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HK flash-mob rallies erupt as anger rises over shot protester

Pro-democracy activists condemn police over shooting; establishment figures calling it a justified use of force

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Anti-government protesters gathering in Tsuen Wan, near the site where police shot a protester with live ammunition, in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Hong Kong

FLASH-MOB rallies broke out in Hong Kong on Wednesday as anger mounted over police shooting a teenage protester who attacked officers in a dramatic escalation of the violent unrest that has engulfed the territory for months.

A large crowd of demonstrators, including office workers in shirts and suits, mustered in a park and then began marching through the city's commercial district in an unsanctioned rally, chanting anti-police and anti-government slogans. Hundreds of students also staged a sit-in at the school of 18-year-old Tsang Chi-kin, who was shot in the chest by a policeman as he and a group of masked protesters attacked officers with umbrellas and poles.

The international finance hub has been left reeling from the shooting, the first time a demonstrator has been struck with a live round in nearly four months of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.

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Tuesday witnessed the worst clashes of the summer as China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule with a massive military parade in Beijing. The spiralling violence underscored seething public anger against Beijing's rule and shifted the spotlight from China's carefully choreographed birthday party.

Running battles raged for hours across multiple locations as hardcore protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs. Police responded for the most part with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon.

As criticism rose the police launched a spirited defence of their colleague at a press conference on Wednesday saying he feared for his life and the safety of his colleagues. "He only had one option, that is to fire the gun to immediately resolve the danger," deputy commissioner Tang Ping-keung told reporters.

But protest groups said the officer charged into the melee with his firearm drawn and failed to fire a warning shot as they condemned the increasing use of live rounds.

"The people of Hong Kong are sick and tired of having mere words of condemnation as their only shields against lethal bullets and rifles," a masked protester said at a press conference near Tsang's school.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian journalist who says police shot her in the eye with a rubber bullet while she was covering Sunday's protests has suffered some permanent vision loss, her lawyer said on Wednesday.

"Doctors treating (Veby Indah) have today informed her that regrettably the injury she received as a result of being shot by police, will result in permanent blindness in her right eye," her lawyer Michael Vidler said, adding that the full extent of her sight loss will be assessed after surgery.

Opinion towards Tuesday's shooting has largely cemented along ideological divides with pro-democracy activists condemning the police and establishment figures calling it a justified use of force.

Tsang, who was filmed trying to strike the officer with a pole as he was shot, was taken to a nearby hospital in a critical condition but authorities said his condition had since improved.

A friend and classmate of Tsang, who gave his first name as Marco, said Tsang was a keen basketballer who was infuriated by sliding freedoms in Hong Kong and the police response to the protests.

"If he sees any problems or anything unjust, he would face it bravely, speak up against it, instead of bearing it silently," Marco told AFP.

Police said 30 officers were injured in the National Day clashes, including some who suffered chemical burns from a corrosive liquid that was thrown at them by protesters. The liquid also wounded some journalists. Hospital authorities said more than 70 people were admitted on Tuesday.

Outlining the extent of Tuesday's clashes, police revealed that they arrested 269 people, ranging from 12 to 71 years old - the largest daily toll since protests began. They also unleashed a record 1,400 rounds of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets, 230 sponge rounds, 190 bean bag rounds and five live rounds as warning shots. Police fired 1,000 tear gas canisters in the first two months of the protests.

On Wednesday, 96 protesters arrested on Sunday - mostly students but also including a teacher, a doctor, and an advertising executive - appeared in court charged with rioting.

The protests were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.

But after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line they snowballed into a wider movement calling for democratic freedoms and police accountability. With Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam seemingly unwilling or unable to find a political solution, police have been left to battle increasingly radicalised protesters.

The protest movement's main demands are an independent inquiry into police actions, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage. AFP