Dozens of Hong Kong protesters staged a dramatic escape from a university campus sealed off by police by shimmying down plastic hoses from a bridge and fleeing on waiting motorbikes as the police fired projectiles.
Many more anti-government protesters remained trapped inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and two prominent figures were allowed by police on to the campus late on Monday (local time) to mediate, a sign that there is a growing risk of bloodshed.
"The situation is getting more and more dangerous," Jasper Tsang, a pro-Beijing politician who is the former head of Hong Kong's Legislative Council, told Reuters soon after he arrived at the campus.
As he spoke, big explosions were heard and flames flared up at a distant part of the campus. In streets nearby, protesters rained down petrol bombs, burning parked cars and the front of a Standard Chartered Bank branch.
Polytechnic University in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong is at the centre of a stand-off in the past week that has seen the most intense violence in five months of anti-government demonstrations.
Some of the protesters who escaped on Monday lowered themselves about 10 metres from a bridge they had occupied on the campus to a flyover below. They then sped off on the back of motorcycles which were already waiting or quickly arrived.
A number of them appeared subsequently to have been arrested, a Reuters witness said.
Other protesters, hurling petrol bombs, tried repeatedly to break into the campus but police fired tear gas and water cannon to push them back.
The size of demonstrations has dwindled in recent weeks, but clashes have worsened since early last week, when police shot a protester, a man was set on fire and the city's financial district was filled with tear gas in the middle of the workday.
The city's hospital authority reported 116 injuries on Monday, including one female in serious condition.
Earlier on Monday, police tightened their cordon around the Polytechnic University and prevented dozens of people breaking through police lines.
"If the police decide to come in by force, to make their arrests then there will be very strong resistance from the protesters, and we're afraid we may see bloodshed. This is something that we want to avoid," Tsang said.
Tsang, who with legal scholar Eric Cheung was the first prominent mediator let on to the campus by police, said there were young children and elderly people trapped inside and that it was a priority to get the children out first.
Early on Tuesday, about 20 students accompanied by Tsang left the campus voluntarily, broadcaster RTHK reported on its livestream.
Police said officers had been deployed "on the periphery" of the campus for a week, appealing to "rioters" to leave.
Witnesses estimated there were more than 300 people still on the campus as of late Monday.