The Hong Kong police’s latest assessment of the situation in the protest-weary city is that the force’s 10-day siege of the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where a dwindling mob of rioters was believed to be inside and trying to hold out for as long as possible, had become a turning point.

The top brass of the force believes the months-long anti-government protests that wreaked havoc on the city may soon die out, with many radicals nabbed as they tried to flee the cordoned-off campus, according to local papers on Wednesday.

The police’s tactical analysis is that while Hong Kong has not seen a repeat of the running battles between protesters and police or radicals on the rampage since last weekend, the situation was easing with a calm after a storm, and not before another one.

The 10 days of police waiting in ambush outside the PolyU campus in Kowloon in a unique wait-and-catch deployment had proven to be effective, police said. The force acted on intelligence that most of the hardcore protesters had already gathered on the PolyU campus massing Molotov cocktails and other makeshift weapons in anticipation of a showdown amid a rumored police raid.

But the raid never happened as police aimed to avoid casualties and instead opted to wait them out in a battle of attrition. Most of those stranded inside eventually surrendered and came out, only to be arrested or have their identities recorded one by one.

Police made about 1,100 arrests during the operation so far.

Anti-government protesters are taken by paramedics to ambulances on Wednesday from the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University after being barricaded inside for days. Photo: AFP
A masked protester on the PolyU campus amid a tear gas barrage by police. Photo: Facebook

There have not been any major rallies outside PolyU by those supporting the protesters either as police pre-empted any possible rescue attempts by erecting road barriers and dispersing crowds with volleys of tear-gas.

However, on Tuesday AFP reported that officials at the university had searched the entire campus and found only one remaining holdout.

“We have swept through the whole campus systematically and we found one protester in the student union building,” the university’s vice-president Wai Ping-kong told reporters.

Hong Kong papers including the Ming Pao daily reported on Wednesday that police believed the siege had deterred rioters, as many had been arrested or put on a police watchlist. The landslide win for pan-democrats in last Sunday’s district council election could also have helped soothe people’s anger, with fewer now supporting continued violence and vandalism.

An unnamed protester who claimed to be a member of the “diehard battalion” told the broadsheet that his peers could not find an opportunity to wage fresh rallies due to the district polls and that their top priority, for now, would be to rescue those still trapped inside PolyU, before they could mull their next move.

He stressed that the election win would be futile if the government refused to respond to the voters’ voices and if the core demands from protesters, including an independent probe into alleged police brutality and genuine universal suffrage, went unheeded.

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