Hong Kong has been hit with another day of turmoil Tuesday after a man was shot by a police officer and another set alight following a confrontation with protesters in one of the most dramatic days in over five months of protests.
Some universities and schools shut Tuesday as protesters and riot police faced off around the Asian financial hub. By 8 a.m. police had already fired tear gas on the city’s streets.
At midday Tuesday, a few thousand people — including office workers and black-clad protesters — brought traffic to a standstill by occupying a major intersection in Central, the city’s business district. In the afternoon, police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and detained about a dozen people.
Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in Hong Kong’s New Territories also became a major flashpoint Tuesday. In the morning, protesters set up barricades and a collection of bows and arrows were spotted piled nearby. By the afternoon, tensions flared between police and protesters, with police firing tear gas as protesters threw petrol bombs, causing an empty car to go up in flames.
At both Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Hum, “masked rioters” dropped bricks from a footbridge, police spokesman Kong Wing-cheung said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. From another footbridge near the University of Hong Kong, “rioters” threw chairs and traffic cones at the traffic below, he said.
Kong said society had been “pushed to the brink of a total breakdown” over the past two days — and said if anyone who was still making excuses for protesters’ violence, they needed to “do some soul-searching.”
“If anyone still has any wishful thinking that they can achieve their so-called ideals by using violence, please wake up,” he said. “If you still refuse to cut ties with rioters and are still looking for excuses to defend them, you are indeed an accomplice.”
Earlier in the day, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam called out “aggressive rioters” who she said were trying to disrupt the city’s transport networks. “They want to paralyze Hong Kong, which is a selfish act,” she said.
Although some schools have shut for the day, Lam said the government is not officially suspending classes as it would give protesters what they wanted — to bring the city to a standstill.
Most subway lines remained operational throughout the day. However, some commuters were forced to walk along the train tracks in Sha Tin district after an unidentified object was found on the track, an MTR representative said.
Tuesday’s unrest follows a day of clashes around the city on Monday that saw protesters hurl petrol bombs, set fires, build barricades and disrupt transport. In total, 287 people were arrested on Monday, including 187 students, according to police.
A day of chaos
On Monday morning local time, a police officer shot a 21-year-old protester at close range in the torso in Sai Wan Ho, on eastern Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong Chief Superintendent of Police Tse Chun-Chung said the officer fired because he was afraid the protester would attempt to snatch the gun from his hand.
On Monday afternoon, police said there was no immediate threat to the protester’s life, and on Tuesday, hospital authorities said he was no longer in a critical condition. According to a police source, the protester has been arrested for unlawful assembly, and for attempted robbery over allegedly trying to grab the gun.
Police first used lethal force in October by firing a live shot and injuring an 18-year-old man.
In a separate incident on Monday afternoon, a 57-year-old man was doused with a flammable liquid and set alight after an argument with protesters on a footbridge in Ma On Shan, police said in a statement.
The man remains in a critical condition, according to Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority. Police are treating the case as attempted murder.
A police officer was suspended from front line service Monday after driving a motorbike through a crowd of protesters in Kwai Fung, in the New Territories, Tse said.
While police officers were under great pressure, they were not out of control, he said.
“We appeal to everyone to please stay calm and rational,” Tse added. “Continuing this rampage is a lose-lose situation for Hong Kong — everyone is a loser.”
Human rights group Amnesty International called Monday a “shocking low for the Hong Kong police,” describing the shooting of the protester as a “reckless use of force.”
Hong Kong’s protests began in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Since then, demonstrations have expanded to include five major demands, including an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and wider democratic reforms.
In response to the demands, the city government appointed a panel of overseas experts to assist Hong Kong’s longstanding Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), which is conducting a fact-finding study into alleged police misconduct during the protests.
But on Saturday, one of the experts tweeted a copy of the panel’s progress report, criticizing the IPCC’s investigative capabilities, and saying it needed to “substantially enhance its capacity” to assess evidence from witnesses and assemble a coherent account of the facts.
The IPCC said it was “disappointed” that it was not consulted before one of the overseas experts made the progress report public. On Sunday, the Hong Kong government said the IPCC’s study would be “by no means a final report.”
The nonstop protests have also sent retail and tourism numbers plunging, and the semi-autonomous city fell into recession in October. Travel is dropping as demonstrations escalate in violence, and there is increasing public hostility toward the city government and police force.
Monday’s violence comes just days after a university student died from a head injury suffered in a parking garage close to the scene of protests.
Chow Tsz-lok, a computer sciences student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), died on Friday morning after being on life support.
Although there is no indication that Chow was involved in the nearby protest the night of his injury, his death prompted an outpouring of anger and grief from anti-government protesters, who claim that police actions on the night of the accident resulted in paramedics being temporarily unable to access him, a charge the force denies.