HONG KONG: Police officers fired tear gas at Hong Kong protesters gathered outside Prince Edward MTR station in the Mong Kok district on Monday (Oct 7) night as demonstrations continued in various areas across the city.
The government said “a large group” of masked rioters have been “extensively” destroying properties, including at MTR stations, and blocking roads in the city.
“In Sha Tin, some masked rioters smashed glass in shopping centres, broke through a roll-up gate before storming the Sha Tin Wai MTR Station to wreck facilities including turnstile and ticket machines, and damaged traffic lights,” said the government in a press release.
MTR stations in Tsuen Wan were also vandalised, while roads in Tuen Mun and Tai Koo were blocked.
“Police warn all rioters to stop all illegal acts and will enforce the law resolutely, bringing offenders to justice.”
Hundreds of protesters had rallied in Hong Kong shopping malls during the day to demand “freedom”, but expected street protests failed to materialise in any significant size as the scarred city struggled to recover from violent clashes in recent days.
Tens of thousands of protesters, many families with children, had marched peacefully through the centre of Hong Kong on Sunday, with most wearing face masks in defiance of the threat of a maximum one year in prison for doing so.
The rallies later descended into violent clashes with police.
“Such acts jeopardise public safety,” the government said.
“In Yuen Long, some masked rioters smashed up facilities with long metal rods and hard objects and set fire in Tai Tong Road Light Rail Station.
“In Mong Kok and Tseung Kwan O, a large group of masked rioters have occupied roads. Despite the use of tear gas by police officers, rioters still refused to leave.”
Protesters on Monday formed large circles inside multi-level shopping malls and chanted “disband Hong Kong police force”, “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” and “I have the right to wear a mask”, as shoppers looked on.
The introduction of colonial-era emergency powers on Friday banning face masks, which protesters use to hide their identity, has sparked some of the most violent clashes in four months of demonstrations.
“Before long, unless we are very, very lucky, people are going to get killed, people are going to be shot,” former British governor Chris Patten told Sky News.
“The idea that with public order policing you send police forces out with live ammunition is preposterous.”
Two protesters have been shot, one in the chest and one in the leg. Authorities said the shootings were not intentional but occurred during skirmishes between police officers and protesters.
Many protesters, police and journalists have been injured in clashes, with police using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, some of whom threw bricks and petrol bombs.
A journalist working with Hong Kong’s public broadcaster was recovering in the hospital on Monday after being hit by a petrol bomb on Sunday night.
On Monday, Hong Kong’s metro rail system, which typically carries about 5 million passengers a day, was only partially operating due to what authorities described as “serious vandalism” on Sunday night. Some stations were torched in the protests.
Many shops and Chinese banks were also extensively damaged.
As the protests continued into the night, the government also warned that traffic and road conditions in various districts may be affected on Tuesday.
“As a number of damaged stations of MTR have yet to be fully repaired for operation and public transport may be affected by the possible changes in road conditions, including bus services,” it said.
“Employers should make flexible work arrangements for staff having regard to their situations. This will help maintain good labour-management relations and ensure the safety of employees and the smooth operations of establishments,” a government spokesman noted.
Schools were also reminded to take proper care of students and communicate with parents. Public medical services will continue to be in operation.
Sunday’s protests, the second night of violence since the imposition of emergency laws, saw scores of protesters arrested and the first warning from Chinese military personnel stationed in the territory.
The protests have plunged the former British colony into its worst political crisis in decades and poses one of the biggest challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
What started as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition Bill has grown into a movement against what is seen as Beijing’s increasing grip on the city, which protesters say undermines a “one country, two systems” status promised when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
China dismissed such accusations, saying foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, have fanned anti-China sentiment.
China’s Hong Kong military garrison warned protesters they could be arrested for targeting its barracks with lasers – the first direct interaction between the People’s Liberation Army and protesters.
Carrie Lam, the city’s Beijing-backed leader, had said the face mask ban was necessary to end the violence, but the ban has been criticised by human rights groups and the United Nations.
A 38-year-old woman and an 18-year-old man were charged on Monday for violating the emergency laws and unlawful assembly.
“She would have to be crazy to be making these decisions on her own without being pressured into them. The face mask business, absolutely madness,” said Patten.
“I fear for the future, unless Carrie Lam actually intervenes and understands the importance of dialogue.”
The city government said in a statement that “public safety has been jeopardised and the public order of the whole city is being pushed to the verge of a very dangerous situation”.
Hong Kong is facing its first recession in a decade, with the protests damaging tourism and retail sectors.
Protesters want an independent inquiry into police action. They said an inquiry, which Patten also called for Lam to allow, was key to ending the protests.
“Hong Kong is part of China, no doubt. We don’t want independence. But we do want our freedoms that we are used to,” said Kong, 57, who works in finance, as he watched hundreds of protesters chanting in a shopping mall on Sunday.
“If they hold an independent inquiry, that would do it. Half of these people would go home. That is the key.”
But others are worried the emergency powers are just the beginning of more erosion of their rights.
“The government can use the emergency law to enact other evil laws,” said student Isaac Shum, 19, at one shopping mall protest.
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