Hong Kong flash-mob rallies erupt as anger mounts over shot protester

Jerome TAYLOR, Yan ZHAO

Hong Kong (AFP) - Flash-mob rallies broke out in Hong Kong Wednesday as anger mounted over police shooting a teenage protester who attacked officers in a dramatic escalation of the violent unrest that has engulfed the territory for months.

Large crowds of demonstrators held unsanctioned marches through the commercial centre and then in multiple districts throughout the evening, when police fired brief volleys of tear gas in one neighbourhood, chanting anti-police and anti-government slogans.

Hundreds of students also staged a sit-in at the school of Tsang Chi-kin, 18, who was shot in the chest by a policeman as he and a group of masked protesters assaulted officers with umbrellas and poles.

Police fired brief volleys of tear gas at crowds.

The international finance hub has been left reeling from the shooting, the first time a demonstrator has been struck with a live round in nearly four months of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.

Tuesday witnessed the worst clashes of the summer as China celebrate 70 years of Communist Party rule with a massive military parade in Beijing.

The spiralling violence underscored seething public anger against Beijing's rule and shifted the spotlight from China's carefully choreographed birthday party.

Running battles raged for hours across multiple locations as hardcore protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs. Police responded for the most part with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon.

As criticism rose, police launched a spirited defence of their colleague saying he feared for his life and the safety of his colleagues.

"He only had one option, that is to fire the gun to immediately resolve the danger," deputy commissioner Tang Ping-keung told reporters on Wednesday.

The Junior Police Officer's Association also called on authorities to use colonial-era emergency regulations and impose a curfew as it launched a stinging attack on the city's pro-Beijing leaders.

"The Police force has been fighting alone," JPOA chairman Lam Chi-wai said, lamenting the lack of a political solution to the chaos.

- 'Sick and tired' -

Opinion towards Tuesday's shooting has largely cemented along ideological divides with pro-democracy activists condemning the police and establishment figures calling it a justified use of force.

Protest groups said the officer charged into the melee with his firearm drawn and failed to fire a warning shot as they condemned the increasing use of live rounds.

"The people of Hong Kong are sick and tired of having mere words of condemnation as their only shields against lethal bullets and rifles," a masked protester said at a press conference near Tsang's school.

Meanwhile lawyers acting for an Indonesian journalist who was shot in the face by a police rubber bullet on Sunday said doctors confirmed she would be at least partially blind in her right eye.

Tsang, who was filmed trying to strike the officer with a pole as he was shot, was taken to a nearby hospital in a critical condition but authorities said his condition had since improved.

A friend and classmate of Tsang, who gave his first name Marco, said the 18-year-old was a keen basketballer who was infuriated by sliding freedoms in Hong Kong and the police response to the protests.

"If he sees any problems or anything unjust, he would face it bravely, speak up against it, instead of bearing it silently," Marco told AFP.

Police said 30 officers were injured in the National Day clashes, including some who suffered chemical burns from a corrosive liquid that was thrown at them by protesters. The liquid also wounded some journalists.

Hospital authorities said more than 70 people were admitted on Tuesday.

- Record arrests and tear gas -

Outlining the extent of Tuesday's clashes, police revealed that they arrested 269 people, ranging from 12 to 71 years old -- the largest daily toll since protests began.

They also unleashed a record 1,400 rounds of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets, 230 sponge rounds, 190 bean bag rounds and five live rounds as warning shots.

Police fired 1,000 tear gas canisters in the first two months of the protests.

On Wednesday, 96 protesters arrested on Sunday -- mostly students but also including a teacher, a doctor, and an advertising executive -- appeared in court charged with rioting.

The protests were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.

But after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line they snowballed into a wider movement calling for democratic freedoms and police accountability.

With Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam seemingly unwilling or unable to find a political solution, police have been left to battle increasingly radicalised protesters.

Protesters and some residents routinely shout "triads" at officers who often respond by calling demonstrators "cockroaches".

The protest movement's main demands are an independent inquiry into police actions, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage.