HONG KONG: A Hong Kong police officer shot a masked protester in an incident shown live on Facebook on Monday (Nov 11) while a man was set alight, during one of the most violent days of clashes seen since anti-government unrest erupted more than five months ago.
Protesters, who had already begun a city-wide day of action aimed at paralysing the international financial hub, reacted to the morning shooting by rampaging through train stations, barricading streets and vandalising shops.
A masked assailant also doused a man with a flammable liquid and set him ablaze during an argument. The horrifying scene was captured on mobile phones and quickly went viral.
Police said a protester carried out the attack, and accused black-clad "rioters" of an array of other violent acts, including throwing a petrol bomb inside a train carriage.
Protesters voiced fury at what they said was excessive force used against them.
"Continuing this rampage is a lose-lose situation for Hong Kong," police spokesman John Tse said at a press conference in which he showed the video of the man being set alight, as well as a fire inside a train.
At the end of the business day Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam held a press conference to denounce the violence and vow it would not lead to any government concessions.
"I am making this statement clear and loud here, that will not happen," Lam said.
The footage of the shooting - broadcast live to Facebook by a bystander - showed a police officer drawing a pistol as he tried to detain a masked person at a junction that had been blocked by protesters.
Another unarmed masked individual then approached the officer and was shot in the chest area, quickly falling to the ground, clutching their left side. Local media said the protester was in critical condition after undergoing surgery.
Seconds later, two more live rounds were fired as the officer scuffled with another masked protester who fell to the ground. Both were detained by officers.
READ: Hong Kong protests: Tear gas fired in CBD, university as violence continues following shooting of protester
Hong Kong police said live rounds were fired and that one person was struck.
A pool of blood could be seen near the first individual whose body initially appeared limp, although the person was later filmed conscious and even trying to make a run for it.
The second man was conscious, shouting his name to reporters as he was handcuffed.
Hospital authorities said three people were admitted from the incident, one with a gunshot wound.
The Hospital Authority told Reuters a 21-year-old man was undergoing an operation and was in critical condition.
The man attacked by being set alight was taken to hospital in a critical condition, according to Tse.
Police first began using live rounds as warning shots in August and have shot an 18-year-old protester and a 14-year-old, both of whom survived.
Anson Yip, a 36-year-old Sai Wan Ho resident, said protesters were throwing rubbish to create a road block when police ran to the scene.
"They didn't fight and the police ran and directly shot. There was three sounds, like 'pam, pam, pam'," Yip said.
"They (the protesters) are against the government, that's why the police just shot them," he said.
Police later fired tear gas in the same area where the protester was shot. Protesters and residents formed a barricade of polystyrene boxes around the bloodstain next to a pedestrian crossing after police forensic teams left the scene.
A 24-year-old man, one of several office workers gathered at the scene after the shooting, said: "When I arrived the road was blocked and people were yelling at the police, calling them murderers." The man gave only his surname of Wing.
Hong Kong has endured 24 straight weeks of increasingly violent rallies aimed at securing greater freedoms from China, which has ruled the city under a "one country, two systems" framework since its handover from the British in 1997.
The protesters are desperate to stop what they see as Beijing's tightening control over Hong Kong and its reneging on its handover commitment to allow greater liberties for the city than those on the mainland.
But Beijing has refused to give in, and instead warned it is prepared to impose even greater security measures.
Protesters have been incensed at what they see as police brutality and Monday's shooting only fuelled the tinderbox atmosphere.
"I don't understand why the police has to use that kind of brutality to hurt innocent people. I think it's just out of sense, out of control," a 22-year-old IT worker, who gave her surname Chan, told AFP as she joined angry crowds in Sai Wan Ho after the shooting.
Monday's shooting was the third time protesters had been shot with live rounds by police. None of the shootings have resulted in deaths.
Lam said the man set on fire was in a critical condition. She described that attack as "totally inhumane".
Protesters ignored her pleas for calm with further rallies in multiple locations across the city on Monday night.
Online forums used by the largely anonymous and leaderless movement also carried messages vowing another day of chaos on Tuesday.
After a weekend of clashes and huge vigils, Monday's chaos began with small groups of masked protesters disrupting subway stations and roads during the rush hour commute.
Flashmob protests sprung up in multiple districts during the commuter period, with small groups of masked protesters targeting subway stations and building barricades on road junctions.
Services on some train and subway lines were disrupted with traffic snarled and riot police deployed near stations and shopping malls.
Even before the shooting in Sai Wan Ho, tear gas had been fired in at least two other locations.
One video circulated by protesters on messaging channels from Kwai Fong district showed a police officer trying to drive his motorbike multiple times into protesters who had gathered on a road.
Police said the officer has since been suspended, the first time the force has made an announcement removing someone from active duty in relation to the protests since they began.
Police also fired tear gas as they clashed on a university campus with protesters who had built barricades and were throwing projectiles from behind a shield wall of umbrellas.
"I feel a strong sense of helplessness," said one Chinese University student who only gave his name as Chan. "Who wouldn’t want to attend class if they could? The government still isn’t listening to us."
He was guarding a back gate at the university. The old Tai Po Road that snakes uphill from Sha Tin and often featured in 1960s black and white Cantonese movies, was barricaded with fencing, wooden boards, bamboo, poles, bins and other debris.
UNPOPULAR POLICE FORCE
With no political solution on the table, officers have been left to battle violent protesters and are now loathed by large chunks of the deeply polarised population.
Police have defended their tactics throughout the summer as a proportionate response to protesters who have embraced throwing bricks and petrol bombs as well as vandalising pro-China businesses and beating opponents.
But an independent inquiry into the police has become a core demand of the protest movement, with public anger fuelled by weekly videos of controversial police tactics and aggressive interactions with locals.
In one incident which sparked uproar, a police officer on Friday evening shouted at protesters that he and his colleagues were "opening a bottle of champagne" after the death of the student.
The force said the officer was later reprimanded for his language.
Both Beijing and Hong Kong's unelected leader Carrie Lam have rejected an independent inquiry, saying the city's current police watchdog is up to the task.
But last week, in an embarrassing setback, an international panel of experts appointed by authorities said the watchdog did not currently have the capability or resources to carry out such a huge probe.
The watchdog is due to release a report in early 2020 and in a statement on Monday said the panel's views should not have been published on Twitter by one of its members.
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