Hong Kong police said Monday they were forced to fire water cannon and a warning shot to fend off “extremely violent” demonstrators, following another weekend of clashes at pro-democracy rallies.
Sunday’s violence in the district of Tsuen Wan, around 10 kilometres (six miles) from the city centre, was some of the worst in twelve weeks of political unrest roiling the international financial hub.
As night fell, a group of officers were cornered by protesters armed with bricks and other weapons.
An officer fell to the ground under a barrage of blows from “rioters” who had “the clear intention to take his life,” Assistant Chief of Police Mak Chin-ho told reporters on Monday afternoon.
“One officer fired a warning shot into the air,” he added, while six officers held up their revolvers as a precautionary measure.
It is believed to be the first live round fired by an officer during the current crisis.
Twenty-one officers were injured during the clashes, Hong Kong police said, while dozens of protesters were arrested including a 12-year-old for unlawful assembly, possession of weapons and assaulting police.
Earlier police appealed to members of the public “to make a clean break” with violent protesters, vowing “relentless action” to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The firing of a live round prodded an angry response from social media users, who mocked a police spokesman who had praised the “valiant and restrained” actions of officers on Sunday.
The violence erupted after a nearby peaceful march earlier Sunday. Police used tear gas against the black-clad, gas mask-wearing hardcore protesters, who had built barricades and thrown bricks and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot cops.
Police confirmed they deployed two water cannon vehicles “to stop violent acts”. The jets hit the barricades as demonstrators ran for cover.
“The antagonism between the movement and the police is too big to fix now,” said a 20-year-old protester who was at Sunday’s demonstration.