Thousands of masked students clad in black clothes assembled outside of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) on Monday to protest a growing list of concerns including a shelved extradition bill and police brutality.
The assembly remained peaceful, but tensions were mounting.
Marcus Hui, a student protester at the CUHK, said he hoped that actions like the student strike and the “inevitable independent inquiry” into excessive force by police would appeal to the conscience of Hong Kong police.
“Unfortunately the police are caught in the conflict unnecessarily, and I hope they will reflect on what their children are going through if they are going to high school or university today – and that could change their attitude towards the movement,” he said.
The university is situated in Hong Kong’s mountainous Northeastern New Territories, over an hour from the city centre by train. Other universities reportedly bussed in students from other areas as queues for busses and the train network lengthened.
Chants of “fight for Hong Kong! Revolution of our times! erupted from the swelling crowd.
Protestor tactics have intensified in the last 13 weeks of demonstrations, with police reporting that one-third of public transport stations were vandalized on Sunday. Over 100 petrol bombs have been thrown in recent weeks.
Excessive force on the part of the police, including the use of tear gas in enclosed areas and the deployment of potentially lethal water cannon, has further aggravated protesters.
The extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China, was tabled in June, but the protesters’ demands have grown to include the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and true universal suffrage.
Middle schoolers attended rallies in the city center rather than their first day of school, while hundreds of professionals, including hospital workers and office workers, participated in a general citywide strike.
In an attempt to quell striking protestor’s disruption of the MTR network during morning rush hour, the network saw heavy policing Monday morning, with police sightings reported at 44 of the city’s 94 stations by mid-morning.
Elsewhere in the city, pupils gathered outside their middle and high schools dressed in school uniforms and gas masks as part of planned strike action on what should have been the first day of class.
At the alma mater of Sun Yat-sen, who is regarded as the founding father of modern China, students dressed a statue of him with a gas mask, hard hat and goggles.
Beijing weighed in on the latest protests, with a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that events in Hong Kong had “completely exceeded the scope of freedom of demonstration” and devolved into “extreme violence.”
The recent demonstrations had challenged Hong Kong’s rule of law and social order, threatened citizens’ safety and seriously challenged the “one country, two systems” principle, spokesman Geng Shuang said.
Separately on Monday, the Hong Kong High Court overturned an election ban on Agnes Chow, a figurehead of the pro-democracy movement who was arrested on Friday along with fellow activist Joshua Wong. The ruling effectively unseats pro-democracy legislator Au Nok Hin, but Chow’s recent arrest may still jeopardize her ability to take office.
More than 60 people were arrested on the weekend at anti-government protests, including one 13-year-old student, according to public broadcaster RTHK.