accompanied by teachers as well as pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui. Around 20 people remained in the school by the afternoon, Hui said.

Family members of the remaining group convened in Tsim Sha Tsui East near PolyU later in the day, urging the government to let their children leave safely. A bishop surnamed Tang, who acted as the group’s spokesperson, said that those on campus had refused to leave because they were afraid of being charged with rioting, RTHK reported.

"November 17" Hong Kong Polytechnic University Hung Hom protester police water cannon
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University at Hung Hom on November 17. Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

Tang criticised the government and police for labelling demonstrators as “rioters,” which he said would only deter students from cooperating with the authorities.

Hong Kong has entered into its 25th week of demonstrations, sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have enabled fugitive transfers to mainland China. The protests have since morphed into wider demands for democratic reform and police accountability.

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