Hong Kong police used water cannon for the first time and at least one officer fired his sidearm during pitched battles with protesters yesterday, one of the most violent nights in three months of pro-democracy rallies that have rocked the city.
An afternoon rally in the district of Tsuen Wan spiralled into violent running confrontations between protesters and police, with officers several times caught outnumbered and isolated by masked youths wielding sticks and throwing rocks.
In one instance, several police officers drew their sidearms, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
“According to my understanding, just now a gunshot was fired by a colleague,” Superintendent Leung Kwok Win told the press.
“My initial understanding was that it was a uniformed policeman who fired his gun.”
It was unclear where the shot was aimed, but it was the first live round fired since the protests started three months ago.
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.
Earlier yesterday, after thousands of people marched peacefully in pouring rain, a group of hardcore protesters erected makeshift roadblocks and threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at riot police.
After firing tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds, police drove water cannon vehicles onto the streets for the first time during the protests, unfurling signs warning demonstrators they would deploy the jets if they did not leave.
The jets were later fired down from the moving trucks down a road towards a crowd of
protesters who ran away.
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.
Yesterday, the MTR shut stations near the main demonstration area in Tsuen Wan, the second day of station closures in a row.
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