Another person in Hong Kong has died in protests that have convulsed the financial hub since June, a tragedy that comes just after China’s leader issued his most direct rebuke of the unrest yet.
A 70-year-old cleaner who was believed to have been hit in the head during a skirmish between protesters and residents died Thursday evening, the Hospital Authority confirmed. According to a government statement, the man was on his lunch break Wednesday when he was struck by “hard objects hurled by masked rioters.”
His death follows less than a week after a student protester sustained a fatal injury after falling from a parking garage during demonstrations. While the circumstances leading to the student’s fall remain unclear, many supporters of the protest movement see him as a martyr, and his death galvanized a fresh round of strikes and protests that have roiled the city for five consecutive days.
Traffic continued to be snarled and train services disrupted Friday as protesters occupy major thoroughfares and parts of the railway tracks. Schools and universities remain shuttered, and many businesses encouraged employees to stay home.
Speaking from a summit in Brazil, Chinese President Xi Jinping said “continuous radical violent activities in Hong Kong seriously trample [on] rule of law and the social order, [and] seriously disturb Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”
Beijing firmly supports Hong Kong’s leader, the police and the courts “in severely punishing the violent criminals,” he said in rare comments on the situation. According to Chinese state media, Xi called ending the turmoil Hong Kong’s most pressing task.
But with no end to the protests in sight, Asia’s financial capital is struggling. The territory of 7.5 million has fallen into a recession as tourists stay away and high-end shopping malls are transformed into battlegrounds between riot police and protesters.
After clashes with police moved from the streets to the outskirts of academic institutions earlier this week, unleashing some of the fiercest battles in six months of unrest, student demonstrators barricaded themselves inside their university campuses. Behind the walls of the fortress-like campuses, students have stockpiled Molotov cocktails, swords and arrows as they seek to safeguard their academic sanctuaries.
Several universities have suspended classes for the duration of the semester, and allowed an exodus of international students.
In the city’s Central business district, lunchtime flash mobs have brought white collar workers out to the streets to erect roadblocks and face off with police, even as the clashes have become increasingly violent.
In the face of a deepening crisis, Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam has doubled down on her insistence that there will be no capitulating to the protesters’ demands. Earlier this week, she called it “wishful thinking” that the government would yield to the “escalating violence.”
—With reporting by Hillary Leung/Hong Kong