Two die from injuries in Hong Kong immigration fire

HONG KONG - A mainland Chinese migrant and a Hong Kong immigration officer died Friday from injuries suffered in a blaze set last week in a sensational confrontation at Hong Kong's immigration headquarters.

They were among 50 people hurt when a group of migrants doused the immigration office with flammable liquid and torched it, setting off an explosion and fire as Hong Kong's bitter fight over residency rights took its most violent turn yet.

The migrant, identified only by the surname Lam, was 26 and seeking residency rights in Hong Kong, officials said. The immigration officer was identified as 42-year-old Leung Kam-kwong.

One of the 14 people still hospitalized Friday night was in critical condition, a government spokeswoman said.

Authorities have arrested 19 of the migrants from mainland China and charged them with arson and intentional wounding, but Lam was not one of those charged, police said after he died Friday morning. A Friday night police statement said the case has been reclassified as arson and homicide following the death of the immigration officer.

Immigration from mainland China has been the most delicate issue to confront Hong Kong since it reverted from British to Chinese sovereignty three years ago. Although Hong Kong is now part of China, the border with the mainland is still tightly controlled, keeping out many mainlanders who would like to seek a better life in the capitalist haven.

Hong Kong says it must control the flow to avoid having its social services overwhelmed by millions of new citizens. The Hong Kong government has battled in court to limit the number of migrants, at one point last year persuading Beijing to overrule Hong Kong's top court in a case that had gone in favor of the transplanted mainlanders.

Thousands of mainlanders are in Hong Kong illegally and fighting to stay, including those involved in the fire attack on Aug. 2. Many of the mainlanders and their supporters have expressed concerns that the fire - set by a small group of people - could lead to retaliation against all of the migrants.

The fire was set, authorities say, after about 20 migrants came to the immigration headquarters and demanded documents that would let them stay.

Immigration officers told them to leave a few hours later when the office was about to close. Then several of them poured liquid on the floor and set the office ablaze in what the Immigration Department has characterized as an intentional attack on its officers.

Fellow mainlanders seeking the right to live in Hong Kong expressed sorrow about the deaths Friday, but it was unclear whether they planned any kind of public demonstration. After much speculation the government might speed up deportation efforts, it remains unclear if many migrants would be willing to get out and protest as they have in the past.


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