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Protesters still wearing masks and city subway grinds to a halt – Hong Kong

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Pro-democracy protesters have been marching through Hong Kong today in defiance of a ban on face masks as much of the city grinds to a halt with the subway suspended and swathes of shops and malls shuttered following another night of violence.

The latest act of resistance follows a night of widespread chaos as hardcore protesters trashed dozens of subway stations vandalising shops with mainland China ties, built fires and blocked roads.

Hundreds of protesters, almost all masked, staged the unsanctioned march through the popular shopping district of Causeway Bay, a day after the city’s leader outlawed face coverings at protests invoking colonial-era emergency powers not used for half a century.

As the crowds were marching earlier today, city leader Carrie Lam released a stony-faced video in which she condemned protesters for “a very dark night”.

“We cannot allow rioters any more to destroy our treasured Hong Kong.”

But the march in Causeway Bay, which came despite the city-wide subway closure, showed protesters were still willing to defy the mask ban as they chanted “No rioters, only tyranny” and other popular slogans.

Months of chaos

Hong Kong has been battered by four months of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests with tourism dropping, businesses shutting up shop and the Hong Kong leadership unable to quell the simmering tensions.

The rallies were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, which fuelled fears of an erosion of liberties promised under the “one country, two systems” model China uses for the finance hub. After Beijing and local leaders took a hard line, the demonstrations snowballed into a wider movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability.

Lam continues to refuse any major concessions but is struggling to come up with any political solution that might end the chaos, leaving police and demonstrators to fight increasingly violent battles as the city tips into recession.

Hong Kong witnessed its worst clashes to date last Tuesday as China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule, with a teenager shot and wounded by police as he attacked an officer.

Yesterday, Lam used a colonial-era law to ban face masks at protests, but it did little to defuse tensions or, indeed, encourage protesters not to wear masks.

“The government doesn’t listen to us. So we are upping our game,” said 32 year old protester Nathalie, as hardcore demonstrators trashed a station in the previously calm neighbourhood of Tseung Kwan O.

In the northern district of Yuen Long, a plain clothes police officer opened fire when he was surrounded in his car and attacked by protesters, a petrol bomb exploding at his feet. Local media reported a teenage boy was shot and wounded in the same district but police would not confirm whether the bullet came from the officer’s gun.

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 four million passengers a day.

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.

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.

 

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