Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Hong Kong protester shot by police in violent Chinese National Day clashes

Live rounds also fired in other areas of the city in dramatic turn

Protests in Hong Kong took a dramatic turn on Tuesday after police shot a demonstrator in the chest at close range during clashes across the city.

The clashes erupted in five neighbourhoods in one of the most violent days since the protests began.

They came as Chinese president Xi Jinping held lavish celebrations and a military parade in Beijing to celebrate his nation’s 70th National Day.

Traditionally, Hong Kong would observe China’s National Day with a flag-raising ceremony and fireworks at Victoria Harbour.

But this year, public viewing of the flag raising and the fireworks were cancelled in anticipation of anther day of violence.

On Monday, members of an online platform that is used to co-ordinate protests in Hong Kong told each other to stay safe as they planned one of their biggest protests yet.

“Remember peers, tomorrow is not an ‘end game'. We cannot lose any of you,” one user wrote on LIHKG.

This summer's protests were ignited by a plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland. The plan has since been scrapped.

But protests have snowballed into a wider movement calling for democratic rights and police accountability after Beijing and the city's Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, took a hard line.

The day began calmly with empty streets and little sign of the coming chaos.

But by 2pm local time, protesters had set up roadblocks and tried to confront the police at various gathering points, putting the whole city on alert.

Protesters learnt from arrests on September 29 and instead of congregating in one place in Hong Kong island, they fanned out across districts on both sides of Victoria Harbour.

Demonstrations took place at Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Wan Chai and Tuen Mun, in a bid to stretch police manpower.

Before the protests began, Hong Kong’s metro authority, under orders from the city’s police, closed off Prince Edward, Wan Chai and Admiralty metro stations.

Prince Edward, on Hong Kong island and Kowloon, has been a point for protesters since August 31 when they accused police of killing three people inside the station.

As Tuesday progressed, another 47 stations were closed, leaving many demonstrators stranded.

During a violent clash between the police and protesters in the Tsuen Wan district in the north-west of the city, a student protester, 18, was shot by the police in the chest at point-blank range.

It was the first such injury from a live round in nearly four months of increasingly violent protests.

After receiving first aid on site, he was taken by ambulance to Princess Margaret Hospital, where he remains in a critical condition.

Two nurses at the hospital said the bullet penetrated the protester’s lung, but his heart and main blood vessels remain intact.

On Tuesday evening, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung defended the officer's action.

“The officer on the ground, in a split-second moment while being attacked, opened fire with his gun because he hoped to stop his and his colleagues’ lives being threatened," Mr Wai-chung said.

"He had to make the decision in such a short time to open fire at this attacker. I trust in his judgment and believe that he thought it was the best judgment, and that it was reasonable and legal."

Mr Wai-chung also defended the officer firing at point-blank range.

“The problem of the distance wasn’t up to my colleague to decide," he said. "It was the attacker who decided to come so close.

"At that moment he had no choice. He could only use the weapon that he had available in his own hands to stop this situation.”

Live rounds were also discharged in other areas of Hong Kong, including two warning shots fired skyward in Yau Ma Tei and Wong Tai Sin, but appeared to have caused no injury.

Hospital authorities said on Tuesday evening that 51 people had been injured in the running battles with police, two of them in critical condition.

Shortly after the shooting, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called for restraint from both sides.

“While there is no excuse for violence, the use of live ammunition is disproportionate and only risks inflaming the situation," Mr Raab said.

"This incident underlines the need for a constructive dialogue to address the legitimate concerns of the people of Hong Kong."

The British handed the city over to Chinese rule in 1997 in an agreement that created a “one country, two systems” principle for the island to be treated differently to mainland China.

Demonstrators have called for the UK to step in to secure their democratic rights, including through protests outside the British consulate.

Some protesters’ tactics also turned violent as Tuesday wore on.

Hong Kong police said one officer and some journalists were hit by corrosive liquid thrown by protesters at Tuen Mun in the afternoon, causing burns to the policeman's chest.

A fire broke out after a petrol bomb was thrown at government houses in Cheung Sha Wan, and the offices of pro-Beijing politicians Wong Kwol-kin and Ho Kai-ming.

RTHK, Hong Kong’s public TV and radio station, said one of its reporters was hit in the head with a projectile in Sham Shui Po district, in north-central Kowloon.

Media outlets including RTHK and South China Morning Post decided to withdraw some or all reporters back to base to ensure their safety.

At the main sites of conflict – Wan Chai, Sha Tin and Wong Tai Sin – police fired rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets while protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs.

At Wong Tai Sin, motorcycles were set alight with smoke visible from at least a kilometre away.

For many, October 1 was a milestone for progress for the months-long anti-government movement.

Protesters assumed China would want to avoid their demonstration taking over media reports of its National Day, and so would enforce a deadline for Ms Lam to pacify the movement before Beijing officially intervened.

But recent reports in the South China Morning Post claim she was forced to obtain permission from Mr Xi for almost every major decision in Hong Kong, including the withdrawal of the extradition bill early last month.

Updated: October 8, 2019 12:06 AM

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