Thousands hold vigils as HK student’s death triggers outrage

HONG KONG: Thousands of Hong Kongers held vigils on Friday night for a student who died from a fall during recent protester clashes with police, triggering fresh outrage from the pro-democracy movement and fears of more violent unrest.
Although the precise chain of events leading to 22-year-old Alex Chow’s fall last weekend is unclear and disputed, his death on Friday morning was the first student fatality during five months of demonstrations.
Protesters have made alleged police brutality one of their movement’s rallying cries and have seized on the death. At the spot where Chow fell, thousands queued for hours in snaking lines to lay flowers, light candles and write condolence messages.
“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 multi-storey 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 mourners laying down a growing sea of white flowers, sticky-note messages and paper cranes.
“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, said.
“All we need is truth, only truth can protect us,” added another tearful mourner, who gave his surname Liu.
Police have acknowledged that tear gas had been used on 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” on Friday over Chow passing away.
In Beijing, foreign affairs ministry Geng Shuang declined to comment directly when asked about Chow’s death but said “eliminating disorder” was Hong Kong’s most urgent task. — AFP