City leader Carrie Lam said 600 people had left the Hong Kong Polytechnic campus, including 200 who are under 18 years old.
Police have surrounded the university and are arresting anyone who leaves. Groups of protesters made several attempts to escape Monday, including sliding down hoses to waiting motorcycles, but it wasn’t clear if they evaded arrest.
Lam said those under 18 would not be immediately arrested but could face charges later. She said the other 400 who have left have been arrested.
“We will use whatever means to continue to persuade and arrange for these remaining protesters to leave the campus as soon as possible so that this whole operation could end in a peaceful manner,” she said after a weekly meeting with advisers.
After five months, the Hong Kong protest movement has steadily intensified as local and Beijing authorities harden their positions and refuse to make concessions.
Universities became the latest battleground last week, as protesters occupied several campuses, using gasoline bombs and bows and arrows to fend off riot police backed by armored cars and water cannon. Those at Polytechnic are the last holdouts.
China, which took control of the former British colony in 1997 promising to let it retain considerable autonomy, flexed its muscles, sending troops outside their barracks over the weekend to help clean up debris strewn by protesters to block streets.
China’s ambassador to Britain accused the U.K. and the U.S. of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and warned that the Chinese government “will not sit on our hands” if the situation in Hong Kong “becomes uncontrollable.”
Lam, asked whether she would seek help from Chinese troops based in Hong Kong, said her government remains confident it is able to cope with the situation.
China also hinted it might overrule the Hong Kong’s high court ruling on Monday to strike down a ban on face masks that was aimed at preventing protesters from hiding their identity to evade arrest.
A statement from the National People’s Congress’ Legislative Affairs Commission said the decision doesn’t conform with territory’s constitution, known as the Basic Law, or decisions by the Congress.
“We are currently studying opinions and suggestions raised by some NPC deputies,” the statement said.
Monday’s ruling said the ban infringes on fundamental rights more than is reasonably necessary. The ban has been widely disregarded.