The University of Sydney has urged Australian students on exchange in Hong Kong to return home as pro-democracy protests intensify on university campuses, the ABC is reporting.

The university has written to students after Hong Kong University and other institutions suspended classes for the last few weeks of semester.

The ABC obtained an email that said the safety of students was of “utmost concern and based on all the information available to us, and in light that HKU has now suspended/cancelled the semester, the University of Sydney requires you to depart HK immediately and make your way back to Australia”.

“If you have already left HK, please let me know where you are now,” it says.

“If you need assistance and advice on how to depart HK, please let me know and USYD will assist you.”

Universities have this week become a focus of battles between riot police and anti-government demonstrators demanding greater democracy. On Tuesday police raided the Chinese University of Hong Kong, setting off violent clashes and a swell of criticism.

A new Hong Kong extradition law is proposed, which would allow people to be transferred to mainland China for a variety of crimes. Residents fear it could lead to politically motivated extraditions into China’s much harsher judicial system.

Large public demonstrations start as thousands march in the streets to protest against the extradition bill.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, introduces concessions to the extradition bill, including limiting the scope of extraditable offences, but critics say they are not enough.

The scale of protests continues to increase as more than half a million people take to the streets. Police use rubber bullets and teargas against the biggest protests Hong Kong has seen for decades.

Lam says the proposed extradition law has been postponed indefinitely.

The protests continue as demonstrators storm the Legislative Council, destroying pictures, daubing graffiti on the walls and flying the old flag of Hong Kong emblazoned with the British union flag. The protests coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the UK back to China.

Armed men in white T-shirts thought to be supporting the Chinese government attack passengers and passers-by in Yuen Long metro station, while nearby police take no action.

44 protesters are charged with rioting, which further antagonises the anti-extradition bill movement.

By now the protest movement has coalesced around five key demands: complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, withdrawal of the use of the word “riot” in relation to the protests, unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped, an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.

The first charges are brought against protesters for covering their faces, after authorities bring in new laws banning face masks in order to make it easier to identify or detain protesters.

Chan Tong-kai, the murder suspect whose case prompted the original extradition bill is released from prison, saying that he is willing to surrender himself to Taiwan. The extradition bill is also formally withdrawn, a key demand of protesters.

Police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in recent days.

Protesters have brought supplies including petrol bombs and bows and arrows, international media has reported.

On Thursday students from Europe as well as mainland China and Taiwan were leaving the city after a night of clashes that resulted in several serious injuries, including a fractured skull to a 15-year-old boy and an elderly worker who was struck by an object during a clash between protesters and residents.

Australia expressed its concern over the escalating violence this week, with the foreign minister, Marise Payne, calling for restraint from all sides.

“We reiterate our view that it is crucial for all sides – police and protesters – to exercise restraint and take genuine steps to de-escalate tensions,” she said in a statement.

University students have been permitted to complete their courses and exams online.

Guardian Australia contacted the University of Sydney for comment.


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