Editorial : Seek peaceful solution to the PolyU crisis

【明報專訊】Traffic at the Kowloon entrance to the Cross Harbour Tunnel at Hung Hom remains paralysed as black-clad protesters, armed with a large cache of weapons including petrol bombs, occupied the campus of the Polytechnic University (PolyU). The police laid heavy siege to the campus and called on the protesters to surrender. The black-clad protesters tried many times to break through but in vain. The standoff has gone on for more than two days. While the university management tried to mediate between the two sides, rallies in support of the PolyU students were also seen at Mong Kok and Jordan. In comparison with the uproar aroused by the clash at the CUHK's No. 2 bridge last week, aside from expressing deep worries over the PolyU standoff, more people are also rethinking whether the road blockade actions in the past few days have involved excessive violence. The situation of the PolyU is complicated and highly uncertain, making it hard to anticipate the direction of the coming developments. Even though the police are adopting the strategy of "laying siege without attacking", no one can guarantee that there would not be a sudden change for the worse. All parties must make the utmost efforts to strive for a peaceful solution to the incident and prevent the worst scenario of campus bloodshed from taking place.

The standoff between the police and black-clad protesters started at the edge of the PolyU on Sunday when the two sides exchanged teargas rounds and petrol bombs after some people in black threw bricks at citizens who volunteered to clear the road blockades nearby. Among the black-clad occupiers of the PolyU campus, there are the university's own students as well as a large number of outsiders, including even secondary school students. Unwilling to abandon the bridge, a base for their road blockade actions, the occupiers adopted the tactic of holding fast to the campus, turning it into a "war base" where they produced a large stash of weapons like petrol bombs. Similar to that of the CUHK, the PolyU campus was ravaged. The university's facilities were seriously vandalised and dangerous chemicals were stolen from its laboratories. The university management has already reported the theft to the police because that might endanger public safety.

The current tense situation faced by the PolyU shares something in common with that of the CUHK last week, but there are also critical differences between the two. And the key to defusing the crisis and sorting it out is for the university to distance itself from the violent outsiders. Yesterday (November 18), the PolyU president Teng Jin-Guang as well as several public figures released open statements and even tried to mediate the crisis. They called for settling the matter peacefully, so that those boxed inside the campus can leave peacefully and safely. However, it is obvious that different people see very different things regarding the definition of leaving "peacefully and safely".

President Teng of the PolyU said yesterday that the police had promised a temporary suspension of force if the black-clad protesters stopped their attacks. The police would allow the people trapped inside to leave peacefully. And the university had demanded the police arrange for the management staff of the university to accompany arrested teachers and students of the PolyU to the police station, thereby ensuring a fair treatment of those arrested. From the viewpoint of the police force, leaving peacefully and safely means a surrender by the protesters. It is a principle of the rule of law that people who have participated in the riot should face the legal consequences. However, in view of the atmosphere of society at this moment, obviously many people think otherwise.

Violence is no solution to problems. Society should never connive at it. But in order to curb violence, stop the unrest and restore order, mere "hardline measures" by the government and total reliance on law enforcement by the police are not enough. "Soft measures" that address the public opinion are also necessary. We still believe that setting up an independent commission of inquiry is an important key to defusing the crisis. At the same time, all parties of society must indeed disown violence as soon as possible. As the district council elections draw near, further escalation of violence and prolonged paralysis of traffic by blockade actions will only increase the risk of making it impossible to hold the elections as scheduled.

■明報社評2019.11.19:和平解決理大危機 避免浴血大學校園







for the worse : into a less positive condition

bloodshed : the killing or wounding of people

defuse sth : to stop a possibly dangerous or difficult situation from developing, especially by making people less angry or nervous

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