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Hong Kong police slammed as 'trigger-happy' after teen shot

Protesters march at Central district in Hong Kong, on Oct. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
A supporter holds a print featuring a protester being shot in the chest by police during a strike in Hong Kong, on Oct. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong office workers and schoolmates of a teenage demonstrator shot at close range in the chest by a police officer rallied Wednesday to condemn police tactics and demand accountability.

The shooting Tuesday during widespread anti-government demonstrations on China's National Day was a fearsome escalation in Hong Kong's protest violence. The 18-year-old is the first known victim of police gunfire since the protests began in June. He was hospitalized and his condition was described by the government as stable on Wednesday.

The officer fired as the teen, Tsang Chi-kin, struck him with a metal rod. The officer's use of lethal weaponry is sure to inflame widespread public anger about police tactics during the crisis, widely condemned as heavy handed.

"The Hong Kong police have gone trigger-happy and nuts," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said Wednesday.

After viewing a video of the shooting, Mo said: "The sensible police response should have been to use a police baton or pepper spray, etc., to fight back. It wasn't exactly an extreme situation and the use of a live bullet simply cannot be justified."

Several hundred people, including students, chanted anti-police slogans outside Tsang's school in Tsuen Wan district in northern Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Sitting crossed-legged, some held an arm across their chest below their left shoulder -- the location of the teenager's gunshot wound. One held a hand-written message condemning "thug police."

Schoolmates said Tsang loves basketball and was passionate about the pro-democracy cause. A student who wore a Guy Fawkes mask and declined to be named because of fear of retribution said Tsang was "like a big brother" to him and other junior students.

"During the protests, we would feel safe if he is around because he was always the first to charge forward and would protect us when we were in danger," the student said.

"I vividly remember him saying that he would rather die than be arrested. What an awful twist of fate that it was he of all people who was shot by the police."

Many students felt that firing at Tsang's chest, close to his heart, was an attempt to kill him. Police said Tsang has been arrested despite being hospitalized and that authorities will decide later whether to press charges.

More than 1,000 office workers skipped their lunch to join an impromptu march in the city's business district against the police shooting. Dozens of black-clad protesters also protested at a luxury mall in Kowloon district.

Police have defended the officer's use of force as "reasonable and lawful." Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said late Tuesday that the officer had feared for his life and made "a split-second" decision to fire a single shot at close range.

Responding to questions about why the officer shot at Tsang's chest, instead of his limbs, Deputy Police Commissioner Tang Ping-Keung said Wednesday the officer had fired at an area that could immobilize the youth quickly.

Tang denied that police had been given permission to shoot to kill. He said the officer's action was in line with international procedures, but that police would mount an in-depth investigation into the shooting.

Hong Kong's government said the widespread rioting Tuesday was "planned and organized" and called on parents and teachers to help restrain young protesters.

Videos on social media of the shooting showed a dozen black-clad protesters throwing objects at police and closing in on a lone officer, who opened fire as the masked teenager came at him with a metal rod. The protester toppled backward onto the street, bleeding from below his left shoulder.

As another protester rushed in to try to drag away the wounded youth and was tackled by an officer, a gasoline bomb landed in the middle of the group of officers in an explosion of flames.

Riot police fired tear gas in at least six locations on Tuesday and used water cannons in the business district, as usually bustling streets across the city became battlefields. Thumbing their noses at Chinese President Xi Jinping, protesters ignored a security clampdown and fanned across the city armed with gasoline bombs, sticks and bricks.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said Tuesday the shooting was "disproportionate" and warned it could risk inflaming the situation. Some U.S. lawmakers also joined in the condemnation.

The Chinese foreign ministry office in Hong Kong slammed British and American politicians and accused them of condoning violence and crime.

"No time should be lost to stop violence, end the chaos and restore order to Hong Kong," it said in a statement, calling the rioters the "greatest threat to Hong Kong and the common enemy of the international community."

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