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Hong Kong protests

International criticism mounts after protester is shot in Hong Kong

On China's National Day, anti-government demonstrations erupt across city

A Hong Kong protester appears to be shot in the chest by a police officer in this frame from a video on the Facebook page of HKUSU Campus TV, which said it was from the scene of a violent protest on Oct. 1. The Nikkei Asian Review was unable to confirm the veracity of the video. (Photo from HKUSU Campus TV/Kyodo)

HONG KONG -- Violence in Hong Kong escalated dramatically on Tuesday as a demonstrator was shot by police with a live round, marring Beijing's ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Police confirmed that an 18-year-old man was shot while he was attacking officers. Local media reported that the man was a secondary school student who was sent to a hospital and was in critical condition. A video of the incident, filmed by the City University Student Union and shared on social media, shows an officer drawing a revolver and firing at the protester, who collapsed on the street with his chest bleeding.

U.S. lawmakers immediately criticized the actions. "As Hong Kong continues to violate the basic rights of its citizens the U.S. & the world are watching," China hawk Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted Tuesday.

Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted: "The Butchers of Beijing celebrate 70 years of communist tyranny by shooting a student marching for freedom in Hong Kong. What a sadly appropriate way to mark a dark, lamentable anniversary."

The Chinese Communist Party "has always squashed dissent with force," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

The comments stood in contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweeted words of congratulations to Beijing in the morning.

"Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!" Trump wrote.

Over at the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that "as a matter of principle for the secretary-general, we've always called for demonstrations to be peaceful and for security services to exercise restraint." 

Hong Kong Police Chief Stephen Lo defended the officer's action to fire at the protester, describing it as "reasonable" and "legitimate." Lo said in a midnight press briefing that the officer was under attack by a group of "rioters" and felt his life and his colleagues' lives were being seriously threatened.

"The officer really had no choice but to fire back," Lo said, adding that the officer had warned the protester before opening fire. He said that the police in total fired six live rounds on Tuesday on four occasions and believed only the one incident involving the 18-year-old caused injuries.

An anti-government protester runs through a cloud of tear gas during a protest in Sham Shui Po district, on China's National Day in Hong Kong on Oct. 1.   © Reuters

Police on Tuesday arrested more than 180 people for rioting, assaulting police, taking part in unlawful assembly and illegal possession of weapons, Lo said. Twenty-five police officers were injured during Tuesday's operations.

"Today it's really sad for me. National Day was supposed to be a day of celebrating and being happy," Lo said. "Unfortunately, some rioters chose to do all sort of criminal damages, arson ... which are more or less equivalent to riot offences."

This marked the first time that a demonstrator was hit by live ammunition since major protests began in early June. Until Tuesday, the use of live rounds by police was limited to warning shots.

In scenes resembling urban warfare, local television showed images of violence and vandalism, multiple fires that included motorcycles ablaze, and police using water cannons on protesters. A local reporter shared a video on social media of a Molotov cocktail being thrown into the railway station in the Central business district.

Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and sponge grenades in several districts around the city where protesters set up barricades to block roads. Police said that some "rioters" had used "corrosive fluid," injuring officers and journalists, and released photos of the alleged attacks.

Police said they had raided 48 premises in various Hong Kong locations on Monday and Tuesday and arrested 44 people in connection with the manufacturing of gasoline bombs and explosives. "A large number of offensive weapons, raw materials of dangerous goods and protective gear suspected to be related to the recent protests were seized," police said in a statement.

Police warned earlier this week of potentially "extremely dangerous" attacks being planned by radical protesters during the National Day holiday. The department said its intelligence suggested that hard-liners were recruiting people with "suicide tendencies" to conduct dangerous acts, including dressing up as police officers to infiltrate and kill real policemen.

The action pushes Hong Kong "one step closer to terrorism," said Tse Chun-chung, police public relations branch chief superintendent, at a news conference on Monday.

Elsewhere in Hong Kong on Tuesday, tens of thousands of protesters dressed mostly in black marched peacefully through major commercial areas despite a police ban on the rally. Protesters, calling it a "national mourning day," stopped at one point to hold a one-minute silent tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives in fighting for democracy in China.

"Today we are mourning those who were sacrificed for the democracy of China," Lee Cheuk-yan, leader of the pro-democracy Labour Party, told reporters. "It has been 70 years of suppression of democracy." Lee and several pan-democrats called on the public to ignore the police ban and march peacefully.

The police last week rejected an application by the Civil Human Rights Front to organize a massive march on Tuesday. The pro-democracy group has organized several million-person marches since the protests began in June over a now-suspended extradition law.

More than 20 shopping malls and many restaurants were closed on Tuesday, after police said that intelligence suggested some hard-line protesters were planning to throw gasoline bombs into crowded shopping centers. Extra walls and fences were placed outside some office buildings in commercial districts.

The operator of the city's rail system, MTR, closed about 40 stations -- nearly half of the entire rail network -- including Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Admiralty, where protesters and police clashed in a tense standoff on Sunday.

Hong Kong's international airport, which had been shut down several times over the summer due to protests, was also making special arrangements amid online calls to block traffic to the transport hub. Airport Express trains were only carrying passengers between Hong Kong station and the airport, skipping three other stations. The in-town check-in service at Kowloon station was to remain suspended for the entire day.

Around 20 people from the League of Social Democrats, a pro-democracy political party, appeared at a demonstration in Wan Chai on Tuesday morning. They clashed with a group of pro-Beijing protesters, which prompted police to use pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Dozens of protesters, many holding British national flags, staged a rally outside the British Consulate General's office around noon. They sang the U.K. national anthem and chanted anti-government slogans.

Hong Kong officials held a scaled-back ceremony on Tuesday to mark the National Day holiday. Meanwhile, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, was seen standing on the rostrum in Tiananmen Square on Tuesday morning amid celebrations in Beijing presided over by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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