Hong Kong police have announced that they will enter the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Thursday morning – over 10 days since the siege began at the Hung Hom campus.
Yau Tsim District Commander Ho Yun-sing told reporters on Wednesday evening that police decided to go into PolyU after university staff reported that they found no traces of protesters remaining on school grounds.
“Considering that the school representatives already finished searching the campus, and informed police about the situation… our safety team together with some crime officers will enter the school tomorrow morning,” Ho said.
The “safety team” will consist of negotiators, bomb disposal officers, media liaison officers, social workers and clinical psychologists. It will also include members from the fire and ambulance services – but no riot police, Ho added.
PolyU staff will also accompany police officers to enter the campus on Thursday morning.
The objective of the operation is to handle the “dangerous items and offensive weapons” such as petrol bombs and corrosive liquids, as well as to gather evidence of the extensive damage, Ho said.
“Our ultimate goal is to restore the safety of the campus and to reopen the campus as soon as possible,” he said. “It is our responsibility to handle all the dangerous items found inside the campus, and to finish gathering evidence, before handing over the school to the management.”
Police said that the possibility of protesters remaining inside PolyU is “very low” given that school staff had searched fruitlessly for two days. Local media estimated that the number of protesters holed up in PolyU range from a handful to a few dozen.
Ho said that police will take down the personal details of any protesters they meet, and try to convince them to get medical attention. Asked if the remaining holdouts will be arrested, Ho said they will be treated in accordance with the arrangement over the past few days, meaning that protesters would not be immediately arrested on site.
Over 1,100 have been arrested in relation to the siege at PolyU, which began on the evening of November 17 when riot police blocked all campus exits and announced that anyone leaving would be arrested for rioting.
Prior to that, black-clad protesters and police have been locked in escalating clashes since November 11, when protesters started to occupy universities in keeping with a larger plan to mobilise a citywide strike and class boycott.
On Wednesday, PolyU issued a statement calling on the police to lift the blockade, saying that it already sent 100 people to conduct a comprehensive search to no avail.
“Despite their greatest efforts in searching every floor and every room of all buildings, the teams cannot find any people remaining this morning,” the university said around noon.
“The university suggests that the Police need not conduct a similar search, but rather remove the cordon around our campus immediately.”
PolyU also requested the government’s help to remove or secure the dangerous materials on the campus, and urged authorities to take a “humane approach” in performing their duties.
Asked whether police would relax its restrictions on news media entering PolyU, Ho said that the force still needed to assess the safety situation in the campus before deciding whether more reporters would be allowed in.
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