Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam said on Monday the violence that is disturbing the former British colony has exceeded protesters’ demands for democracy, and demonstrators are now the people’s enemy.
Lam was speaking hours after Hong Kong police shot and critically wounded a protester, while another man was soaked with petrol and set on fire on Monday as the Chinese-ruled territory spiralled into rare working-day violence in its 24th week of pro-democracy unrest.
Protesters also threw petrol bombs at police on university campuses after a weekend of clashes at shopping malls across the territory, marking a dramatic escalation in tension as Chinese troops remained billeted in barracks.
Police fired tear gas in the narrow streets of the Central business district where some protesters, crouching behind umbrellas, blocked streets as office workers crowded the pavements and hurled anti-government abuse.
Some passersby took cover inside the Landmark mall, one of the oldest and most expensive, as volley after volley of tear gas rained down.
There have been almost daily protests in Hong Kong, sometimes with no notice, but it was rare for tear gas to be fired during working hours in Central, lined with bank headquarters and top-brand shops at the foot of Victoria Peak. Some offices closed early and workers headed home.
Police fired live rounds at close range at protesters in Sai Wan Ho on the eastern side of Hong Kong island, and one 21-year-old protester was wounded. Police said the victim was in critical condition.
Anson Yip, 36, said protesters were building a road block when police ran to the scene.
“They didn’t fight and the police ran and directly shot. There were three sounds, like ‘pam, pam, pam’,” Yip said.