Hong Kong police shot a teenage protester on Tuesday, the first to be hit by live ammunition in almost four months of unrest in the Chinese-ruled city, amid violent clashes on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
Cat-and-mouse clashes spread from the shopping district of Causeway Bay to the Admiralty area of government offices on Hong Kong island, and then on to the New Territories bordering mainland China, with police firing tear gas and water cannon at petrol bomb throwing activists.
Police said an officer shot an 18-year-old man in the shoulder in the Tsuen Wan area of the New Territories with a live round. Protesters have previously been hit with bean bags rounds and rubber bullets and officers have fired live rounds in the air.
Police chief Stephen Lo said the firing of live rounds –which were discharged in three places – was lawful and fair.
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“Police lives were under serious threat, that’s why they fired live rounds,” he told reporters, adding that the wounded man was conscious when taken to hospital.
Dramatic video footage of the Tsuen Wan shooting shows a chaotic melee with riot police battling protesters wielding metal bars, before an officer fires a shot at close range.
As the wounded man steps back and falls, someone tries to help, but another policeman tackles him to the ground.
Tuesday’s violence was the most widespread since the unrest erupted in June, plunging the former British colony into its biggest political crisis in decades and posing the most serious popular challenge to President Xi Jinping since he came to power.
Violence also escalated across the harbor to Kowloon and beyond to the New Territories. Police fired water cannon and volley after volley of tear gas to disperse protesters throwing Molotov cocktails outside central government offices in the Admiralty area and ordered the evacuation of the Legislative Council building next door.
Police said “rioters” had used corrosive fluid in Tuen Mun in the west of the New Territories, “injuring multiple police officers and reporters.” No details were immediately available.
The territory has been tense for weeks, with protests often turning violent, as authorities tried to avoid activists spoiling Beijing’s birthday parade at a time when the central government is already grappling with a U.S.-China trade war and a slowing economy.
By the afternoon, police and protesters were involved in standoffs across Hong Kong, with the streets littered with tear gas canisters and other debris.
Earlier, thousands of black-clad protesters, some wearing Guy Fawkes masks, marched from Causeway Bay toward government headquarters in Admiralty, defying a ban on a rally.
Rail operator MTR Corp shut down many of its metro stations to stop protesters moving around. Shutting stations have made them a common target for attack, and a fire was lit at Admiralty station on Tuesday.
Protesters had vowed to seize the opportunity on China’s National Day to propel their calls for greater democracy onto the international stage, hijacking an occasion Beijing sees as an opportunity to showcase China’s economic and military progress.
“I’m not young, but if we don’t march now, we’ll never have the chance to speak again, it’s as simple as that,” said one marcher near Causeway Bay, a 42-year-old woman with her own logistics company who identified herself as Li.
Hundreds of officials and members of Hong Kong’s pro-establishment elite began the day with a flag-raising ceremony and National Day reception at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, held early and moved behind closed doors. Roads to the center were closed and tightly policed.
Hong Kong had benefited from China’s support under the “one country, two systems” policy, Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung told the assembly, referring to guarantees of political freedoms after the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
But he said escalating violence was disrupting social order and hurting the economy.
The government of embattled leader Carrie Lam has already cancelled an annual Oct. 1 fireworks display over the city’s Victoria Harbour, citing public safety.
Lam, who was trapped in a stadium for hours last week after attending the “open dialogue,” left for Beijing on Monday to celebrate China’s birthday on the mainland. She was planning to return on Tuesday.
In contrast to events in Hong Kong, Beijing’s carefully choreographed anniversary festivities included troops marching through part of Tiananmen Square with new missiles and floats celebrating the country’s technological prowess.
Lam was shown on television smiling as a float celebrating Hong Kong went past as she sat with Chinese officials.
The Communist Party leadership is determined to project an image of national strength and unity in the face of challenges including Hong Kong’s unrest.