HONG KONG — Hong Kong police for the first time fired live ammunition directly at protesters, injuring at least one seriously, in a new escalation against demonstrators marching against the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party rule on Tuesday.
It marked a new level of violence on a sensitive anniversary for China under its leader Xi Jinping, and despite police efforts to shut the city down, demonstrations took place in at least five parts of the Hong Kong by sundown.
The semiautonomous Chinese city tried to hold muted parallel celebrations with Beijing right after daybreak on Tuesday, but the flag-raising ceremony was under such threat that no one could not be outside to watch it. As the fire-red Chinese flag was hoisted accompanied by the rousing national anthem, officials watched from inside a sprawling convention center.
By midday people were carrying Chinese flags with its stars rearranged into swastikas, and ripping celebratory banners from buildings as hundreds of thousands protested China’s increasing control over Hong Kong.
The demonstrations descended into panic and chaos by sundown, as police used huge amounts of tear gas, a water cannon and brute force to clear away the protesters, some of whom were peaceful while others threw bricks and petrol bombs at them. Marches earlier in the day featured families, the elderly and children.
According to a pro-democracy lawmaker and a video filmed by the Hong Kong University Students’ Union Campus TV, a protester in the Tsuen Wan neighborhood, dressed in black wearing a helmet and respirator and carrying a homemade shield, was shot by a police officer wielding a revolver. The video shows the man swinging a rod at the officer before the officer fired once, at close range.
The shot sent the protester tumbling backward over another officer, who is on the ground. Local media outlets reported that the police used live ammunition in several parts of the city, all of them in the Kowloon and New Territories areas.
Smaller marches in those neighborhoods had turned heated from early in the day, as police fired multiple rounds of tear gas to clear the crowd.
Spokespeople for the police could not confirm the incident despite multiple calls. The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said one man was rushed to a hospital in Kowloon in serious condition, but could not confirm the nature of his injuries.
In the high-end central shopping district Causeway Bay and the bar-filled district of Wan Chai, a large crowd, which included families and the elderly, was allowed to march for hours along the deserted main thoroughfare toward central Hong Kong.
Protesters are hoping to send a clear message to Beijing on the 70th anniversary of Chinese Communist Party rule: Protect Hong Kong’s freedoms and grant it full democracy, or face continued and unending dissent designed to shame Chinese leader Xi at a sensitive time in his tenure.
Authorities responded by closing almost two dozen shopping malls, roads and key subway stations while warning of chaos and deploying thousands of riot officers in an attempt to thwart the demonstrations.
Hong Kong government is celebrating the National Day by locking down the city, shutting down the malls and deploying riot police on nearly every street corner. “Today XinJiang, tomorrow HongKong” is not an exaggeration.
— Nathan Law 羅冠聰 (@nathanlawkc) October 1, 2019
“We have to send a message to the government and the police, that we are not afraid of them, and that going out to protest is our right,” said Fok, a 24 year-old who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his last name, as he has already been arrested for protesting. “It is time to show China they picked the wrong people to bully. This is a war, and we will win it.”
At the parade in Beijing, designed as a show of Chinese military firepower, Xi spoke about Hong Kong and promised to uphold the “One Country, Two Systems” framework that gives the territory its autonomy.
“We will maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao,” Xi said, and pledged to “unite the whole country.”
Carrie Lam, the beleaguered Hong Kong chief executive who protesters decry as a pawn of Beijing, could be seen watching the parade along with the newly-elected leader of Macao, a neighboring territory that also has some autonomy. Lam had traveled to Beijing for the anniversary with a delegation of over 200, including tycoons and pro-China lawmakers.
One guest in Beijing was a Hong Kong police officer who leveled a shotgun at protesters earlier this summer during a fracas, making him briefly the face of the beleaguered force that has been dogged by allegations of inappropriate use of force. The moment made him a minor celebrity in the mainland where he has been effusively praised.
Police warned of violence ahead of the anniversary, after another bloody and chaotic weekend of unauthorized protest in the city.
The police force also sent text messages to all in Hong Kong, warning residents to stay alert and brace for “severe disruptions.”
The protests started as a rebuke against a now-scrapped piece of legislation that would have allowed fugitives to be transferred from Hong Kong’s independent legal system to mainland China. But perceptions of government inaction and shock over police use of force have turned the movement into a full-blown rebuke of Beijing’s tightening control over the city, and revived a years-long demand for direct elections of city leaders.
Despite the closing of the neighborhood subway station, protesters began trickling into the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay and nearby Wan Chai by early afternoon. Among the crowd were elderly, families and teenagers.
“The whole thing is ridiculous,” said a 22-year-old programmer, referring to the heavy restrictions placed on the city’s transportation network. She asked to be identified only as Ms. Lam. “To shut down the MTR [subway], to block the road, to not allow protesters’ voices out. We just want to protect what we have now, which is freedom.”
The Chan family — a 55-year old mother and her two daughters aged 20 and 25 — were at the rally in Wan Chai, wearing only surgical masks, despite the warnings of violence. They said it took them about an hour and a half to get to the starting point for the march because of the subway shut down.
“I would like to stand and speak out for the people, to show that we aren’t going to give in to the brutality of the police,” said the 20 year-old, declining to give her full name because the demonstration was illegal. “There is too much injustice going on for us to stop now.”
Some of the people in the march wore “We are Hong Kongers” T-shirts, a rejection of Chinese identity, and held their hands up showing all five fingers for their five demands.
Protesters have settled on a list of five demands — withdrawal of the extradition bill was just one of them — but the government has declined to make further concessions, including an independent investigation into the police.
Protesters also mocked China’s powerful leader, Xi, comparing him to cartoon character Winnie the Pooh and making offerings of paper money, currency used in the Chinese afterlife, as though he was an angry spirit needing placating.
Matthew Cheung, the territory’s chief secretary, took over as acting chief executive in her absence and delivered Hong Kong’s national day speech.
Hong Kong’s special status, Cheung said, has rendered “it the most open and freest city” in China.
Recent instability, however, “has seriously undermined social order and impacted the rule of law.”
“Shocked and saddened by the violence that has turned the city that we call home into an unfamiliar place, Hong Kong people desperately yearn to get out of the existing gridlock,” Cheung said, adding that his government has shown the “greatest sincerity” in offering a dialogue with the community.
A smattering of pro-China rallies took place around the city, with people gathering in small groups to wave the Chinese flag and sing the national anthem. At the base of the city’s peak tram, a historic funicular that is a major tourist destination, Mandarin speaking visitors posed to snap smiling selfies with riot police. Hong Kong residents predominantly speak the Cantonese version of the language.
Pro-democracy protesters had planned to hold assemblies in several areas across the city, but no plans were set in stone — in line with the “be water” motto of the movement which encourages flexibility and quick thinking to avoid arrest. Among their targets was a horse racing track in Sha Tin, on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong across the harbor. Chants of “Five demands, not one less!” from protesters began after the Jockey Club played the national anthem.
Some black-clad attendees, wearing the uniform of the past months of unrest, told The Post they planned to leave for other rallies or demonstrations if the situation escalated in any one area.
With many subway stations shuttered, foot traffic at the usually busy Hong Kong station, which connects the city to the airport, was at a near standstill.
“What can I do,” said Wilson, a 33 year-old who works in marketing, about protesting on Tuesday. “Go home and watch TV? It is National Day, everyone should go out!”
“Our Hong Kong, it’s dying,” he said in the quiet subway station.
Casey Quackenbush and Tiffany Liang contributed to this report.