Hong Kong suffers 'one of most violent days in history' as students strike over shooting of classmate

Adam Withnall
Riot police clash with anti-government protesters during a demonstration in Sha Tin district, on China's National Day: REUTERS

Hong Kong experienced “one of the most violent days” in its history on Tuesday, the city’s police chief has said, as protesters clashed with police on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China.

More than 100 demonstrators were taken to hospital and 180 arrested, authorities said, while an 18-year-old protester who was shot in the chest by police at point-blank range was in a stable condition after surgery.

Police chief Stephen Lo defended the actions of the officer who shot teenager Tsang Chi-kin, an incident which was caught on camera by a student union group and sparked fresh protests outside the school Tsang attended on Wednesday.

Mr Lo told a news conference he was left saddened by Tuesday’s bloody scenes, some of the worst in the months-long political crisis.

“Our national day is supposed to be a day to celebrate and be happy,” he said. Instead, it had been “one of the most violent, chaotic days in the history of Hong Kong”.

The officer who shot Tsang had feared for his life and made a “split-second” decision to open fire with live rounds, Mr Lo told reporters. Video of the incident shows the teenager was striking at the officer with a pole when he was hit.

Mr Lo refused to answer questions as to why the officer did not use other non-lethal means. “It was the attacker who decided to come so close,” he said. “He had no choice, he could only use the weapon that he had available.”

He described protesters as “rioters” who were intent on “all these sorts of criminal damages” including arson and assaulting police officers, 25 of whom had been injured.

But outside the Tsuen Wan Public Ho Chuen Yiu Memorial College - the secondary school which Tsang attended - students chanted anti-police slogans, shouting “murderer” and demanding accountability.

Several hundred people, including students striking in solidarity with their wounded classmate, held up placards and sat cross-legged outside the school in the Tsuen Wan district of the city.

One held a hand-written message condemning "thug police”. Others held their arms across the chest below their left shoulders, symbolising the location of Tsang’s gunshot wound.

"The Hong Kong police have gone trigger-happy and nuts," pro-democracy politician Claudia Mo said.

Having repeatedly viewed video of the shooting, Ms Mo said: "The sensible police response should have been using a police baton or pepper spray, etcetera, to fight back.

"It wasn't exactly an extreme situation and the use of live bullet simply cannot be justified."

The shooting was the first using live rounds since the unrest began in June, although officers have fired warning shots in the past and protesters have been struck with non-lethal means including bean bag rounds.

More protests are planned in response, and there were reports of other schools seeing classroom boycotts on Wednesday in solidarity.

Meanwhile, municipal workers cleaned up streets across the city that had been battlegrounds late into the night on Tuesday. Protesters had set fires and vandalised some public utilities, while police deployed tear gas and water cannon at various locations.

The MTR Corp became a target for attacks after it made the decision to shut nearly 50 stations to make it harder for protesters to move around.

By early Wednesday, all metro stations were open although some lines were running slower than normal as MTR workers tried to repair damage to prepare the service for the nearly 6 million people who use it every day.

The scenes on Tuesday contrasted dramatically from the highly orchestrated displays in Beijing, where military and civilian parades were held to mark the fact that Mao Zedong had founded the People’s Republic on that date in 1949.

Carrie Lam and a delegation of Hong Kong officials attended the Beijing celebrations in what was described as a show of unity with the central government, and Ms Lam smiled as a float representing Hong Kong passed by.

In Hong Kong itself, official events marking National Day had been scaled back in anticipation of unrest. At a muted reception, Hong Kong’s chief secretary Matthew Cheung told guests that the city had become "unrecognisable" due to the violent acts of protesters.

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