A Hong Kong police officer fired at least one gunshot on August 25, the first time a live round has been used during three months of protests.
Violent clashes broke out between protesters and police in Tsuen Wan, around 10 km from central Hong Kong, after a rally at a nearby sports stadium attracted thousands of people.
“According to my understanding, just now a gunshot was fired by a colleague… My initial understanding was that it was a uniformed policeman who fired his gun,” a Hong Kong Police officer told reporters.
Police used water cannons, also for the first time on August 25, raising the stakes against protesters who have staged sometimes violent rallies that have rocked the city for the past three months.
Officers were also seen with drawn sidearms as protesters clashed with police in Tsuen Wan.
The financial hub has been gripped by mass rallies that were initially against a proposed extradition bill to China, but have spun into a wider pro-democracy movement targeting the pro-Beijing government.
As thousands of people marched in the pouring rain to Tsuen Wan, a group of hardcore protesters erected makeshift roadblocks and dug up bricks from the pavements.
After firing tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds, police drove water cannon vehicles onto the streets, unfurling signs warning protesters they would deploy the jets if they did not leave.
The jets were later fired from the moving trucks towards a crowd of protesters who ran away, but hardcore group of protesters later threw bricks and Molotov cocktails in violent confrontations with riot police.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Police had previously said the vehicles, complete with surveillance cameras and multiple spray nozzles, would only be used in the event of a “large-scale public disturbance”.
Throughout the protests, Beijing has used a mix of intimidation, propaganda and economic muscle to constrict the protests in a strategy dubbed “white terror” by the movement.
The MTR — the city’s metro — is the latest Hong Kong enterprise to face public censure, after appearing to bend to Chinese state-media attacks accusing the transport system of being an “exclusive” service to ferry protesters to rallies.
On August 25, the MTR shut stations near the main demonstration area in Tsuen Wan, in the second day of station closures in-a-row. “However bleak our future is, we’re trying to express ourselves rationally,” said Peter, in his 20s, before the clashes began. “We have faith in ourselves and we have faith in our city that some day our demands will be answered.”
‘Enemies of Hong Kong’
A second rally in the afternoon of a few hundred people — some of them family members of police — criticised the government for leaving officers to handle the brunt of the crisis, while also calling for an independent investigation into the police handling of the protests.
“I believe within these two months, police have got enough opprobrium,” said a woman who asked not to be named and said she was a police officer’s wife.
The city’s officers are often the focus of protesters’ anger because of their perceived heavy handling of the rallies.
Ten people were left in hospital after the previous day’s clashes — two in a serious condition — staff said, without detailing if they were police or protesters.
On August 24, police baton-charged protesters and fired tear gas, while demonstrators threw rocks and bottles later into the night in a working-class neighbourhood.
Protesters say Hong Kong’s unique freedoms are in jeopardy as Beijing tightens its political chokehold on the semi-autonomous city.
The city had appeared to have pulled back from a sharp nosedive into violence, with the last serious confrontation taking place more than a week ago, shortly after protests paralysed the airport.