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Hong Kong Catholics appeal to pope to help end crisis at besieged university

A petition circulating among Catholics in Hong Kong has sought the pope’s intervention to resolve a violent confrontation between the police and young pro-democracy protestors at one of the city’s universities.

The online petition pleaded “for Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church’s intervention in the current humanitarian crisis at the Polytechnic University.”

The petition was being circulated on the same day as police laid siege to the university, firing rubber bullets and tear gas to pin back protesters armed with petrol bombs and other homemade weapons from fleeing amid fears of a bloody crackdown.

Media reported that dozens, choking on the tear gas, tried to leave the university by breaking through police lines after a night of mayhem in the city in which roads were blocked and a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.

Many protesters, dressed in regular clothes and without gas masks, made runs for it, dodging tear gas canisters and sponge grenades, only to be forced back inside. Some were arrested, tackled to the ground, as others scrambled and tripped over barricades and fences as police pointed guns at them and threw punches.

Riot police seen as protesters attempt to leave the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University during clashes Nov. 18. (Photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Critical situation

The petition said the “current” condition of people within the university campus was critical.

“Numerous people staying in the campus were injured while at least three of those were injured [in] their eyes. Around 40 people demonstrated symptoms of hypothermia after being shot by the water cannon,” the petition said.  

“Since most of the volunteer paramedics had been arrested by the police earlier, there was no sufficient resource to help the injured,” it said.

The petition also described fruitless efforts by the university’s student union to appeal to the heads of police. It also stated how a member of the university’s council called for the students to be protected during what he described as the greatest humanitarian crisis in Hong Kong during the “anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement.”

“In view of this, we stand as one to make an urgent appeal to our Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church to intervene in the current humanitarian crisis,” the petition said.

It requested both parties cease the use of violence on and outside the campus; for the police to allow all people leave the campus peacefully without making any arrests.

The petition organized by a “group of concerned Roman Catholics in Hong Kong” was closed to signatures at 6 pm Hong Kong time and it was then to be sent to the Vatican.

Protesters rest on the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University after clashes with police, Nov. 18. (Photo by Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Earlier Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong — with a group of pro-democracy lawmakers — attempted talking with police near the campus at around 2 am. The efforts proved unsuccessful.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun made a video speech on Nov. 18, saying Hong Kong was now in a “danger” and he said even during times of war, humanity needs to be respected.

Cardinal Joseph Zen said that if respect for humanity was lost then Hong Kong would become a “barbaric society” in the eyes of the international community.

The past several days has seen some of the worst violence since the protests began in June as a backlash against a now-scrapped piece of legislation, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China. But anger over economic inequality in the territory, concern over perceived dissipating freedoms and shock over police use of force have mounted.

With Reuters

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