HONG KONG – An 18-year-old Hongkonger is in a critical condition in hospital after being shot in the chest at close range with a live round by the police Tuesday, as the Asian financial hub was convulsed by unprecedented chaos on a day when communist China celebrated its 70th birthday.
At least 31 people, including the teenage student with a gunshot wound, were admitted to hospitals with injuries as at 18:00 local time (1000 GMT) Tuesday, according to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority. Two persons are in a critical condition, one serious, 17 stable and 11 have been discharged.
The young man’s injury marked the first time a protester has been injured by police live round since the anti-government demonstration movement erupted in the semiautonomous Chinese city in early June.
The incident, which sent shockwaves through Hong Kong, occurred at around 4:15 pm in the residential area of Tsuen Wan.
TV footage captured by the local media shows a group of police officers clashing with a group of umbrella-wielding black-clad protesters. While the latter hurled objects such as bricks at the police, one officer aimed his gun at the protesters – the closest one apparently being about two meters away – and fired a live round.
One of the black-clad protesters then fell to the ground. Still conscious, he said: “Take me to the hospital. My chest hurts. Take me to the hospital.” He also identified himself as Tsang Chi-kin while being attended to by paramedics.
Speaking of the incident in a video statement later, a police spokeswoman said “a large group of rioters” attacked the police officers whose lives were therefore “under threat.”
“To save his own live and his colleagues’ lives, he fired a live round at the assailant,” the spokeswoman spoke of the officer who deployed his gun, adding that the young man’s “left shoulder area” was injured.
A source close to the hospital to which Tsang, reportedly a high school student, was admitted told EFE that the victim underwent a chest drain and a bullet was located three centimeters from his heart.
The incident happened on China’s National Day, which anti-government protesters had been describing over the past week as “a day of mourning,” in contrast to the importance that Hong Kong authorities and Beijing attached to the day.
Instead of toeing the official line to celebrate the day, the protesters took to the streets in at least seven districts across Hong Kong to show their defiance of China and the Hong Kong government, which is headed by pro-Beijing officials.
Just a couple of hours after China kicked off one of its biggest ever military parades to celebrate the National Day at 10:00 am local time, 2,000 kilometers away in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people marched on streets.
The largely peaceful rallies soon descended into chaos with riot police resorting to firing multiple rounds of teargas and pepper spray at demonstrators in various areas, from the commercial area of Wan Chai to the residential suburb of Tuen Mun.
Frontline protesters, invariably masked and clad in black, vandalized traffic lights and facilities in metro stations, set bonfires on streets and broke the windows of specific shops deemed pro-government or pro-police. In Tuen Mun, a small group of people threw Molotov cocktails.
The area near the Liaison Office, Beijing’s organ in the semiautonomous Chinese city, was ringed by a blanket presence of riot police officers and water cannon vehicles were on standby shortly around 3:00 pm when a relatively group of protesters emerged briefly.
At around 4:20 pm, the police deployed water cannons mixed with blue dye to dispel the crowds.
A yet-to-be confirmed number of people have been subdued and taken away by the police, including a young woman who was slapped by a riot police officer on the face when she was subdued in Tuen Mun.
For weeks in the lead-up to October 1, Hong Kong has been on the edge with many expecting fierce clashes between the police and hardcore protesters with an intent to put a damper on celebrations of the National Day.
“No National Day But National Calamity” was one of the most often chanted slogans in various marches today, as the financial hub has entered its 17th week of protest movement, initially surrounding a controversial government bill and now broadening to encompass demands including greater democracy and more autonomy from Beijing.
None of the rallies today were authorized by the police, but demonstrators were undaunted.
Lee Cheuk-yah, one of the three ex-lawmakers who fronted a mass protest that took place in the busy area of Causeway Bay, said: “We come out here today to protest against the Chinese Communist Party’s 70 years of brutal rule and the way it has eroded Hong Kong’s freedom. We are exercising our legal right to public assembly.”
Apart from marching and chanting slogans, protesters also used other ways to express their frustrations and anger with the power that be.
In Tsuen Wan, people threw various objects at a cardboard bearing a big image of Winnie-the-Pooh, the honey-loving bear that mainland Chinese netizens like to compare with Xi Jinping as a lighthearted way to mock the Chinese president.
In other rallies, a Chinese national flag was burned and a poster of Xi was hurled with eggs.
To brace for possible chaos, the city’s underground train operator MTR Corporation has closed over 25 metro stations, which protesters normally rely heavily on to travel to and from protest areas.
Meanwhile, Carrie Lam, the city’s top leader, was with a 240-strong delegation from Hong Kong to attend National Day celebration activities in Beijing.