Seven pro-democracy politicians have been arrested in Hong Kong as thousands gathered at a memorial service for a student killed during a rally.
Police said three politician were detained on Saturday and charged with obstructing the local assembly during a raucous May 11 meeting over the now-shelved China extradition bill that sparked five months of protests calling for democratic reforms.
The others received summons to turn up at police stations on Saturday to face arrest.
All seven are to appear in court on Monday.
Candlelight vigils mourning a Hong Kong student killed in a high fall during a pro-democracy rally have quickly spiralled into violence between protesters and police.
Although the events leading to the fall of 22-year-old Chow Tsz-lok, also known as Alex Chow, are unclear and disputed, his death is the first student fatality during five months of demonstrations.
Protesters, who have made allegations of police brutality one of their movement’s rallying cries, responded to Chow’s death with tearful vigils on Friday night, local time, and calls for fresh rallies and even a citywide strike over the weekend.
Some took to the streets wearing black, with protesters expected to be dressed en masse in the colour over the weekend.
Mourners could be heard chanting, “Hong Kong people, revenge” and “A blood debt must be paid for in blood,” in a chilling warning of how protesters might retaliate.
The centre of violence was on Nathan Rd in the Kowloon district of Mong Kok, one of the most densely populated locations in the world, where activists built barricades and trashed an entrance to the metro station.
Police used a robot to detonate a suspected explosive device on a side street following at least three blasts in the area, amid a lengthy stand-off with petrol-bomb throwing protesters on Friday.
There were also clashes and fires in the New Territories town of Sha Tin.
At least seven arrests were made, according to local media.
Chow’s death has fuelled anger at police, who are under pressure over accusations of excessive force as the former British colony grapples with its worst political crisis in decades.
UST students trashed a campus branch of Starbucks, part of a franchise perceived to be pro-Beijing, and rallies are expected across the territory over the weekend.
“Condemn police brutality,” they wrote on the restaurant’s glass wall.
Hundreds of students, most in masks and carrying candles, then lined up in silence at UST to lay white flowers in tribute.
‘A TICKING BOMB’
“Today we mourn the loss of a freedom fighter in Hong Kong,” Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy campaigner, said on Twitter.
“The atmosphere in Hong Kong is like a ticking bomb,” added Lo Kin-hei, a local pro-democracy councillor and activist. “HKers don’t trust the police will give us the truth.”
Police have repeatedly denied any allegations of wrongdoing in relation to Chow’s death.
The lead officer in the case, Superintendent Ewing Wu, again insisted on Friday that police were not at fault.
“As for the allegations that police chased the deceased or that we pushed him and caused him to fall, the police hereby make a solemn statement again that nothing of the kind happened,” Wu told reporters.
Chow was taken to hospital early on Monday morning following clashes between police and protesters in the middle-class district of Tseung Kwan O.
He was certified dead by the hospital on Friday morning after failing to emerge from a coma.
Chow had been found lying unconscious in a pool of blood inside a multistorey car park that police had fired tear gas towards.
Protesters had been hurling objects from the building, in the type of confrontation that has become routine in late-night rallies over recent months.
By Friday evening, the car park had become a makeshift memorial with hundreds lining up to lay flowers, light candles and stick multi-coloured notes carrying messages on the wall.
“I think there should be an independent inquiry commission to investigate his death and other incidents happened during the movement,” a 23-year-old student, who gave her surname Ho and said she attended Chow’s university, told AFP.
Police have acknowledged that tear gas had been used Sunday night to disperse protesters near the car park where Chow fell.
Wu, the lead investigator, confirmed on Friday that police entered the car park twice to contain the protesters but said that officers were not inside when Chow fell.
Wu and a police spokeswoman also rejected accusations that officers delayed paramedics getting to the scene.
“At this stage, we are investigating the cause of Chow’s death instead of investigating police officers,” Wu said.
The Hong Kong government expressed “great sorrow and regret” over Chow’s death.
In Beijing, foreign affairs ministry Geng Shuang declined to comment directly when asked about 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,” Geng told reporters.
Chow was a student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The college held its graduation ceremony Friday morning, and university head Wei Shyy paused the proceedings to announce Chow’s death.
After the ceremony was cut short, hundreds of students gathered to mourn Chow’s passing and condemn what they described as police brutality.
“Hindering rescuers is attempted murder!” Student chanted as they marched at the campus.
Shyy later released a statement to students backing calls for an independent inquiry.
“We will be outraged if there is no acceptable explanation offered to us,” he wrote.
ANGER CONTINUES TO GROW
Millions of people have taken to Hong Kong’s streets since June in the greatest challenge to China’s rule of the city since its handover from the British in 1997.
China governs Hong Kong under a special “one country, two systems” framework that is meant to give the city more freedoms and liberties than on the mainland.
But public anger has been building for years over a belief that Beijing is eroding those freedoms, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power.
The protests were triggered by a government effort to introduce a law allowing extraditions of criminal suspects to mainland China.
Hong Kong’s government belatedly withdrew the plan but not before the protest movement escalated into wider calls for democracy.
Protesters are demanding fully free elections to choose the city’s leader, as well as an investigation into alleged abuses by police.
AFP, Reuters, News Corp Australia Network