A major tunnel in Hong Kong reopened on Wednesday as a weeklong police siege of a nearby university appeared to be winding down, closing one of the more violent chapters in the city’s anti-government protests.
The Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which links Hong Kong Island to the rest of the region, had been closed for two weeks after protesters blocked the approach with debris and set the toll booths on fire as they fought clashes with police.
A search of the Hong Kong Polytechnic campus found just one woman, in weak condition, and a senior university official said it’s unlikely anyone else remains.
The reopening follows local elections over the weekend that saw the pro-democracy bloc win control of 17 out of 18 district councils. Chinese authorities reiterated a need “to stop the violence and restore order” after the election.
China’s leaders had set up a crisis command centre in the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, to deal with protests that have become the biggest populist challenge since China’s leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
Despite the euphoria among protesters over the electoral victory, in which democracy advocates swept around 86 per cent of the 452 district council seats, fresh protests are planned for the weekend, including a “no teargas to children march.”
The city-wide elections drew a record turnout and were seen as a vote of no-confidence against Beijing-backed Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam over her handling of the financial hub’s worst crisis in decades.
Hong Kong television showed a steady flow of vehicles surging into the tunnel when it reopened.
Police still guarded the perimeter of the Polytechnic University as a security team prepared to scour the campus for a second day, seeking protesters who may still be hiding in the maze of buildings.
The red-brick university was turned into a battleground in mid-November when nearly a thousand protesters barricaded themselves inside and clashed with riot police in a hail of gasoline bombs, water cannon and tear gas.
Police later formed a security cordon around the campus to trap those inside, eventually making hundreds of arrests. A small number are still believed to be inside.
One Hong Kong newspaper, Sing Pao, published a front-page spread for the second successive day calling for Lam’s resignation. “Hong Kong people had enough, Carrie Lam quit,” it read.
Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time.