Schools across Hong Kong were suspended Thursday as anti-government protests crippled transportation systems in the territory for a fourth day, with Chinese President Xi Jinping calling for the restoration of order.
Local authorities said clashes between protesters and riot police overnight left 86 people injured. Local media reported the death of a 70-year-old man who was struck in the head by a brick, while a 15-year-old boy was in critical condition after a tear gas canister reportedly hit him in the head.
Meanwhile, foreign students at Hong Kong universities have started leaving over safety concerns, with 370 out of 1,021 Taiwanese students having left since Wednesday, and the Japanese Consulate General saying it is assisting some of the several hundred Japanese students in the territory who may opt to do the same.
The situation in Hong Kong remains deadlocked while Xi echoed Chief Executive Carrie Lam's call for an end to violence after five months of protests.
Commenting on Hong Kong's social unrest for the first time, Xi described it as a serious challenge to the "one country, two systems" framework under which the territory has been governed.
On the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Brazil, Xi said the continuing radical violent acts of crime have seriously trampled on the rule of law and social order and damaged Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, and that the priority for Hong Kong is to stop the violence and restore order, according to local media Now TV news.
He reiterated China's support for Lam and Hong Kong's police in enforcing the law and for the judiciary to punish the violent criminals according to law, the report said.
Xi also restated China's determination to protect state sovereignty and to oppose foreign interference in Hong Kong's affairs.
The protesters on Thursday continued to block roads and disrupt mass transit across the territory.
The Cross-Harbor Tunnel, usually crammed with traffic almost any time of the day, was empty after the road leading to one side of the tunnel was blocked off by protesters late Wednesday. As a result, two other harbor-crossing tunnels were severely congested during morning rush hour.
Police fired rounds of tear gas at protesters hiding out at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus on the Kowloon Peninsula, after some of them shot arrows at police patrolling the area, according to the police.
The police said no officers were injured, but condemned the protesters. "Such an act can kill" someone, they said on their Facebook page.
Train tracks near Hung Hom Station on the peninsula were set on fire, temporarily forcing service suspension, while subway services were also intermittently disrupted by protesters.
Due to road blockages, only about a third of the city's bus routes were running.
Of the 86 injured, the 15-year-old boy in critical condition reportedly suffered a skull fracture. The police provided no further details on the teenager.
"If anyone still has any wishful thinking that they can achieve their so-called political ideals by using violence, it's time to wake up," police spokesman Tse Chun-chung told a news conference.
"You cannot fight for democracy by terrorizing the public to force others to support you," he said. "And if you still refuse to cut ties with rioters, if you are still looking for excuses to defend rioters, you are indeed an accomplice."
More than 20 locations on roads were blocked while at least 15 subway stations were closed, he added.
The Education Bureau has suspended all schools through Sunday, while most universities have either cut short the semester, suspended classes or offered online classes instead.
Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung denied reports that the government is considering imposing a curfew or other measures to curb the social unrest.
The reports surfaced after Lam held a meeting with other senior government officials late Wednesday.
"(The meeting) has no special meaning," Cheung said at a legislature session on Thursday. "It is not the first time we had these kinds of meeting. We have it all the time, to look for a way out (of the unrest)."
The government, in a statement issued late Thursday, dismissed as a rumor that it is imposing a curfew this weekend, calling it "totally unfounded."
The protests sparked by a now-withdrawn bill that sought to allow extraditions to mainland China have been ongoing since June, presenting the Hong Kong government with the biggest challenge yet since the former British colony's return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Protesters' demands have widened to include a probe into alleged police brutality, pardons for arrested protesters and democratic reform.