‘Police think they are above the law’: Outrage after Hong Kong protester shot in the torso as tens of thousands take to streets

‘They are really scared of losing face on the National Day, so we want to let them know that we are going to fight for what we want and we are not scared’, says one protester 

Viola Gaskell
Hong Kong
Tuesday 01 October 2019 17:06
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Hong Kong police fire tear gas and a water cannon at protesters on China's 70th anniversary

Activists have vowed to fight on after a man was shot with a live round by police during violent clashes in Hong Kong, which saw tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets on China’s National Day.

The anti-government demonstrators, the majority of whom remain peaceful, set out to disrupt the 70th anniversary of communist rule in China, handing out fliers that called the event a “day of mourning” and singing the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong”.

But events took a violent turn after an officer fired a live round directly at a protester, the first such incident during four months of escalating violence on both sides.

The 18-year-old was shot in the torso at close range in the Tsuen Wan district. “Send me to hospital, my chest is hurting. I need to go to hospital,” the injured teenager said in videos shared by local media.

Police commissioner Stephen Lo, said: “The officer was under attack, his life was threatened. He made a very quick decision and shot the assailant. I believe it was his best judgement at the time.”

Mr Lo said the protester was conscious when he was taken to hospital. Local media outlet Apple Daily reported that he remained in a critical condition.

In total, 66 people were injured and more than 180 arrested, according to the South China Morning Post.

Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, condemned the use of live rounds, saying that “whilst there is no excuse for violence, the use of live ammunition is disproportionate, and only risks inflaming the situation”.

Earlier in the day, tens of thousands attended a march on Hong Kong Island, defying a police ban and risking arrest for participating in an unauthorised assembly. Demonstrators dressed in black chanted the now-enshrined protest anthems of “fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!” and “Hong Kong add oil!” – a Hong Kong saying akin to “Keep going!”, as they marched in the sweltering heat of the day.

US and British flags waved above the crowds, without what appeared to be a single Chinese flag in sight.

A 29-year-old protester named Tse, who attended the march until he was tear gassed during dispersal operations in the upscale shopping district of Causeway Bay, said that by protesting on National Day, demonstrators intended to “embarrass the Chinese Communist Party” while garnering international attention.

“They are really scared of losing face on the National Day, so we want to let them know that we are going to fight for what we want and we are not scared of any violent means of suppressing us and our ideas. This is another way for us to express and magnify what we are fighting for.”

Twenty five public transport stations were closed throughout the day and dozens of shopping malls announced they would be closed after the police issued a statement on Monday warning of violent acts planned for National Day.

Smaller rallies were held in six districts, in front of government offices, temples and playgrounds. Clashes began early in the day in Tuen Mun district, when protesters threw bricks and other random objects at officers who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

The police posted images of an officer injured by corrosive liquid that they say “rioters” threw during the clash in Tuen Mun.

Local broadcaster TVB said that one of its reporters sustained similar injuries.

In other districts, protesters blocked major roads and formed defensive lines with umbrellas and metal street railings that they connected with zip ties. Some protesters armed themselves with hiking sticks and stalks of bamboo.

In San Po Kong district, where protesters set small fires in the street, a university student named Truman, who was not taking part in the protests, said that an officer pointed his shotgun directly at him and others after they jeered at police from an elevated footbridge.

“We had nothing but our words,” he said. “For the police to respond that way to unarmed people, it makes me feel that they think they are above the law, that they have no guidelines anymore.”

An anti-government protester is arrested by police officers protesting during China National Day

As clashes continued to escalate into the night, multiple media companies, including local broadcaster RTHK and the South China Morning Post, pulled reporters from the streets as tear gas and rubber bullets were employed.

Many arrests were carried out violently as protesters set fires and threw petrol bombs in neighbourhoods on the peninsular side of the territory after Hong Kong Island protest sights were largely cleared by riot police.

The citywide protests initially broke out in June over a controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions to China.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but protesters’ demands have grown to include an independent inquiry into police violence and electoral reforms.

After more than a century as a British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. The semi-autonomous territory was assured a high degree of autonomy until 2047 but many residents fear that basic rights and freedoms enshrined in the city’s constitution are under threat.

The clashes in Hong Kong contrasted with anniversary celebrations in Beijing, which included a parade showcasing the country’s military might.

Among those attending was Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who demonstrators have repeatedly called on to resign due to her failure to handle the crisis.

Hong Kong chief secretary Matthew Cheung told hundreds of guests at a reception that the city has become “unrecognisable” due to the violence.

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