Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters have paralyzed parts of the city for the past several days by forcing schools to close, blocking highways, and escalating the intensity of the demonstrations.

Protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police stations and trains, dropped debris from bridges on to traffic below and vandalized shopping malls and campuses, raising questions about how and when more than five months of unrest can be brought to an end.

A 70-year-old street cleaner who was believed to have been hit in the head by a brick on Wednesday died on Thursday, the hospital said. Police said he was believed to have been hit by “hard objects hurled by masked rioters” during his lunch break.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking in Brazil, said stopping violence was the most urgent task right now for Hong Kong, China’s state CCTV television reported.

…The unrest was triggered by what many see as the stifling by China of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The protests, concentrated at the universities, have taken on a Medieval nature.

As a rolling strike cripples the transport system of the famously frenetic city and fuels already intense clashes with police, hardcore protesters have bolstered their arsenal of Molotovs and bricks with an unlikely array of weapons.

Those include sports gear – javelins and bows and arrows lifted from university storerooms, as well as tennis racquets to bat away tear-gas canisters.

Chairs and mattresses have been pulled from college dorms for use as barricades or shields against increasingly heavy barrages of police rubber bullets.

This homespun approach has also taken on a medieval edge in one of Asia’s most modern cities.

Giant wooden catapults have been constructed from scratch, while caltrops – three-pronged spikes made of plastic piping and nails – have been laid to impede officers on foot alongside mazes of bricks to trip up police snatch squads.

American groups are beginning to respond to the escalating violence and potential response by China. For example, American universities are canceling Hong Kong study abroad programs.

“Georgetown University’s study abroad programs in Hong Kong have been canceled for the remainder of the semester because of protests in the region,” the tweet reads. “Students are working to leave in the coming days, according to three Georgetown students on the programs.”

…Meghan Dubyak, associate vice president for strategic communications for Georgetown University, told USA TODAY in an email that Georgetown students are studying at two universities in Hong Kong.

The US Senate has now initiated an expedited “hotline” process to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

US Senator Marco Rubio, the bill’s sponsor, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch, started the quick passage process in a bid to speed up the passing of the bill, which would clear the way for sanctions against individuals deemed to have violated Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China.

The strategic procedure carried out by the Senate’s leadership checks for last-minute opposition to bringing a bill immediately to the floor for a vote. If no senators voice opposition to sidestepping a formal vote, the bill passes.

Additionally, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which has a mandate to advise US lawmakers on the implications of Washington’s economic relationship with Beijing, recommends that the country suspend the special financial status granted to Hong Kong if Beijing deploys its military forces in the city.

“Hong Kong’s status as a separate customs territory, distinct from mainland China, is under pressure,” the commission, which was established in 2000 as part of Washington’s acceptance of Beijing into the World Trade Organisation, said in its annual report.

“Beijing’s more assertive imposition of sovereign control over Hong Kong undermines the ‘high degree of autonomy’ that underwrites trust in the Hong Kong government’s ability to restrict sensitive US technologies from being diverted to mainland China,” it added.

 
 
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