Hong Kong police have shot a teenage protester at close range, leaving him bleeding and howling on the ground in a fearsome escalation of anti-government demonstrations across the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Tens of thousands marched in a day of rage as Communist leaders in Beijing celebrated 70 years in power.
The single pistol shot fired by the officer as protesters swarmed towards him hit the 18-year-old on the left side of his chest, police spokeswoman Yolanda Yu said. She described the protesters as “rioters” and said the officer feared for his life.
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said: “The officer was under attack, his life was threatened. … He made a very quick decision and shot the assailant. I believe it was his best judgment at the time.”
Hong Kong’s hospital authority said the teenager was one of two people in critical condition, with a total of 66 injured.
While officers have previously fired warning shots in the air during months of protests in Hong Kong, this was the first time a protester is known to have been shot.
There were other instances on Tuesday when officers also drew their weapons, including two with bloodied faces who pointed pistols, as protesters and riot police fought fierce battles at multiple locations in the city.
Video that spread quickly on social media appeared to show the officer opening fire as the protester came at him with a metal rod, striking the officer’s shooting arm.
Taken by the City University Student Union, it showed a dozen black-clad protesters hurling objects at a group of riot police and closing in on the lone officer who pointed his pistol and opened fire. The protester toppled backwards on to the street, bleeding from below his left shoulder.
As another protester rushed in to try to drag away the wounded youth and was tackled by an officer, a petrol bomb landed in the middle of the group of officers in an explosion of flames.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said of the protests in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997: “Whilst there is no excuse for violence, the use of live ammunition is disproportionate, and only risks inflaming the situation.”
The shooting marked a dramatic escalation in violence that spread chaos to multiple areas of China’s freest and most international city.
Riot police fired multiple volleys of tear gas in at least six locations and used water cannons in the business district of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as protesters turned streets into battlefields to spoil the October 1 anniversary of Communist rule.
A security clampdown to thwart violence that would embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping failed to deter the protests, including a massive march in the city centre.
Organisers said at least 100,000 people marched along a broad city thoroughfare in defiance of a police ban, chanting anti-China slogans and some carrying Chinese flags defaced with a black cross.
Many demonstrators tossed wads of fake “hell” bank notes usually used at funerals into the air. “The leaders who won’t listen to our voice, this is for them,” said marcher Ray Luk.
Thousands of people confronted police in multiple locations across the city, the largest number of simultaneous protests since the unrest began in early June over a now-shelved extradition bill that activists say was an example of how Hong Kong’s freedoms and citizen rights are being eroded.
The movement has snowballed into an anti-Chinese campaign with demands for direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.
The smell of tear gas and smoke from street fires started by protesters engulfed the Wan Chai, Wong Tai Sin, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan and Tsim Sha Tsui areas. Protesters hurled petrol bombs, bricks and other objects at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas.
Protesters used umbrellas as shields and threw tear gas canisters back at officers. Police said protesters used corrosive fluid in Tuen Mun, injuring officers and some reporters.
In Wong Tai Sin, a petrol bomb hurled at police exploded near motorcycles parked along a pavement, creating a large blaze that was put out by firefighters. Some protesters placed an emergency water hose down a subway station to try to flood it.
A water cannon truck sprayed blue water, used to identify protesters, to disperse crowds from advancing to government offices in the city. Scores of police officers also stood guard near Beijing’s liaison office as the battles continued.
“Today we are out to tell the Communist Party that Hong Kong people have nothing to celebrate,” said activist Lee Cheuk-yan as he led the central march.
“We are mourning that in 70 years of Communist Party rule, the democratic rights of people in Hong Kong and China are being denied. We will continue to fight.”
Activists carried banners saying “End dictatorial rule, return power to the people”.
The protests contrasted with Beijing’s anniversary festivities marked with a colourful parade and display of new missile technology.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who was in Beijing for the ceremony, smiled as a Hong Kong float passed by.