Pro-democracy demonstrators holed up in a Hong Kong university campus set the main entrance ablaze Monday to prevent surrounding police moving in, after officers warned they may use live rounds if confronted by deadly weapons.
The police warning, which came after one officer was struck by an arrow, marked a further escalation of the near six-month crisis engulfing the city.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate dissent, and there are growing concerns that Beijing could intervene directly to end the spiralling unrest.
Several loud blasts were heard around dawn on Monday before a wall of fire lit up an entrance to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), AFP reporters said, as what appeared to be a police attempt to enter the campus was repelled by protesters determined to hold their ground.
Police said they had fired three live rounds in the early hours of Monday at a protest site near the university but that no one appeared to have been hit.
Intense clashes throughout Sunday, which saw a police officer hit in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, rolled overnight across the Kowloon district, as a call went out to defend the besieged campus.
There, protesters had hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from police water cannon and hurled Molotov cocktails at an armoured vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — rioting is punishable by up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Three protesters have been shot by police in the unrelenting months of protests, but all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without a sweeping warning being given by a force that overwhelmingly depends on tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
Fear gripped protesters still trapped inside the campus — whose occupation is a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.