Updated at 6:35 a.m. ET
As goose-stepping soldiers marched in Beijing to mark 70 years of Communist Party authoritarian rule, marchers in Hong Kong chanted “power to the people,” demanding universal suffrage and the right to elect their own leaders.
The contrast was one that Beijing and its embattled representative in Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, had hoped to avoid in the weeks ahead of the Oct. 1 anniversary. But the protesters who have been out in force for 17 straight weeks in Hong Kong had other ideas.
In an ominous first during the weeks of civil unrest, a protester in Tseun Wan in the Western New Territories was shot in the chest by police, according to The South China Morning Post.
Video on local media shows a young man, blood on his chest, dressed in black with goggles and helmet. He’s slumped on the ground complaining of chest pain and asking to be taken to a hospital. Another video circulated on social media purports to show the protester being shot by police at close range.
The hospital authority of Hong Kong confirmed to NPR that a male protester was hospitalized and is in critical condition. Police say they are trying to confirm local media reports that the man was hit in the chest with a live round.
One of the protesters’ key demands has been for an independent investigation into police handling of the protests, where demonstrators have been subjected to what they call excessive force. The apparent shooting is likely to further inflame tensions.
Earlier, in Kowloon, the peninsular part of Hong Kong that adjoins mainland China, police also used live ammunition for warning shots to ward off protesters.
Peaceful demonstrators on the main Hong Kong island devolved into confrontations with police, who fired tear gas in hopes of subduing the crowd.
In an apparent effort to restrict the movement of protesters, authorities shut down nearly 20 subway stations, a vital transit link in the sprawling territory.
Earlier in the day, Hong Kong officials assembled at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai to witness a flag-raising ceremony meant to show fealty to China. But Lam, was not present. Instead, she sat with dignitaries at the military parade in Beijing.
Although the protests have been largely sustained by young, university-aged activists, many of the largest peaceful demonstrations in recent months – some that drew hundreds of thousands of people – have shown that a cross-section of Hong Kong people support the call for greater freedoms.
“They are squeezing our necks so we don’t breathe the air of freedom,” King Chan, a 57-year-old homemaker who came out to protest with her husband, told The Associated Press.
“If the people of Hong Kong win against dictatorship then it’s also a lesson for the world,” former Hong Kong lawmaker Lee Cheuk Yan told NPR. “You know people think the regime is so powerful that it’s impossible, but we can do the impossible if we continue to fight.”