As protesters hunker down at university campuses in Hong Kong, police are accusing them of firing arrows and tossing Molotov cocktails off bridges. The clashes between protesters and police are a sign that violence continues to escalate in Hong Kong, even after more than five months of intense protests over concerns that China is seeking to limit freedoms there.
Protesters are also demonstrating against police tactics cracking down on the rallies. "I am not prepared to fire the arrows unless there's no other resort," an 18-year-old student named Cheung told Reuters. "I am also new in learning how to use arrows. I think arrows can't really hit them (police) but if the police fire live rounds, we will die."
As NPR's Julie McCarthy reported from Hong Kong, they've been staging rallies for the last four days in the central business district, and authorities have canceled classes from kindergarten through university.
Several universities have ended the fall semester early in light of the chaos, prompting some international students to leave the country, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
A student named Chow Tsz-lok died last Friday after he was found unconscious in a parking garage, and many protestors believe police had a hand in his death, as McCarthy reported. Several other protesters have sustained serious injuries since then, adding fuel to the protests.
"Protesters say they tried peaceful demonstrations, got nowhere, and feel justified in using violence," McCarthy reported. "On the other hand, police feel justified using harsher measures to counter that violence. And you have this loop of retaliation."
Authorities said at a press conference Thursday that they have arrested 224 people since the previous day. "Their offenses include unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons, arson, etc," a police officer said. He added that Chinese University "has been used as a weapons factory, and an arsenal with all kinds offensive weapons like bows and arrows and catapults."
The police said that these actions have "spread like a cancer to other universities." They said they seized six arrows shot at patrolling police on Thursday morning. On Tuesday alone, police fired 1,500 rounds of tear gas, McCarthy reported.
As McCarthy notes, defenders of the protesters say that "there's no equivalency in the violence of protesters versus the police, who have an arsenal at their disposal that protesters do not."
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Thursday that Hong Kong's most urgent task is to "bring violence and chaos to an end and restore order," according to the Xinhua news agency.
Speaking at an international conference, he said, "We will continue to firmly support the chief executive in leading the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to govern in accordance with the law, firmly support the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing the law, and firmly support the Hong Kong judicial bodies in severely punishing the violent criminals in accordance with the law."