Hong Kong: Hong Kong police plan to send officers on Thursday morning into the ransacked remains of a university campus where authorities faced off for days with barricaded pro-democracy protesters, an official said Wednesday.
The announcement came as university leaders called for police to lift their siege given the sprawling facility appeared to be deserted.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) was the epicentre of the territory's increasingly violent protest movement when clashes broke out on November 17 between police and protesters armed with bows and arrows as well as Molotov cocktails.
The stand-off then settled into a tense stalemate during which hundreds fled the campus — some attempting to get out through sewer lines or shimmying down ropes onto waiting motorbikes — leaving a dwindling core of holdouts surrounded by police cordons.
But in recent days the last few people barricaded in the campus appear to have disappeared, with university staff saying they were only able to find a single protester remaining on campus and reporters on site struggling to see any major presence the last 48 hours.
Police chief superintendent Ricky Ho said "safety teams" comprised of police, fire fighters, paramedics and university staff would enter the campus on Thursday morning to look for any dangerous materials.
"Our safety team, together with some crime officers, will enter the school tomorrow morning," he told reporters late Wednesday.
"Our ultimate goal is to restore the safety of the campus, and to reopen the campus as soon as possible," he added.
Ho was speaking just hours after the university's leadership called on police to remove their cordons surrounding the towering red-brick campus and asked the government for help in removing dangerous materials "including petrol bombs and other offensive weapons".
"The University suggests that the police need not to conduct a... search, but rather remove the cordon around our campus immediately," PolyU said in a statement.
AFP journalists at the site on Wednesday found a battleground covered in debris, barricades and the shattered bottles of Molotov cocktails.
A foul odour from rotting food in a canteen and overflowing garbage bins permeates parts of the campus, and defiant graffiti has been scrawled everywhere.
A major concern for university authorities is widespread vandalism to PolyU's laboratories, with potentially chemicals now missing.
Hong Kongers have protested in huge numbers over the last six months fuelled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city's liberties.
Violence spiralled as Beijing and local leaders refused major concessions and the police were used to break up rallies on a daily basis.
Beijing and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam have argued that a "silent majority" still support the establishment and abhor the increased violence of radical protesters.
But that narrative was undermined by community-level council elections on Sunday which saw a landslide win for pro-democracy candidates across the city.