HONG KONG — A Hong Kong university student who fell off a parking garage after police fired tear gas during clashes with anti-government protesters died today 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 this 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.
At the suburban garage where Chow fell, thousands waited in a long line to light candles and place white flowers and paper cranes at the spot where he fell. Some hugged each other in tears. Others called for a city-wide strike and in some locations, protesters blocked roads and set street fires.
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 dead. She said his movement was 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.