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Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters leave university — but some remain

Anti-government protesters holed up in a Hong Kong university were frantically searching for escape routes on Tuesday after more than two days of clashes with police, dramatic breakouts by rope and motorcycle, and more than 1,000 arrests in 24 hours.

Ottawa confirms it is aware of Canadians 'affected' by the standoff

Protesters are escorted out of the main entrance to the Polytechnic University campus, the site of a multi-day standoff between demonstrators and police. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-government protesters holed up in a Hong Kong university were frantically searching for escape routes on Tuesday after more than two days of clashes with police, dramatic breakouts by rope and motorcycle, and more than 1,000 arrests in 24 hours.

About 100 protesters were trapped in Polytechnic University a day after students, some tired and fearful of police storming the campus, tried again and again to flee, only to be beaten back by police firing rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas.

Some 235 injured were taken to hospital on Tuesday, the Hospital Authority said.

"I just want to leave. I feel very tired," said Thomas, 20, a student at another university who has been on the campus since the siege began. "I didn't throw Molotovs. I was here to support the protest."

He then walked slowly, with about 10 others, toward police, who searched and arrested him. He had the phone numbers of lawyers written on his right forearm.

Late in the evening, another small group tried to run for it through the main gate. Most, if not all, ended up running back into the campus as police shouted at them and flashed their torches rather than firing.

A dwindling number of exhausted pro-democracy protesters barricaded inside the university defied warnings to surrender on Tuesday. (Achmad Ibrahim/The Associated Press)

Police have made about 1,100 arrests in the past 24 hours on charges including rioting and possession of offensive weapons, they said.

The total number of arrests since the protests began in June is at more than 5,000.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she hoped the standoff could be resolved and she had told police to handle it humanely.

Lam spoke shortly after the Chinese-ruled city's new police chief urged the support of all citizens to end more than five months of unrest triggered by fears that China's central government is stifling the former British colony's special autonomy and freedoms, including its independent judiciary.

China says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula, under which Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and has accused foreign countries of inciting trouble.

The unrest poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Hundreds of protesters fled from Polytechnic University or surrendered overnight and on Monday amid running battles on nearby streets, where demonstrators threw petrol bombs and rocks at police. Some made it out by rope and motorcycle.

On Monday, several protesters tried to escape the campus by lowering themselves down to the highway to awaiting motorbikes. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

"Some rioters were seen escaping by abseiling off a footbridge to getaway vehicles below," police said in a statement. "Our officers gave chase and were able to interrupt 37 of them, including the drivers."

About a dozen tried and failed to flee through the university's sewers. A Reuters witness saw them lower themselves into a tunnel wearing gas masks and plastic sheets, but the tunnel was too narrow.

SOS call in campus central square

On the sprawling campus in the Kowloon district, despair prevailed amid the shriek of fire alarms.

"I feel I'm in trouble," said a 22-year-old who gave his name as Marcus, sitting with two friends in the canteen at a table piled with dirty dishes and plastic cups.

"We keep trying to think how to escape, but every time we pick a spot we see many police nearby," Marcus said. "But if we give up, we're finished."

In the campus central square, a giant SOS call for help was spelled out in pink, blue and yellow bath towels.

WATCH: See protesters leave the campus

Hong Kong police and pro-democracy protesters have been in a standoff for days. 0:18

One woman said her son was inside the campus with his girlfriend and they would come out but for fear of facing charges of rioting, which can carry a 10-year sentence.

"I know the young people see there are many unrighteous things in society, they want to do something to change it," said the woman, who gave her name as Chan, 50. "But as parents, we only have one wish. We only want all of them to come home safely."

China questions mask ban ruling

The university is the last of five that protesters have occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city, blocking the Cross-Harbour Tunnel outside and other main roads.

Lam said her government was very much on the "reactive side" in dealing with the protests, but she did not rule out more violence even as she urged peace. Lam said she had been shocked that campuses had been turned into "weapons factories."

In what many will see as an illustration of Beijing's tightening grip, China's legislature questioned the legality of a Hong Kong court ruling Monday that a ban on face masks worn by protesters was unlawful.

Protesters came out in masks in large number on Oct. 31. Hong Kong's government made a bid to outlaw masks but a court recently ruled against the ban. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The National People's Congress (NPC) said Hong Kong courts had no power to rule on the constitutionality of city legislation, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The Hong Kong Bar Association, representing barristers, said the comments undermined the "the high degree of autonomy granted to (Hong Kong) under the Basic Law," the mini-constitution that sets the ground rules for Hong Kong after its return to Chinese rule.

Canadians affected

Global Affairs Canada said to CBC News in a statement it is "aware of Canadians affected and we are in contact with local authorities."

Asked if those Canadians have been arrested, injured or are still protesting, a spokesperson would not comment, citing "provisions under the Privacy Act." 

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      The University of British Columbia confirmed in a statement Monday that 11 of its exchange students have left Hong Kong and the 21 remaining in the city are safe and accounted for. An official says they are assisting the students with travel planning. 

      Montreal's McGill University, which has a partnership with Hong Kong Polytechnic, says all 17 of its students are accounted for.

      The University of Toronto and Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., are also urging all of their exchange students to head home.

      With files from CBC News

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