HONG KONG: The police officer who fired his weapon at close range at a student protester did so because he feared for his life, said Hong Kong police on Wednesday (Oct 2).
The international finance hub was battered by the most sustained political violence of the year on Tuesday as China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule with a massive military parade in Beijing.
Running battles raged for hours across multiple locations in Hong Kong as hardcore protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs. Police responded for the most part with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.
In Tsuen Wan district, a police officer fired his weapon at close range into the chest of 18-year-old Tsang Chi-kin, as his unit was attacked by protesters armed with iron poles and umbrellas.
Police said the officer feared for his life on a day that saw his colleagues fire five warning shots from their pistols throughout the city.
"In this very short span of time, he made a decision and shot the assailant," police chief Stephen Lo said.
But protest groups hit back, saying the officer charged into the melee with his firearm drawn, and condemned the increasing use of live rounds.
Meanwhile, an Indonesian journalist who says police shot her in the eye with a rubber bullet while she was covering Sunday's protests has suffered some permanent vision loss, her lawyer said on Wednesday.
"Doctors treating (Veby Indah) have today informed her that regrettably the injury she received as a result of being shot by police, will result in permanent blindness in her right eye," her lawyer Michael Vidler said, adding that the full extent of her sight loss will be assessed after surgery.
"HK (has) fallen into a de facto police state," prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted. "The paramilitary security forces completely took over this city."
It was the first time that a demonstrator has been struck with a live round in nearly four months of increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong.
As criticism rose, the police again launched a defence of their colleague at a news conference on Wednesday.
"He only had one option, that is to fire the gun to immediately resolve the danger," deputy commissioner Tang Ping-keung told reporters.
Police pointed out that protesters had been "very ruthless" in attacking officers.
"The police are upset that someone is injured in the protest, regardless whether they are protesters or police. But in this matter, the protesters were very ruthless, they used hammer, spanner, iron rod to attack our colleague who fell on the floor. They also use sharpened walking sticks to stab our colleague," said Senior superintendent of police public relations branch Tse Chun-chung.
"When they were trying to stab the police did they consider his life? And the people who criticised police shooting do they differentiate life of a policeman and an attacker?"
HUNDREDS STAGE SIT-IN
The shooting that was captured on video quickly went viral, further fanning the flames.
A large crowd of demonstrators, including office workers in shirts and suits, mustered in a park and then began marching through the city's commercial district in an unsanctioned rally on Wednesday, chanting anti-police and anti-government slogans.
Hundreds of students also staged a sit-in at the school of Tsang, the student who was shot by police.
"No rioters, only tyranny," they chanted, alongside other popular protest slogans.
Tsang, who was filmed trying to strike the officer with a pole as he was shot, was taken to a nearby hospital in a critical condition but authorities said his condition has since improved.
"According to the latest information of the Hospital Authority, the current condition of the man is stable," the government said in a statement.
A friend and classmate of Tsang, who gave his first name Marco, said the 18-year-old was a keen basketballer who was infuriated by sliding freedoms in Hong Kong and the police response to the protests.
"If he sees any problems or anything unjust, he would face it bravely, speak up against it, instead of bearing it silently," Marco told AFP.
POLICE OFFICERS, JOURNALISTS WOUNDED
Police said 30 officers were injured in the National Day clashes, including some who suffered chemical burns from a corrosive liquid that was thrown at them by protesters. The liquid also wounded some journalists.
Hospital authorities said more than 70 people were admitted on Tuesday.
Outlining the sheer extent of the clashes, police revealed on Wednesday that they arrested 269 people, ranging from 12 to 71 years old - the largest daily toll since protests began.
They also unleashed a record 1,400 rounds of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets, 230 sponge rounds, 190 bean bag rounds and five live rounds as warning shots.
To compare, police fired 1,000 tear gas canisters in the first two months of the protests.
The spiralling violence underscored seething public anger against Beijing's rule and shifted the spotlight from China's carefully choreographed birthday party, which was designed to showcase its status as a global superpower.
READ: President Xi says 'no force' can shake the Chinese nation as country marks 70 years of communist rule
Hong Kong's protests were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.
But after Beijing and local leaders took a hardline they snowballed into a wider movement calling for democratic freedoms and police accountability.
With Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam seemingly unwilling or unable to find a political solution, police have been left to battle increasingly radicalised protesters.
Sentiment is hardening on all sides.
Protesters and some local residents routinely shout "triads" at officers, who often respond by calling demonstrators "cockroaches".
The protest movement's main demands are an independent inquiry into police actions, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage.
But Beijing and Lam have said they are unwilling to meet those demands.
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