Hundreds joined spontaneous rallies in Hong Kong on Wednesday to protest the shooting of a teenage student by a police officer who had come under attack by pro-democracy activists the day before.
This was the first such injury from live ammunition fired after four months of escalating political unrest in the global financial hub. Tsang Chi-kin, 18, was in stable condition, but remained in intensive care as of Wednesday morning, according to the city’s hospital authority.
Protesters marched through three neighbourhoods, halting traffic for a few hours on main avenues in the city’s main business district and chanting “disband the police force now.”
Demonstrators were of all ages, with some in t-shirts and shorts and others in suits, many of whom appealed to passersby to participate in the ad hoc demonstration.
“It is tragic for the government to accept tacitly for the police to use live round on protesters,” said Thomas, 25, who declined to give his last name.
It’s a distinct rallying cry heard across Hong Kong as mass protests near the end of their fourth month.
On Tuesday, skirmishes broke out in several neighbourhoods between police and protesters, whose calls for greater democratic freedoms tarnished carefully-orchestrated festivities in Beijing celebrating 70 years of Communist Party rule.
Hong Kong police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung confirmed that a total of six live shots were fired on Tuesday.
Twenty-five officers were injured in clashes on Oct 1, with 180 people arrested on charges including rioting, illegal assembly, possession of weapons, attacking police officers. Rioting is considered a serious offence in Hong Kong, punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Mr Tsang, who underwent surgery, was among those arrested for assaulting an officer, and the police are investigating to decide whether to press further charges, said Mr Lo, the police commissioner.
Hong Kong protests
State media in China supported the police officer’s actions, saying his decision to shoot was “totally legal and reasonable,” and blamed the city’s ongoing unrest on “manipulators.”
Protests first broke out against an extradition proposal that would have sent suspects to face trial in China, where the Communist Party controls the courts.
Hong Kong leaders have since pledged to formally withdraw the bill, though activists’ calls have evolved to include wider democratic reforms, such as direct leadership elections and an independent inquiry into police handling of the protests.
China's 70th anniversary: Parades in Beijing, protests in Hong Kong – in pictures
The semi-autonomous territory has long enjoyed freedoms as part of a deal when the former British colony was returned to Beijing rule, though residents say those rights are now under threat with the Communist Party exerting greater control.
As the protests are the greatest popular challenge since president Xi Jinping took power in 2012, Beijing has allowed only selective mention of the unrest in mainland China where government censors tightly control news and information, condemning activists as “terrorists” and accusing Western governments of fomenting a “colour revolution” to destabilise China.