Hong Kong police shoot protester as pro-democracy unrest spirals into rare working-hours violence

Sophia Yan
Police fired tear gas in the Central business district - REUTERS

A protester was shot and a man set on fire on Monday as protests in Hong Kong spilled into rare daytime hours, forcing public transport, offices and schools to shut down.

A 21-year-old activist was in critical condition after being shot and wounded at around 7.20am as traffic police trying to stop protesters from blocking a road fired three live shots with no prior warning.

Police later said all were meant to be warning shots, as the officers felt their lives were under threat. Video circulating online showed an officer holding a protester and pointing his gun at another, firing at close range.

Another man was admitted to hospital for burns, after he was set on fire. Videos online show protesters arguing with a man in a green t-shirt, as he criticises Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists. A masked person in black then throws liquid over the man, and sets him on fire.

The violence is pushing Hong Kong to the “brink of no return,” said Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam. She condemned the protesters’ “wishful thinking” that escalating violence would force the government to meet their demands. 

Police fired tear gas in the Central business district Credit:  REUTERS/Thomas Peter

“I’m making this statement clear and loud here: That will not happen,” Ms Lam said. “Violence is not going to give us any solution.” 

Chaos erupted as news of the use of live rounds spread, and as video circulated online of a police officer driving his motorcycle into protesters, further inflaming tensions. The police said the officer was suspended and under investigation.

Police fired tear gas in several neighbourhoods, as clashes broke out throughout the day, including in the central business district. Subway stations were closed and bus routes halted as activists blocked roads and vandalised stations. Protesters also threw petrol bombs inside a rail car holding passengers, a subway spokesperson told local media. 

 

Protests are now a near-daily occurrence, sometimes flaring up with little or no notice, engulfing city in the biggest political challenge ever against Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Skirmishes are increasingly violent, with protesters vandalising buildings and throwing petrol bombs and bricks at police, government offices, as well as people or businesses thought to be pro-Beijing or sympathetic to police. 

Police have responded with greater force, using tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and sponge grenades, making more than 3,000 arrests since protests began early June. The first use of live rounds came in August, when two protesters, aged 14 and 18, were shot, both of whom survived.

Some office workers took shelter from the tear gas inside a mall Credit: Nicole Tung/Bloomberg

Activists increasingly resent the police for using what they call disproportionate force in handling the protests. 

The live rounds on Monday “are clear evidence of reckless use of force,” said Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong. “These are not policing measures – these are officers out of control with a mindset of retaliation.”

“These behaviours call their training in question and the commands they have been given – officers should be deployed to de-escalate difficult crowd control situations, not make them worse,” said Mr Tam.

Underpinning the protests are widespread fears that Hong Kong’s unique freedoms are eroding under Beijing rule. Some protesters have also called for independence, something Chinese Communist Party leaders will never tolerate. 

Beijing has decried the protests as the work of Western governments trying to foment unrest to destabilise China, without giving any evidence.