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 in five months of unrest, fueling more outrage against authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The Hospital Authority said the 22-year-old male died Friday morning, but didn’t provide further details. The government expressed “great sorrow and regret” over Chow Tsz-Lok’s death and police said they will propose a public inquest.
Chants of “Hong Kong people, revenge” and “A blood debt must be paid in blood” rang out during multiple memorial events across the city at night as mourners demanded truth and justice over his death. Some called for a city-wide strike.
At the parking garage in the Tseung Kwan O district, thousands waited in a long line to light candles and place white flowers and paper cranes at the spot where Chow fell. Some hugged each other in tears.
There and in other areas, dozens of hard-core protesters later blocked roads, set street fires and vandalized subway stations. Riot police fired tear gas in at least two places. A police spokesman said an officer fired a warning shot in the sky after he was surrounded by protesters in one area. No one was injured.
Earlier at lunchtime, about 1,000 masked protesters marched through the central business district chanting anti-police slogans. Dozens shouted abuse at several police officers, 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 the protests demanding democratic reforms started in June. It will also complicate efforts by the government to cool down tensions.
Chow had reportedly been in a coma with a 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 on 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 Chow was fleeing from tear gas but noted officers fired from a distance.
Police official Suzette Foo repeatedly denied claims that officers pushed Chow down and had delayed emergency services. She said police entered the building late Sunday for a dispersal operation before Chow arrived and a second time just after he was found unconscious.
She said new video showed Chow wandering alone on the second floor of the car park for more than half an hour before he took the stairs to an upper floor. Minutes later, he was found unconscious. She said his movements had been normal. It wasn’t clear whether Chow had taken part in the protests.
Foo pledged the force will be impartial and will recommend a public inquest.
There have been only few fatalities during the unrest, including some reported 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 in separate incidents when police fired guns at them in self defense but both recovered.
Prominent activist Joshua Wong said Chow’s death made protesters’ demands for an investigation into police conduct even more crucial.
“Reforming the Hong Kong police force has become a big demand in the society,” he told reporters outside a court. Wong was charged in August with organizing an illegal rally.
A graduation ceremony at the University of Science and Technology, where Chow studies, was cut short in the morning. Black-clad masked students turned the stage into a memorial for him and announced plans to boycott class, and hundreds more attended another vigil at night.
University President Wei Shyy called for an independent probe after video showed an ambulance being blocked by police cars, forcing medical staff to walk to the scene and causing a delay in treatment.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to comment on Chow’s death.
“What I want to say is that at present, the most urgent thing for Hong Kong is to stop violence and restore order,” he said.
The protests were sparked by a now-shelved bill allowing extradition to mainland China that many saw as creeping interference by Beijing in legal and other rights guaranteed to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to 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, 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.
Associated Press video journalist Katie Tam contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that student was found unconscious.