Mask banned, riot spread out in Hong Kong

International Incidents

Thousands of people turned out in heavy rain across Hong Kong on Sunday to denounce a ban on face masks, brought in under sweeping colonial-era emergency powers in the city government’s latest attempt to stem a four-month-old protest movement. [ BBC, CNN, The Guardian]

Police used water cannon, tear gas and truncheons, reportedly removing masks from demonstrators they arrested, and a number of people were injured.

Tens of thousands of protesters had turned out in the rain, spurred to act by a ban on wearing masks at rallies.

The controversial ban was upheld by the High Court on Sunday.

It was introduced by chief executive Carrie Lam who invoked powers dating back to colonial rule by the British.

Sunday’s protests were fuelled by both the mask ban and the use by police of live bullets against protesters, which left two people injured this week.

A wave of rioting in Friday led city metro services to shut down but they had partially resumed on Sunday.

What happened on Sunday?

The protesters’ aim was to make clear their utter contempt for the emergency law banning face masks and almost all covered their faces, the BBC’s Robin Brant reports from Hong Kong.

Police watched as protesters moved peacefully, chanting “Hong Kong resist” as they walked through the heart of the city, but after a few hours officers moved to end the disruption

Tear gas canisters were fired on the crowd from police on walkway bridges above. Video shows small groups being targeted by charging officers on the ground.

Many shops were again closing early on Sunday evening in anticipation of more trouble, our correspondent says.

Among incidents on Sunday:

  • An entrance to the Mong Kok metro station was attacked with signs and windows smashed, and a lift set on fire
  • Rioters smashed their way into local government offices in the Cheung Sha Wan area
  • A masked protester briefly hijacked an excavator in an attempt to dig up the road in Wan Chai
  • A taxi driver was badly beaten in Sham Shui Po after reportedly driving his car into a crowd, injuring at least one person

Many more people turned out for the new marches than on Saturday, when a small march was held in the aftermath of Friday’s rioting.

“I’m not sure how many more chances we’ll get to fight for freedom,” said Hazel Chan, 18, who was wearing a surgical face mask when she spoke to the BBC near a road block on the city’s Rodney Street.

“I don’t think it’ll have a big impact on the government’s stance but I hope we gain international attention and show the world we won’t get used to this evil law.”

The protests were originally sparked by an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent for trial in mainland China, but have swelled into a much broader movement with goals including greater democracy and an independent investigation of police brutality.

It is the biggest political crisis for the territory since the handover from British colonial rule in 1997, and one of the most serious challenges to China’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping, since he took power.

Although Hong Kong is officially self-ruled under the agreement that ended colonial rule, its leader is effectively handpicked by Beijing, and ultimately answers to the Communist party leadership there.

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