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Hong Kong vigils for dead student spiral into street violence

Candlelight vigils in Hong Kong mourning a student who died on Friday after a high fall during a pro-democracy rally quickly spiraled into street fires, bursts of tear gas and cat-and-mouse clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police.

Chow Tsz-lok, 22, died Friday of injuries sustained from a high fall on Monday

A man receives help after he was pepper-sprayed by police in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Candlelight vigils held in Hong Kong to mourn a student who died on Friday after a high fall during a pro-democracy rally quickly spiraled into street fires, bursts of tear gas and cat-and-mouse clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police.

Chow Tsz-lok, 22, an undergraduate student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (UST), died of injuries sustained early on Monday, the first student death in months of anti-government demonstrations. The circumstances of how he was injured were unclear but authorities said he was believed to have fallen from the third to the second floor in a parking lot when police dispersed crowds in Tseung Kwan O, a district east of the Kowloon peninsula.

The centre of Friday's unrest was on Nathan Road, in the Kowloon district of Mong Kok, one of the most densely populated locations in the world, where activists built barricades and trashed an entrance to the metro station.

Police used a robot to detonate a suspected explosive device on a side street after at least three blasts in the area amid a standoff with petrol-bomb throwing protesters that lasted hours. Police fired tear gas there and in Tseung Kwan O.

People light candles at a gathering to pay tribute to Chow Tsz-lok, 22, a university student who died after he fell during a protest in Hong Kong. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

UST students trashed a campus branch of Starbucks, part of a franchise perceived to be pro-Beijing, writing "condemn police brutality," on the restaurant's glass wall.

Hundreds of students, most in masks and carrying candles, then lined up in silence at UST to lay white flowers in tribute to Chow. Thousands also left flowers at the spot where he fell at the car park, occasionally singing hymns.

In the shopping district of Causeway Bay, hundreds lined the streets in silence, with the eerie hum of the city in the background.

Then the mood changed.

People started shouting at "black police," referring to perceived brutality, and blocked streets in Causeway Bay.

In Mong Kok, dozens of activists barricaded off Nathan Road, which leads to the harbour to the south. They vandalized a closed metro entrance, throwing in bricks and pouring oil through the metal grill, and destroyed a phone booth in a small explosion. There were clashes and fires in the New Territories town of Sha Tin.

In Tseung Kwan O, where people had been leaving flowers and silently crying for hours, people screamed encouragement after a traffic light was set on fire.

Students at forefront of protests

Students and young people have been at the forefront of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets since June to press for 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 for 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.

A protester attaches stickers and a defaced portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping on a Bank of China ATM machine during an anti-government rally at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on Thursday. (Dita Alangkara/Associated Press)

Two pro-Beijing newspapers ran full-page ads, commissioned by "a group of Hong Kong people," calling for the lowest-tier Nov. 24 district council elections to be postponed, a move which would infuriate those calling for democracy.

Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and vandalized banks, stores and metro stations, while police have fired rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and, in some cases, live ammunition in scenes of chaos.

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.

Graduation day

Chow, an active netball and basketball player according to his university peers, had been studying a two-year undergraduate degree in computer science. Chow's death came on graduation day for many students at his university, located in the city's Clear Water Bay district.

Hundreds of students, some in their black graduation gowns and many wearing now banned face masks, held a silent gathering in the main piazza of the campus after receiving their degrees. Some were in tears.

A protester holds up a photo of Chow Tsz-Lok as they disrupt a graduation ceremony at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong on Friday. The ceremony was cut short and black-clad, masked students turned the stage into a memorial for Chow. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

They later moved to a stage where the graduation ceremonies had been held. Chanting "Stand with Hong Kong" and "Five demands and not one less," they spray-painted Chow's name and pinned photos and signs of him on nearby walls.

"I can't put a smile on my face thinking about what has happened," said Chen, a female graduate in biochemistry, who was wearing a formal gown and holding bouquets of flowers.

A graduate wears a helmet during a graduation ceremony at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Friday. Students and young people have been at the forefront of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets since June to press for greater democracy. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Hong Kong's government said in a statement that it expressed "great sorrow and regret" and that the crime unit was conducting a "comprehensive investigation" into Chow's death.

Further rallies

Protests scheduled over the weekend include "Shopping Sunday" centred on prominent shopping malls, some of which have previously descended into chaos as riot police stormed areas crowded with families and children.

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.

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