Hong Kong police shot a protester as violent clashes erupted across the Asian financial hub on Tuesday, sullying China’s attempts to project a strong and unified image to the world on the 70th anniversary of Communist party rule.
Video footage showed a police officer shooting the 18-year-old in the chest with a pistol at point blank range — the first time anyone has been shot in four months of often violent demonstrations in the city — during a running battle between police and protesters. The man, who was identified as a high school student, was taken to hospital, where staff said his condition was critical.
Hong Kong police commissioner Stephen Lo said at a late night press conference that the officer who fired the shot acted in a “sensible and lawful” manner because he was facing a life-threatening situation. He added that the protester had been placed under arrest for assaulting a police officer. Mr Lo added that 25 police officers had been injured.
The shooting came on one of the most violent days yet in the wave of protests that have hit the territory, which returned to Beijing’s rule in 1997, with clashes still under way late on Tuesday evening. Financial Times journalists witnessed another protester being beaten unconscious by police in a separate clash. The city’s Hospital Authority said it had treated 66 people aged 11 to 75 years old, including two who were in critical condition.
Authorities also released photographs of a police officer who had been attacked with a corrosive liquid, the skin on his chest and arms covered in welts.
“I’m ready to die for the movement, I’m not afraid,” said a 15-year-old student who gave his name as Xiu. “If my death would mean Hong Kong got freedom and genuine democracy, then it would be worth it.”
Hong Kong began the day in lockdown, with almost 30 shopping malls and a number of metro stations closed on what is normally a busy public holiday. The measures highlight the significant economic cost the protests have caused the city since they began four months ago.
“The so-called National Day is a day for mourning. We are mourning those who sacrificed for democracy in China . . . it’s 70 years of suppression,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a former legislator and democracy activist, marching in one of the city’s biggest shopping districts that is usually flooded with mainland Chinese tourists.
But as crowds of demonstrators fought police, threw petrol bombs and smashed public property in Hong Kong, Beijing staged its biggest ever military parade in a move intended to project an aura of confidence and power to its people and to the wider world.
“Unity is iron, unity is steel, unity is strength,” said Xi Jinping, China’s president, in a speech delivered to a huge banquet on the eve of the national day celebrations in Beijing that was attended by Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s beleaguered chief executive.
The parade unveiled startling advances in China’s weapons arsenal, including the Dongfeng 41 missile, which analysts said was capable of hitting any target in the US, carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads and travelling at 25 times the speed of sound. An estimated 15,000 troops, 160 warplanes and 580 tanks also took part in the parade.
“There is no force that can obstruct the advance of the People’s Republic of China,” Mr Xi said in a speech as he stood on Tiananmen gate in central Beijing — the same hallowed spot from which Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the birth of the People’s Republic in 1949.
Donald Trump, US president, applauded Mr Xi on the parade, writing on Twitter: “Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!”
But China’s display belied the problems the country faces. Its economy is growing at the slowest pace in almost 30 years, a swine fever epidemic has sent pork prices soaring, fallout from the trade war with the US is starting to bite and the island of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as its sovereign territory, appears likely to vote for a pro-independence candidate at presidential elections next year.
But Hong Kong remains Beijing’s most pressing concern. As Mr Xi exhorted China to unity and Ms Lam sat grinning on the official review stand as she watched Beijing’s parade rumble past, the former British colony exploded in open rebellion.
“The Hong Kong government has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of a broad spectrum of the population,” said Joseph Cheng, a Hong Kong political commentator. “Unfortunately, it has no way to recover it. It is seen to be too eager to toe the Beijing line and not ready to stand up for the rights of the Hong Kong people.”
Anti-government protesters wear Guy Fawkes masks © AP
The demonstrators, who numbered in the hundreds of thousands on Tuesday, have five main demands, including genuine direct elections for the post of chief executive and for Hong Kong’s de facto parliament, the Legislative Council. Ms Lam has already acceded to another of the protesters’ demands, pledging to withdraw a controversial extradition bill.
But for many Hong Kong people, simple anger is the animating energy behind the protests, analysts say. The clashes that erupted on Tuesday in multiple locations displayed a new level of violence in a movement that represents the biggest rebellion on Chinese soil since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.
The run-up to the shooting of the 18-year-old student followed a typical sequence of events. About 20 protesters, mostly wearing their signature black clothes and face masks, chased a handful of police officers to a stretch of pavement in front of the Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-fried Bun shop in Tsuen Wan district, video footage showed.
The protesters set upon the police, beating them with metal poles, umbrellas and fists. Then a police officer shot his pistol directly at the student, who collapsed to the ground instantly. As one of his comrades tried to tend to him, another officer attacked him, pulling him off and pinning him to the ground.
A police spokesperson said: “The police officers’ lives were under serious threat. To save his own life and his colleagues’ lives, he fired a live shot at the assailant. One 18-year-old man was shot. His left shoulder area was injured. The police do not wish to see anyone injured in the incident. It is really heartbreaking.”
Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, said: “Whilst there is no excuse for violence, the use of live ammunition is disproportionate, and only risks inflaming the situation.”
The 70th anniversary has bestowed on China the distinction of being the longest surviving communist regime, outlasting by one year the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991.
Additional reporting by Sue-Lin Wong, Jamil Anderlini and George Hammond in Hong Kong
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