HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong students held a candlelight vigil for a university undergraduate who died on Friday after falling in a car park during pro-democracy protests, a death that could trigger more unrest.
Chow Tsz-lok, who studied at the University of Science and Technology (UST), fell on Monday from the third to the second floor of a parking lot when protesters were being dispersed by police. It was the first student death in months of rallies.
Chow, 22, died on graduation day for many students. His death is likely to fuel anger at police, who are under pressure over accusations of excessive force as the Chinese-ruled city 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, lined up in silence at UST to lay white flowers in tribute after students gathered at universities across the former British colony.
Some people left flowers at the spot where he fell at the car park in Tseung Kwan O, to the east of the Kowloon peninsula.
“He was a nice person. He was sporty. He liked playing netball and basketball,” friend and fellow UST student Ben, 25, told Reuters in tears. “We played netball together for a year. I hope he can rest in peace. I really miss him.”
Students and young people have been at the forefront of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets since June to seek greater democracy, among other demands, and rally against perceived Chinese meddling in the Asian financial hub.
The protests, ignited by a now-scrapped extradition bill allowing 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 a postponement of the lowest-tier district council elections set for Nov.24, a move which would infuriate those calling for democracy.
Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and vandalized banks, stores and metro stations. Police have fired rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and, in some cases, live ammunition.
In June, 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.
Chow had been pursuing a two-year degree in computer science. Hundreds of students, some in their black graduation gowns and many wearing now-banned face masks, chanted “Stand with Hong Kong” and spray-painted Chow’s name and pinned photos and signs of him on walls.
The university called for an independent investigation, saying an ambulance was blocked by police cars and ambulance officers had to walk to the scene, causing a delay of 20 minutes in the rescue operation.
“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,” UST president Wei Shyy said in a statement.
The government expressed “great sorrow and regret”. A police spokeswoman, tears in her eyes, said officers would find out the truth as soon as possible and urged 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.
Protests scheduled over the weekend include rallies in shopping malls, some of which have previously descended into chaos as riot police stormed areas crowded with families and children. Protesters have called for a general strike on Monday morning and for people to block public transport. Such calls have come to nothing in the past.
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 the ear of a local politician.
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.
The unrest has helped push Hong Kong’s economy into recession for the first time in a decade. Retail and tourism sectors have been hit particularly hard as tourists stay away.
An Australian penny-stock that provides bankruptcy services in Hong Kong says business is booming.
Credit Intelligence Ltd (CI1.AX) says it does well when Hong Kong does badly, and that its September-quarter revenue rose 78%, profit increased eightfold and it expects the good times to keep rolling.
Reporting by Jessie Pang, Kate Lamb, Sarah Wu, Clare Jim, Felix Tam, Anne Marie Roantree and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong and Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Writing by Farah Master and Nick Macfie, Editing by Timothy Heritage