Office workers blocked streets in Hong Kong’s financial district on Friday as the death of a student stoked anger in the city that is struggling to contain anti-government demonstrations.
Chow Tsz-lok, 22, died on Friday four days after falling from a car park as police dispersed demonstrators. The events leading up to the incident are unclear but many protesters view his death as the first fatality linked to the protests.
Hundreds of office workers marched during their lunch breaks through central Hong Kong amid calls for further protests. Thousands more showed up at other locations across the territory to pay tribute to Chow, who studied at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Angry crowds blocked major roads and set fire to objects and a police officer fired a warning shot to the sky in Yau Ma Tei, a busy shopping district.
In the city centre, some protesters carried white flowers and wore masks to shield their identities, as they shouted “Hongkongers’ revenge!”
“I am completely livid,” said Sophia, who works in banking. “We do not know the full facts but from a reasonable person’s standpoint, so many aspects are suspicious.”
Jaon Lam, another of the marchers, carried a picture of Chow as he joined the group of office workers blocking a road junction outside a Louis Vuitton store. “His death is just one reason for the protest today. Behind it is what the government and the police have done in the past few months,” he said.
Police said they were investigating the case and denied allegations they had obstructed medical assistance or that officers had pushed Chow. A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government expressed “great sorrow and regret”.
Hong Kong has been gripped by five months of protests sparked by a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China for trial. Demonstrators have broadened their demands to include universal suffrage and an independent investigation into allegations of police brutality.
A friend of Chow who studies science at HKUST described him as cheerful and a “keen protester”.
“I hope the people will not give up and be disheartened. He would like you to persist,” the young man dressed in black said, before breaking down in tears.
Students at Chow’s university laid white chrysanthemums and lilies on a stage on campus that hours before had hosted a graduation ceremony.
Black-clad students also smashed shelves at Starbucks. The coffee chain has been targeted by protesters after the daughter of the founder of Maxim’s, the restaurant company that operates the US group’s outlets in Hong Kong, criticised the demonstrations.
Chow’s death sparked an outpouring of grief on social media with many protest-related groups on Telegram, the messaging app heavily used by the demonstrators, changing their icons to black.