HONG KONG — Police in Hong Kong have defended an officer’s decision to shoot a protester at close range during violent clashes, saying it was a matter of life or death.The shooting came on Tuesday as the semiautonomous territory saw police clash with tens of thousands of black-clad protesters demanding the Communist Party to “return power to the people,” overshadowing China’s 70th-anniversary celebrations in Beijing.Police confirmed an 18-year-old man, who has been named as Tsang Chi-kin, a student at Tsuen Wan Public Ho Chuen Yiu Memorial College, was shot in the chest during an altercation with an officer and was taken to hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth hospital still conscious. It marks the first time a protester has been hit by a live round during the 17 weeks of growing civil unrest.A hospital spokesperson told NBC News Tsang has had surgery and is currently stable recovering in intensive care.
Deputy Police Commissioner Tang Ping-keung defended the police officer’s actions during a press conference on Wednesday, saying he had acted in a “lawful and reasonable” while facing “imminent danger.””His [the officer’s] life was hanging on a thin line and there was no other choice to use other types of force or other types of weapons,” Tang said.Asked why police didn’t increase the use of force gradually, he said it was a “life and death situation.”Police played video footage from the moments leading up to the shooting that had been captured by various outlets. Officials explained that their officers were outnumbered and one officer was being beaten by at least 10 protesters after having fallen to the ground.The officer who shot the protester had come to his colleague’s aid, standing outside on the edge of the scuffle, when he raised his weapon. The protester was wielding a metal rod at the officer when he pulled the trigger, officials said.Tang said a more thorough investigation into the shooting will still be conducted. The protester in the meantime has been arrested and charged.Local politicians have criticized police over the incident. “The Hong Kong police have gone trigger-happy and nuts,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told the Associated Press. “The sensible police response should have been to use a police baton or pepper spray to fight back. It wasn’t exactly an extreme situation and the use of a live bullet simply cannot be justified.”Amnesty International, Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and other local Hong Kong groups have also condemned the use of live ammunition. Hundreds of college students held a strike on Wednesday in honor of their injured classmate, chanting anti-police slogans and demanding accountability.The shooting risks inflaming already tense relations between the public and police.Among the core demands of demonstrators — who began protesting in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill— is greater police accountability and investigation into allegations of excessive use of force.
Thirty police officers were injured and five remain in hospital on Tuesday, officials said. Among the more severely injured was an officer who sustained third-degree burns after being hit with corrosive fluids.The number of injured civilians was not provided. Police said 1,400 rounds of tear gas were deployed, along with 900 rubber bullets, 190 bean bags and 230 sponge grenades.A total of 269 people were arrested, ranging from ages 12 to 71.Damage to the city was also significant, police said, with motorcycles were set ablaze, resulting in explosions, and many buildings and businesses vandalized.Despite the escalation, Tang maintained that police are still upholding order in Hong Kong. “Police still capable of resolving public order. We are well prepared, confident and determined to bring Hong Kong back on the right track.”Veta Chan reported from Hong Kong and Linda Givetash from London.