HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police shot and wounded one protester who hospital officials said was in critical condition on Monday as the Chinese-ruled territory spiraled into rare weekday violence in the 24th straight week of pro-democracy unrest.
Police also fired tear gas in the Central business district where some protesters, crouching behind umbrellas, blocked streets as office workers on their lunch break crowded the pavements and hurled anti-government abuse.
Protests have occurred almost daily, sometimes with little or no notice, disrupting business and piling pressure on the government. However, it was rare for tear gas to be fired during working hours in Central.
The violence usually begins after dusk falls.
Police fired live rounds at protesters on the eastern side of Hong Kong island and said one protester was wounded.
Video footage showed a man lying in a pool of blood with his eyes wide open. Police also threw a woman to the debris-littered street and pepper-sprayed her in the face as plastic crates were thrown at officers.
Protesters built barricades under the hot autumn sun and set fires in the street.
The Hospital Authority told Reuters a 21-year-old man suspected to have been wounded in Sai Wan Ho, in the eastern area of Hong Kong island, was undergoing an operation in hospital and was in critical condition.
Police said in a statement radical protesters had set up barricades at multiple locations across the city and warned the demonstrators to “stop their illegal acts immediately”.
They did not comment immediately on the shooting.
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.
Protesters are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the former British colony’s freedoms, guaranteed by the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Some have called for independence, a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble.
The latest violence comes after a student died in hospital last week following a fall as protesters were being dispersed by police.
Violence flared at several university campuses throughout the morning as news of the latest shooting spread, with witnesses reporting tense standoffs between students, protesters and police. All classes were canceled.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, while protesters hurled homemade petrol bombs at police. Students set fire to debris at the Polytechnic University on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour.
“I am worried about my safety but I will still come out,” said Anson, a 20-year-old student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University who only gave his first name. “I am willing to sacrifice my life for Hong Kong.”
Services on some train and subway lines were disrupted early on Monday, with traffic snarled and riot police deployed near stations and shopping malls after protesters called for a general strike.