Hong Kong protesters defy mask ban as city grinds to halt

Hong Kong protesters defy mask ban as city grinds to halt

HONG KONG: Protesters marched through Hong Kong in defiance of a ban on face masks as much of the city ground to a halt on Saturday (Oct 5) with the subway suspended and swathes of shops and malls shuttered following another night of violence.

Several thousand protesters staged unsanctioned marches and flashmob protests at multiple locations, with more protests planned through the weekend.

Throughout the afternoon and evening crowds gathered in masks, most of them moderates without the helmets and body armour worn by more radical protesters.

They formed human chains and chanted slogans or sang protest songs.

Hosun Lee was among a crowd of demonstrators marching through Causeway Bay, a popular shopping district.

“The anti-face mask law is the first step,” he told AFP.”If we don’t stand up and resist, then it could be that 2047 has already come,” he added, referencing the year semi-autonomous Hong Kong becomes fully part of the authoritarian Chinese mainland.

Anti-government protesters wearing masks attend a protest in Causeway Bay district, in Hong Kong, China October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

“We’re not sure what is going to happen later, but we felt we had to get out and show our basic right to wear a mask,” said one protester, Sue, 22, who wore a black mask and dark glasses.

“The government needs to learn it can’t squeeze Hong Kong people like this,” she said.

Some protests were light-hearted, even comical. In the harbourside district of Tsim Sha Tsui, a masked man walked dressed in a banana costume, the word “Revolt” emblazoned on its front.

A protester dressed as a banana joins others taking part in a flash mob rally in the Tsim Sha Tsui district in Hong Kong, Oct 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

But in Sheung Shui, close to the Chinese border, AFP reporters saw groups of masked protesters smashing the windows of businesses either owned by mainland Chinese entities or thought to be supportive of Beijing.

Police officers – many of whom had their faces covered and were not wearing identification numbers – were seen handcuffing one man who was wearing a mask in the commercial district called Central late Sunday afternoon.

Hong Kong police detain a man who was carrying a black umbrella in the Central district in Hong Kong, Oct 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

Two others – a young man and a woman – were detained and questioned, but appeared to be released.

Small crowds shouted “triads” at the officers as the people were put in police cars.

MONTHS OF CHAOS

The increasingly violent demonstrations that have roiled the city for four months began in opposition to a Bill introduced in April that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, but they have since spiraled into wider issues.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Friday invoked colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years to ban the face masks demonstrators use to hide their identities.

READ: No more masks: The colonial-era law that gives Hong Kong leader sweeping powers
READ: Teen shot in Hong Kong during protests sparked by anti-mask law: Reports

The move served to trigger one of the more violent demonstrations on Friday night.

Demonstrators set fires, hurled petrol bombs at police and burned the Chinese national flag, in a direct challenge to authorities in Beijing.

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire set by anti-government protesters, after leader Carrie Lam announced emergency laws that would include banning face masks at protests, in Wong Tai Sin district, in Hong Kong, China October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Police said an officer in Yuen Long, a district in the outlying New Territories that saw fierce clashes in July, had fired a shot in self-defense after a protester threw a petrol bomb at him, setting him on fire.

They confirmed a 14-year-old boy was shot in the leg, taken to hospital and then arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer and rioting.

Protesters also set fires at train stations, as well as to an empty train, and injured two staff, added MTR, which is known for operating one of the world’s most efficient rail networks.

Hospital authorities said 31 people were hurt in Friday’s protests, two of them seriously.

China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said on Friday the protests were evolving into a revolution backed by foreign forces and could not continue indefinitely.

The United Nations human rights chief called on Saturday for an independent probe into the violence during anti-government protests in Hong Kong, saying the injuries were alarming.

Masked protesters march in Hong Kong, Oct 5, 2019. (Photo: AP/Vincent Yu)

The night’s “extreme violence” justified the use of the emergency law, Beijing-backed Lam said in a television address on Saturday.

READ: Violence reaches a once peaceful Hong Kong suburb

“The radical behavior of rioters took Hong Kong through a very dark night, leaving society today half-paralysed,” she said in pre-recorded remarks.

“The extreme violence clearly illustrated that Hong Kong’s public safety is widely endangered. That’s the concrete reason that we had to invoke emergency law yesterday to introduce the anti-mask law.”

Anti-government protesters wearing masks attend a protest in central Hong Kong, China October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

CITY GRINDS TO A HALT

As the city awoke on Saturday, the rail network remained out of action – although the crucial airport service partially re-opened in the afternoon. The subway alone usually carries some 5 million passengers a day.

“As we are no longer in a position to provide safe and reliable service to passengers in the circumstances, the corporation had no choice but to make the decision to suspend the service of its entire network,” it said in a statement.

Shopping malls were closed, supermarket chains said they would not open and many mainland Chinese banks stayed shuttered, their facades sprayed with graffiti.

In some locations, long lines formed at supermarkets as residents stocked up on rice, eggs, toilet paper and other essentials, fearing further clashes.

READ: Entire rail network suspended as violence escalates in Hong Kong after face mask ban

Police sent text messages urging the public to avoid protests over the three-day holiday weekend.

While the increased vandalism has shocked many in a city unused to such scenes, many more moderate activists say they still have sympathy for those using violence.

The movement deploys many slogans advocating unity within the different camps pushing for democracy.

On Saturday afternoon a 67-year-old property agent, who gave his surname Luk, was surveying the damage to his local subway station, its windows shattered and walls daubed with graffiti.

He said he opposed vandalism but wouldn’t condemn those trashing the station.

Anti-government protesters wearing mask smash Mong Kok Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station during a demonstration after a government’s ban on face masks under emergency law, at Mong Kok, in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

“The government will not make any concessions,” he told AFP. “The government isn’t having a dialogue with citizens, they are just pushing this one-side behaviour.”

A French resident, who gave his first name Marko, described the face mask ban as “adding oil to the fire”.

“But I think the people who destroyed the stations are extremists,” he added.

Pro-China lawmakers and police praised Lam’s ban. Beijing also voiced support, calling it “extremely necessary”.

But critics said Lam’s move was a major step towards authoritarianism.

The emergency power, last used by the British in 1967, allows Lam to bypass the city’s parliament to make “any regulation whatsoever” during an emergency or moment of public danger.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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