China Politics

Hong Kong protester shot by police as violent clashes escalate on China's National Day

Key Points
  • Hong Kong police fired water cannons to break up the increasingly chaotic crowds outside government buildings and across the city on Tuesday afternoon.
  • Oct. 1 marks the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
  • The city has been engulfed by 18 consecutive weeks of mass demonstrations. While those protests initially started as peaceful marches, there have been an increasing number of violent clashes.
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Protests in Hong Kong descended into violence on Tuesday as police shot a protester and fired tear gas as black-clad demonstrators threw gas bombs.

Hong Kong police shot a protester at close range, which left him bleeding from his shoulder, in a fearsome escalation of anti-government demonstrations that spread across the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Police published a video on Facebook confirming that an 18-year-old-man had been shot and was sent to the Prince Margaret Hospital in a conscious state.

"At around 4 p.m. on Tai Ho Road in Tsuen Wan, a large group of rioters were attacking police officers. Despite warnings from the police, the assailants still continued the violent attacks. The police officers' lives were under serious threat. To save his own life and his colleagues' lives, he fired a live shot at the assailant," the police official said in the video, according to a translation.

"The police do not wish to see anyone injured in the incident ... Here we must warn again all rioters must stop illegal acts."

While officers have previously fired warning shots in the air on multiple occasions during Hong Kong's monthslong anti-government protests, this is the first time a protester is known to have been shot. It came as thousands in mainland China celebrated the 70th anniversary of communist rule.

Hong Kong police fired water cannons to break up the increasingly chaotic crowds outside government buildings and across the city. Rail operator MTR also had to shut down all train services.

Early Tuesday, local politicians gathered inside the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai to observe the flag-raising ceremony. Outside, two helicopters were seen flying across the harbor, carrying the Chinese national flag and Hong Kong flag.

Oct. 1 marks the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. While Beijing is expected to showcase its largest military parade yet, the special administrative region also has the day off as a national holiday.

The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam is in Beijing to celebrate the National Day. Hong Kong usually hosts celebratory events for the PRC's anniversary, but this year the fireworks and festivities were cancelled.

A protester throws a Molotov cocktail after police fired tear gear during a protest in Tsuen Wan district in Hong Kong on October 1, 2019, as the city observes the National Day holiday to mark the 70th anniversary of communist China's founding.
PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to China's rule in 1997. Since the handover, the region has operated under the "one country, two systems" principle that gives its citizens some legal and economic freedoms not given in mainland China.

Over the weekend, the Asia financial hub saw violent clashes on its streets, the latest in Hong Kong's biggest political crisis since the handover.

The city has been engulfed by 18 consecutive weeks of mass demonstrations. While those protests initially started as peaceful marches, there have been an increasing number of violent clashes. The turmoil was sparked by a now withdrawn bill that would have enabled extraditions to mainland China from Hong Kong.

Protesters look on as a barricade burns during rallies and protests through the streets of Hong Kong on October 1, 2019, as the city observes the National Day holiday to mark the 70th anniversary of communist China's founding.
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

Some protesters have been seen holding up signs saying "Not My National Day, Proud to be British since 1841" outside the British consulate in Admiralty.

Under the colonial government, some Hong Kong citizens were given a British National overseas passport but it does not grant holders full U.K. citizenship rights.

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'One country, two systems'

Although the city's leader has formally retracted the contentious bill, the public clamor has not relented and protesters continue to repeat their five demands. Martin Lee, former Hong Kong lawmaker and founding chairman of the United Democrats of Hong Kong, told CNBC on Tuesday that he has been fighting for democracy peacefully for over 30 years but "always ignored."

He said the violence and vandalism from the young protesters are at least pushing the government to respond.

Looking ahead, Lee said that "this one country, two systems can end well," but only if Beijing fulfills two conditions.

He said, Beijing needs to grant Hong Kong democracy, "to let our chief executive and all members of the legislature know that if they are not seen to be defending Hong Kong's autonomy and freedom, they will never win the next election."

"The second one, Beijing must not interfere in our internal affairs," said Lee. He added that these two rights were both promised by Beijing during the handover, that "aside from defense and foreign affairs ... we will be masters of our own house."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

Watch: What is Hong Kong's relationship with China?

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What is Hong Kong's relationship with China?