Hong Kong protesters blame police after student dies in fall

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A protester holds up a photo of Chow Tsz-Lok as they disrupt a graduation ceremony at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A protester holds up a photo of Chow Tsz-Lok as they disrupt a graduation ceremony at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong university student who fell off a parking garage after police fired tear gas during clashes with anti-government protesters died Friday in a rare fatality after five months of unrest, fueling more outrage against authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The Hospital Authority said the 22-year-old died Friday morning, but didn’t provide further details.

Some 1,000 masked protesters marched through the busy central district at lunchtime, chanting “Disband the police force,” ”Hong Kong people, revenge” and “A blood debt must be paid in blood.” Some carried white flowers and placards that read “Hong Kong is a police state.”

Protesters demanded justice for Chow Tsz-Lok and hurled abuse at several police officials on site, calling them “murderers.”

“His death is a reminder to us that we cannot give up,” one protester said on local television.

Although the cause of his fall has not been determined, it deepened anger against police, who have been accused of heavy-handed tactics including widespread use of tear gas and pepper spray since protests demanding democratic reforms started in June.

Local media reported that Chow has been in a coma with brain injury since he was found early Monday sprawled in a pool of blood on the second floor of the building. Police believed he plunged from an upper floor but it wasn’t captured by security cameras.

Minutes earlier, television footage showed riot police firing tear gas at the building after objects were hurled down at the officers in the street when they chased off a mob. Police didn’t rule out the possibility he was fleeing from tear gas but noted officers fired from a distance. Police also denied claims that officers pushed the victim down and had delayed emergency services.

The government expressed “great sorrow and regret” over Chow’s death despite undergoing surgery and treatment.

“The police have stated earlier that they attach great importance to the incident and the crime unit is now conducting a comprehensive investigation with a view to finding out what happened,” it said in a statement.

There have been only few fatalities amid the unrest, with previous reports of deaths by suicide and a man who fell to his death while hanging pro-democracy banners on a building. Last month, two teens were injured after police fired their guns in self-defense in separate incidents but both recovered.

Prominent youth activist Joshua Wong said Chow’s death made protesters’ demands for an investigation into police conduct more crucial than ever.

“Reforming the Hong Kong police force has become a big demand in the society. Obviously, the Hong Kong police force has to be accountable for Chow’s death,” he told reporters outside a court. Wong was charged in August with organizing an illegal rally.

At the University of Science and Technology, Chow’s schoolmates staged rallies this week and on Thursday disrupted a graduation ceremony. The university president dabbed away tears as he announced Chow’s “tragic” death Friday on the second day of the convocation, with the audience standing to observe a moment of silence.

The ceremony was cut short, and black-clad masked students turned the stage into a memorial for Chow. White flowers were laid below the stage as students announced plans to boycott class for a week and demanded the truth in Chow’s death.

The student union said they would hold another vigil in the evening while the university urged students to stay calm to “avoid further clashes and tragedy.”

Calls also emerged online for other memorial events Friday to mourn Chow in multiple locations including at the suburban garage where he fell. Protesters have been urged to dress in all black and wear masks to remember Chow. More rallies can be expected over the weekend.

The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill to mainland China that many sees as Beijing’s creeping interference on legal and other rights guaranteed to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned under Chinese rule in 1997. The movement has since expanded to include other demands, including direct elections for the city’s leaders.

The city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam has refused to budge and provoked more anger last month by invoking emergency powers to ban the wearing of facial coverings at rallies. More than 3,300 people have been arrested and Beijing has indicated it may tighten its grip to quell the unrest.