Hundreds of protesters remain trapped inside a Hong Kong university campus as the city’s police forces clash with young demonstrators trying to escape the conflict-hit site.

The chaos marks a high point in long-running tensions between pro-democracy protesters and Hong Kong authorities, who critics claim have relinquished elements of the city-state’s independence to mainland China.

There’s a lot going on here, and there’s a lot more to come, but understanding what’s going on seems pretty important for anyone in the Asia-Pacific region (and if you’re reading this, that probably means you).

The Guardian reports demonstrators are attempting to circumvent a police cordon around Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), which has seen some of the most intense clashes between activists and Hong Kong authorities since protests erupted in June.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Oiwan Li, a PolyU student representative, said police had surrounded all of the university’s exits and tried infiltrating the campus to force protesters to surrender. Many remain barricaded inside as they hide from police.

But Hong Kong Free Press reports police fired tear gas at those who did try to flee and at crowds trying to administer aid to the trapped demonstrators, despite PolyU President Teng Jin-Guang‘s assurances those trapped inside would be fairly treated upon their surrender.

Li confirmed protesters had hurled Molotov cocktails at authorities who tried to storm the premises and arrest the demonstrators on rioting charges, which carry a maximum punishment of ten years behind bars. More than 150 have already been arrested.

People’s Daily – the Chinese Communist Party’s official news publication – states officers have been attacked with catapults, ball bearings, and by bow and arrow.

“PolyU is now facing the biggest crisis since its establishment over 80 years ago,” Li said.

“This incident is the most severe humanitarian crisis in the current democratic movement.”

Confronting footage from the perimeter of PolyU shows protesters rappelling from a bridge and onto motorcycles waiting to ferry them to safety.

The protesters, many of whom have barricaded themselves in PolyU buildings for a week, are part of city-wide action protesting the leadership of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

The protests kicked off earlier this year in response to a planned bill which would permit the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China, which demonstrators saw as a violation of Hong Kong’s relative independence from Beijing’s leadership.

While the bill was scrapped after enormous protests, the movement has coalesced into a broader anti-government force, with the PolyU protesters pushing for an even larger general strike.

There are fears the ongoing conflict could be exacerbated if Hong Kong’s leaders decide to postpone district elections which were slated for next Sunday.

Those elections are seen as a democratic recourse the protesters have against Hong Kong’s current leadership, the absence of which might make the protests even more chaotic.

Image: Miguel Candela / EPA