High school students in Hong Kong have gone on strike on the first day of classes after the summer break to show their commitment to the city’s anti-government protest movement.
Nearly three months of youth-dominated protests calling for democracy and an independent inquiry into police conduct will be tested once more as classes resume in the former British colony.
Strikers – many of whom wore gas masks, goggles and hard hats – gathered in their hundreds at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and two public spaces in the semi-autonomous city’s central business district.
Workers on strike congregated in Tamar Park, while at nearby Edinburgh Place, high school students who were skipping class rallied around a black banner that read: “With no future, there’s no need to go to class”.
At St Francis’ Canossian College, uniformed students knelt in a line and held up hand-painted signs that read: “The five major demands: Not one is dispensable.”
The elite girls’ school is where Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam was educated.
Hong Kong education secretary Kevin Yeung said he hoped students would stay in class.
He said: “Schools should not be used as places for political demands or exercising pressure.”
The protesters’ five demands include dropping charges against demonstrators who have been arrested and formally withdrawing an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.
The appeals are strengthened by a sense among some Hong Kong residents that the Communist Party-ruled mainland government has been eroding the autonomy and civil liberties promised when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
Some demonstrators disrupted the morning commute on Monday by blocking train doors, attempting to evade riot police by moving quickly between multiple public transit stations.
Officers at Lok Fu station hit protesters with batons and arrested one person. Another three were arrested at Lai King station.
On Sunday, MTR suspended train service to the airport after several hundred protesters gathered there following calls online to disrupt transportation.
They blocked buses arriving at the airport but police in riot gear kept them out of the terminal.
After protesters allegedly vandalised ticketing machines in Prince Edward station on Sunday, video footage showed police storming into the facility and beating up, pepper spraying and arresting passengers who police said were violent demonstrators.
Clashes between police and protesters have become increasingly violent, as the self-described “front-line” demonstrators use petrol bombs and throw missiles at officers.
Authorities in turn have employed water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons.
The protesters say that a degree of violence is necessary to get the government’s attention after peaceful rallies proved futile.
Ms Lam’s administration, however, maintains that the violence must first end before any fruitful dialogue can begin.
“We always say that we must stop the violence right away, and then kick off the dialogue,” said administration secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung.