HONG KONG — A Hong Kong college student on Friday became the first person to die in relation to increasingly violent anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese region, sparking further outrage among demonstrators.
Hundreds of masked protesters defied a government ban on face masks and marched through a busy central district calling for revenge after the death of Chow Tsz-lok, 22, who fell in a multistory parking lot on Monday after police used tear gas on demonstrators in the area.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital confirmed Chow's death but did not disclose why he died. Police have said its crime unit would conduct a full investigation.
"The police tell the public that Chow’s death is by accident. But I won’t believe in it," said Jenny Chou, 22, a college freshman who was among the hundreds of people holding vigil at the site where he fell.
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"I hope he will move on to a better place and Hong Kongers will continue to fight for what we deserve," Chou added.
Monday's demonstrations were part of a series of anti-government protests triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill in June. The protests have since morphed to include calls for greater democratic freedoms amid fears of China's increased control over the territory.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where Chow was studying, issued a statement of condolences to his family and offering support to his classmates while trying to quell anger.
The university "urges all students to stay calm and exercise restraint at this difficult time, to avoid any further conflicts or tragedies from happening."
Vigils were planned in eight districts throughout the city with a moment of silence to commemorate Chow. Organizers have encouraged mourners to bring flowers and candles, instead of burning incense, because Chow was Christian.
Despite the calls to keep the gatherings peaceful, local media reported that some districts saw tear gas fired to disperse growing crowds. Several subway stations were also shut down.
More protests are planned through the weekend and risk turning violent with the momentum built following Chow's death.