Spontaneous protests broke out at several locations in Hong Kong Friday afternoon after the death in hospital of a student.
Chow Tsz-lok, also known as Alex Chow, 22, was found with serious head injuries five days ago, near the scene of a street battle between police and anti-government demonstrators, and had been in a coma since.
Police earlier told reporters that Chow fell from the third to the second story of a car park. Officers were in the car park at the time, but the police deny that Chow was pushed.
Although the circumstances remain unclear, the computer science undergraduate is nonetheless being regarded by protesters as having died as a result of injuries sustained during a demonstration—potentially the first such case in five months of increasingly violent unrest.
Within hours of his death on Friday morning, crowds of office workers began gathering in the financial district, occupying main thoroughfares and chanting “Hongkongers, take revenge!” Calls for protesters to take “blood for blood” circulated online.
Hundreds also rallied in different parts of the Kowloon peninsula and at the Hong Kong University of Science of and Technology (HKUST), where Chow was a student.
According to local media, HKUST’s president, Wei Shyy, cut short a graduation ceremony Friday in order to visit Chow’s family at hospital, and announced Chow’s passing to the graduands present.
Hundreds of students later marched on his campus residence to demand he condemn alleged police brutality. Live news images showed his lodge heavily graffitied and windows broken. The university urged students to “exercise restraint during this difficult moment.”
Speaking at a vigil on campus, Rey, a 19-year-old business student, said: “The situation has really crossed the line of morality. This is not really about opposing political stances anymore. The police’s use of excessive force has resulted in a tragedy, and there is no way we can accept this.”
Hong Kong’s embattled administration meanwhile issued a statement expressing “great sorrow and regret” over Chow’s death, and extended sympathies to his family. It added that a police crime unit was investigating the case. Some legislators also held a minute’s silence for Chow.
The young man’s demise comes at a time of worsening political tensions in Hong Kong and is sure to galvanize anti-government protesters, who are demanding greater political freedom for the enclave—a British colony for 156 years before it was retroceded to China in 1997.
Two days ago, a conservative politician was stabbed and hospitalized while out campaigning in local elections. Three days before that, a pro-democracy district councilor was attacked and had part of his ear bitten off after a political row outside a shopping mall. In recent weeks, at least two other democracy campaigners have been attacked and hospitalized, and two teenagers shot by police with live rounds, both of whom survived.
Thousands have been injured and arrested since the protests began in June. The unrest has taken a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s vital tourism and retail industries, pushing the territory into recession.
—With reporting by Abhishyant Kidangoor and Hillary Leung/Hong Kong
Contact us at editors@time.com.