The fortified campus of a sprawling Hong Kong university became the focal point of a months-long standoff between anti-government protesters and authorities in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China that enjoys a high degree of autonomy.
Hong Kong's protesters have been clashing with police for five months over fears China's central government in Beijing is undermining the territory's judicial independence. But on Monday, demonstrators who have barricaded themselves inside Hong Kong's Polytechnic University since last week were met by police tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets as they tried to break out of the university's grounds.
As night fell in Hong Kong, several protesters were arrested and hundreds were driven back by police. Some protesters rappelled off a nearby footbridge to a road below, where they were met by motorbike riders helping them flee. It was unclear if they got away.
Hong Kong's Polytechnic University has turned into a battleground, and it is the third time in recent days demonstrators have tried to flee the surrounded campus, from where protesters have been retaliating against police with gasoline bombs.
Hong Kong’s high court ruled Monday that a government ban on face masks, worn by many protesters, was unconstitutional. The ban made wearing any facial coverings during public assembly punishable by jail time and fines.
"These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts," Cheuk Hau-yip, a police commander for Hong Kong's Kowloon West district, told reporters at a daily briefing Monday. "Other than coming out to surrender, I don’t see, at the moment, there’s any viable option for them."
Later Monday, at a news conference in Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on several protests taking place across the globe and said the U.S. is "gravely concerned by the deepening political violence and unrest in Hong Kong." The top American diplomat also said the Chinese communist party "must honor its promises to the Hong Kong people who only want the freedoms and liberties that they have been promised."
Hong Kong's protests began peacefully in early June.
They were sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, where the legal system is far more opaque. When the bill was withdrawn, the protests hardened, and broadened, into a resistance movement, sometimes violent, against the territory's government and Beijing.
The U.S. Senate is considering a bill that could pave the way for sanctions on Hong Kong over its response to the protests, but such a move may not easily pass through the White House, which is pursuing a trade deal with China. President Donald Trump has shown little interest in supporting human rights in Hong Kong, and he has not commented on the unfolding incident at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University.
The head of a nationalistic Chinese newspaper said Hong Kong police should use snipers to fire live ammunition at violent protesters.
"If the rioters are killed, the police should not have to bear legal responsibility," Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote on his Weibo social media account.
Unrest goes global
The escalation of the unrest in Hong Kong coincides with recent mass protests around the world. These protests – in Bolivia, Iran and elsewhere – are not connected and have different causes and aims. But they are loosely linked thematically in that they concern inequality, political freedoms, corruption and climate change.
In Iran, after a decision by authorities to dramatically raise gas prices, violent protests spread to a reported 100 cities and towns Monday.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has backed his government's decision to raise gas prices by 50% and called protesters who have been setting fire to public property over the increase "thugs." Iran also imposed a near total Internet blackout over the weekend, according to NetBlocks, a group that monitors international Internet access.
By Monday, Iran's Internet connectivity stood at 7%, NetBlocks said.
The gas price increase is especially controversial in Iran because the country is home to the world’s fourth-largest reserves of crude oil, and gas has long been inexpensive despite decades of economic struggles since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Problems for Iran's economy have been compounded by Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimpose crippling economic sanctions on the Middle East country.
Demonstrators have abandoned cars along major highways and ransacked about 100 banks and stores, according to Iran's semi-official Fars news agency.
The Internet blackout has made it difficult to know how many people have been arrested, injured or killed. Iranian authorities on Sunday raised the official death toll to at least three. It said about 1,000 protesters have been arrested.
Iran's government cracked down on large-scale economic protests in late 2017 into 2018, as well as those connected to its disputed 2009 election.
The White House said in a statement that the U.S. "supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them."
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In India, hundreds of students from a New Delhi university on Monday were in a standoff with police, who stopped their march toward parliament to protest increased student housing fees. The students from Jawahar Lal Nehru University chanted slogans and tried to cross police barricades. Several students were arrested, part of demonstrations that have been going on for more than two weeks.
And in Lebanon, one month on from protests that have seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets over a ruling class seen as corrupt and incompetent, the country's political crisis has intensified.
On Monday, Saad Hariri, Lebanon's outgoing prime minister who resigned over the protests three weeks ago, severely criticized the party of the country’s president, Michel Aoun, for its failure to establish an interim Cabinet. Aoun has yet to start the parliamentary process for appointing a new prime minister.
Hariri and Aoun have pointed the finger at each other for the stalemate as Lebanon experiences its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. The small Arab country is one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world and was already dealing with a severe fiscal crisis before the protests, one rooted in years of heavy borrowing and expensive patronage networks run by entrenched political parties.
Security forces in Iraq have killed at least 320 people and wounded thousands as part of the response to anti-government protests linked to corruption and inequality. The unrest began in October. Protesters, who have blocked roads and called for national strikes, want a complete overhaul of Iraq's inexperienced government.
Bolivia has been rocked by weeks of protests after last month's disputed presidential election that led to the resignation of President Evo Morales.
In Chile, at least 20 people have been killed and 2,500 injured since protests began in October in relation to student protests over an increase in subway fares. The protests have since expanded to include a range of issues from spiraling living costs to the effect of climate change on their daily lives.
Tens of thousands of Catalan pro-independence protesters in Spain have been out in the streets of Barcelona and nearby areas since a Spanish court in October imposed stiff prison sentences on the group's separatist leaders.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mass protests from Iran to Hong Kong accelerate