HONG KONG – A few dozen protesters were still holding out at a university in Hong Kong on Tuesday, surrounded by riot police, after one of the most dramatic days since the protests began, marked by violent clashes, mass arrests and hundreds of injuries.

The police force said on Tuesday afternoon it had apprehended 1,100 people over the past day alone as months of violent clashes appeared to reach something of a climax. It said many would be charged with rioting and possession of an offensive weapon.

It was the single biggest day of arrests and injuries since the protests began five months ago.

Concerns rose over the handful who have so far refused to leave the besieged campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, with authorities urging them to come out peacefully but refusing to rule out action to flush them out.

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Protestors rest near a road barricaded with bricks in Hong Kong, early Tuesday. AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Across the city, a couple hundred parents, teachers, and sympathizers gathered for a peaceful, somber rally Tuesday evening on a harbor-front promenade, singing “Hallelujah” and waving cellphone lights in support of those who remained inside the university.

“We are thinking about the kids, we feel very strongly,” said Maggie Lau, a 50-year old retiree, saying she felt upset and hurt by what had happened. “Who can help our Hong Kong? I don’t know. Hong Kong will disappear.”

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about increasing violence by young people “who are clearly very angry, with deep-seated grievances.”

But Rupert Colville, speaking to reporters in Geneva, also urged authorities to “address the humanitarian situation” of the remaining protesters holed up the at the university whose situation was “clearly deteriorating.”

After five months of street protests calling for greater democracy and protesting against China’s steady encroachment of Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms, the demonstrations entered a new phase last week after police shot an anti-government protester during a demonstration.

Protesters moved en masse into five Hong Kong university campuses, turning them into mini-fortresses, stockpiling petrol bombs, catapults, bows and arrows and even javelins. Most of the campuses were cleared by the weekend, with hundreds of protesters finally congregating at the Polytechnic University.

On Saturday, police began moving in, using tear gas and rubber bullets, and were met with rocks and petrol bombs. Finally, on Monday, the confrontation reached a climax.

Police said 600 demonstrators had been apprehended as they left who the besieged campus of their own accord overnight, 200 of whom were under 18.

“Also, some rioters were seen escaping by abseiling off a footbridge to getaway vehicles below. Our officers gave chase and were able to interrupt 37 of them including the drivers,” police spokesman Kwok Ka-chuen told a news conference, adding that the drivers were arrested for assisting offenders.

Earlier, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said around 100 remained inside the university and urged them to “put down the weapons and come out peacefully.”

“If the protesters are coming out in a peaceful manner . . . then there is no situation when that sort of violence would happen,” she told a news conference.

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A riot policeman watches over a group of detained people on a bridge in Hong Kong, early Tuesday. AP Photo/Kin Cheung

But Lam said police would have to take “necessary action” if the situation changed, she said, adding she had been shocked that campuses had been turned into “weapons factories.”

Hospital authorities said 80 people had reported to casualty departments around the city after the clashes. First-aid teams had then gone inside the campus to provide on-site treatment, and sent another 200 to hospitals around Hong Kong for emergency treatment.

Six police officers were injured.

The sudden influx of patients put so much strain on the city’s hospitals that patients with minor ailments were advised to seek help at general outpatient clinics or private doctors.

A pro-democracy lawmaker, Ted Hui, entered the battered campus late Tuesday to try to persuade the remaining protesters to leave.

“The majority of them decided to leave after the discussion,” he told local media before escorting a group out. “It was not because they wanted to leave or surrender, but they were exhausted and likely lacked water and food supplies. As I know, there are around 10 to 20 unwilling to leave.”

Hui urged police not to storm the campus.

Throughout the day, some were seen trickling out, only to be arrested by the police.

Images from the university showed twisted metal and chairs piled up a staircase, the remains of a barricade, with broken glass and other debris scattered all around. Graffiti was spray-painted on the walls.

Police had pledged that anyone under 18 would not face arrest: those who left the campus had their names taken before being released, but authorities did not rule out taking further action against them.

“We have not done any immediate arrests of these underage protesters,” said Lam. “But of course, we have to reserve the right to undertake further investigation in the future.”

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Protestors rest near a road barricaded with bricks in Hong Kong, early Tuesday. AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Sitting opposite the university, a mother of a student who is currently studying at Hong Kong University said he has been missing since Sunday after joining the protests.

“I feel extremely worried, and I think the government are completely useless,” said the woman, who only gave her name as Mrs. Chan, adding she feared her son was trapped inside the university.

“How can the police say this is a riot already?” she asked.

Another mother, who refused to give her name, asked Carrie Lam to show more understanding. “Carrie Lam says she is a mother, but the way they have treated my kids is not humanitarian.”

At the harbor-side rally, Chu Kai-man, 52, who works in property management, called the actions of the protesters “brave” and wished more middle-aged people would come out and support them.

“Teenagers have no choice. They have to take action,” he said. “But then they fall in the trap, the trap set up by the government and the teenagers suffer.”

Hong Kong’s new police chief, Chris Tang, said that the purpose of the police operation was “only to maintain the law and public order.”

Along with full democracy and other demands, protesters want an independent investigation into police brutality. Lam has resisted, pending a report by an existing police watchdog with limited powers.

Chinese propaganda organs continued Tuesday to urge Hong Kong authorities to forcefully quell the unrest. “Tolerance cannot reform the rioters. Restraint cannot stop the crimes,” the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the United States was “gravely concerned by deepening political unrest and violence” in Hong Kong.

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The Washington Post’s Simon Denyer in Hong Kong and Shibani Mahtani in Chicago contributed to this report.


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