Police in the southern Chinese enclave of Macau yesterday defended their handling of a violent May Day protest over salaries that saw one man claim he had been hit by an officer's bullet.
The police officer's actions in firing his revolver in the air sparked further fierce clashes with protestors and was attacked by critics as heavy-handed and an affront to freedom of expression.
Officials said a man aged 50 was undergoing an operation yesterday afternoon after he was hit in the neck by a metal object as he rode his motorcycle some 300 meters from where the shots were fired.
Police said they had launched an investigation to see if the object, which punctured the victim's lung, was one five bullets fired by the officer to clear the crowd of more than 1,000 when the protest turned violent.
The march had been called to protest against the low wages unskilled workers are being paid at a time when a flood of overseas investment into the city's famous casino industry had produced double-digit economic growth.
Unions, which organized the May Day protest of more than 1,000 people, alleged the problem was being compounded by casinos' readiness to hire cheaper and illegal workers from China and the Philippines.
They said the police crackdown yesterday was part of a broader effort by authorities to suppress criticism of the Beijing-backed government of Chief Executive Edmund Ho.
"It is just another example of this incompetent government's attack on freedom of speech," said Jose Maria Pereira Coutinho, a member of Macau's legislative assembly and president of the Macau Civil Servant's Association Union.
"This is not the first time the government has restricted our right to speak out," he added.