HONG KONG (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong university student who fell during protests at the weekend died early on Friday (Nov 8) morning, marking the first student death during the anti-government demonstrations that have roiled the city, and set the stage for fresh unrest.
The Hospital Authority confirmed that Mr Chow Tsz Lok, 22, an undergraduate student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), had died of his injuries.
Mr Chow’s death is expected to spark fresh protests and fuel anger and resentment against the police, who are already under immense pressure amid accusations of excessive force as the city grapples with its worst political crisis in decades.
Hundreds of students, most in masks and carrying candles, lined up in silence at the university to lay white flowers in tribute after students gathered at universities across the former British colony.
Thousands also left flowers at the spot where he fell at the car park in Tseung Kwan O, to the east of the Kowloon peninsula, occasionally singing hymns.
Some people initiated a chant of "Hong Kong people, revenge" but were stopped by others saying:"We are not here to protest."
In the shopping district of Causeway Bay, hundreds lined the streets in silence, with the eerie hum of the city in the background.
Later people started shouting abuse at "black police", referring to perceived brutality, and hundreds also gathered in Kwai Fong, to the northwest of Kowloon.
In the densely populated Kowloon suburb of Mong Kok, hundreds shouted "Stand with Hong Kong", and "Hong Kong people, revenge".
Mr Chow's friend and fellow student Ben, 25, told Reuters the computer science undergraduate was sporty and liked playing netball and basketball.
"We played netball together for a year. I hope he can rest in peace. I really miss him."
Earlier on Friday, some 1,000 people rallied in the city’s main financial district to protest against alleged police brutality and actions. Many held white flowers in memory of Mr Chow.
"I am very sad over Chow’s death. If we don’t come out now, more people might need to sacrifice (themselves) in the future," said Peggy, an 18-year-old university student at the University of Hong Kong.
Chow, an active netball and basketball player according to his university peers, had been studying a two-year undergraduate degree in computer science.
Chow’s death came on graduation day for many students at his university, located in the city’s Clear Water Bay district.
University President Wei Shyy briefly paused the school’s graduation ceremony to announce Mr Chow’s death and observe a moment of silence.
The university also called for an independent investigation.
"We saw footage of (an) ambulance being blocked by police cars and that ambulance officers needed to walk to the scene, causing a delay of 20 minutes in the rescue operation of our student," Mr Wei said in a statement.
"We demand clarifications from all parties – especially from the police, regarding the cause of the delay in those most critical moments that might have saved a young life."
Hundreds of students, some in their black graduation gowns and many wearing now banned face masks, held a silent gathering in the main piazza of the campus after receiving their degrees.
Many chanted protest slogans as they gathered to mourn the death of their schoolmate.
Some were in tears.
They later moved to a stage where the graduation ceremonies had been held.
Chanting "Stand with Hong Kong" and "Five demands and not one less," they spray-painted Mr Chow’s name and pinned photos and signs of him on nearby walls.
"I can’t put a smile on my face thinking about what has happened," said Chen, a female graduate in biochemistry, who was wearing a formal gown and holding bouquets of flowers.
Later on Friday, the university cancelled the afternoon congregation.
"As a precautionary measure to manage overcrowding and ease of transportation, the university has also decided to close all operations this afternoon," the university said in a statement.
The university's students trashed a campus branch of Starbucks, part of a franchise perceived to be pro-Beijing, and rallies are expected across the territory as dusk falls, a traditional time for violence to pick up.
"Condemn police brutality," they wrote on the restaurant’s glass wall.
Demonstrators had thronged the hospital over this week to pray for Mr Chow, leaving flowers and hundreds of get-well messages on walls and notice boards inside the building.
'WAKE UP SOON'
Students also staged rallies at universities across the former British colony.
“Wake up soon. Remember we need to meet under the LegCo,” said one message, referring to the territory’s Legislative Council, one of the targets of the protest rallies.
“There are still lots of things for you to experience in your life.”
Another read: “Please add oil and stay well”, a slogan meaning “keep your strength up” that has become a rallying cry of the protest movement.
Students and young people have been at the forefront of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets since June to press for greater democracy, among other demands, and rally against perceived Chinese meddling in the Asian financial hub.
The circumstances of how Mr Chow received his injuries were unclear but police said he was believed to have fallen from one floor to another in a carpark during weekend crowd dispersal operations in a district east of the Kowloon peninsula.
Hong Kong’s government said it was “deeply saddened” and offered condolences to Mr Chow’s family in a statement responding to media inquiries about his death.
It also said the crime unit was conducting a "comprehensive investigation" into Mr Chow’s death.
A police spokeswoman, tears in her eyes, said officers would find out the truth as soon as possible.
"We will spend every effort to investigate the cause," she told reporters, urging the public to be "calm and rational".
Police have denied blocking an ambulance. The car park said it would release CCTV footage as soon as possible. It did not say what the footage might contain.
In Beijing, foreign affairs ministry Geng Shuang declined to comment directly when asked about Mr Chow’s death.
"This isn’t a diplomatic question so I suggest you ask the relevant government department. I will just say this: stopping the violence, eliminating disorder, and restoring order is Hong Kong’s most urgent task," Mr Geng told reporters.
The protests, ignited by a now-scrapped extradition Bill for people to be sent to mainland China for trial, have evolved into wider calls for democracy, posing one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took charge in 2012.
Two pro-Beijing newspapers ran full-page ads, commissioned by "a group of Hong Kong people," calling for the lowest-tier Nov 24 district council elections to be postponed, a move which would infuriate those calling for democracy.
Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and vandalised banks, stores and metro stations, while police have fired rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and, in some cases, live ammunition in scenes of chaos.
In June, Mr Marco Leung, 35, fell to his death from construction scaffolding after unfurling banners against the extradition Bill.
Several young people who have taken their own lives in recent months have been linked to the protests.
Schools also plan a rally in the eastern district of Kwun Tong, protesters said in advertisements.
Protests scheduled over the weekend include "Shopping Sunday" centred on prominent shopping malls, some of which previously descended into chaos as riot police stormed areas crowded with families and children.
Protesters have also called for a general strike on Monday morning and for people to block public transport.
Last weekend, anti-government protesters crowded a shopping mall in running clashes with police that saw a man slash people with a knife and bite off part of a local politician's ear.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing it colonial freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.
China denies interfering in Hong Kong and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble.