Petrol bombs and tear gas rock Hong Kong as thousands defy mask ban

Asia
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HONG KONG: Hong Kong police and protesters clashed on Sunday (Oct 6) as tens of thousands marched through the central city wearing face masks in defiance of colonial-era emergency powers which threaten them with a year in prison for hiding their faces.

Police fired tear gas and baton charged protesters in several locations, while some protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs at police, as night began to fall on Hong Kong.

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After hours of marching in the rain on Hong Kong island and across the harbour in Kowloon, in what were largely peaceful rallies, police began to try and disperse the crowds.

Police said protesters were participating in unlawful assemblies, blocking major roads, and ordered protesters to leave immediately.

“Members of the public are advised to stay indoors and keep their windows shut,” the police said in a statement.

hong kong protester throws back tear gas oct 6
A protester (C) throws teargas cannister back toward police during a demonstration near the Admiralty area of Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2019. (Photo: Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP)

A taxi driver was beaten bloody in the district of Sham Shui Po after he drove into a crowd that had surrounded his car.

“Two girls were hit by the car and one girl was trapped between the car and a shop,” an eyewitness, who gave his surname Wong, told AFP, adding the crowd managed to push the car off the wounded woman.

An AFP photographer on scene saw volunteer medics treating both the driver and the two women before paramedics and police arrived. Protesters had smashed up the taxi.

Shortly before a crowd ransacked nearby government offices.

READ: Hong Kong metro system partially reopens as city braces for further protests

READ: China supports Hong Kong anti-mask law, warns protests evolving into ‘colour revolution’

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Authorities had braced for two major protests on Sunday, fearing a recurrence of Friday night’s violent protests which saw the Asian financial centre virtually shut down the next day.

Protesters on Sunday chanted “Hong Kongers, revolt” and “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”, as riot police monitored them from overhead walkways and footbridges, some taking photographs and filming the marchers.

hong kong tear gas oct 4
A protester (C) tries to grab a teargas cannister fired by police during a demonstration in the Admiralty area of Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2019. (Photo: Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP)

Some roads clogged with protesters resembled a field of flowers, with thousands of colourful umbrellas. Umbrellas are a symbol of an earlier pro-democracy movement, but were being used on Sunday simply to keep off the rain.

Protesters handed out face masks to encourage people to defy the ban. One masked protester carried a face-mask wearing Buzz Lightyear doll from Walt Disney Co’s Toy Story animation.

As the day wore on protesters started to target subway stations and China banks, just as they did on Friday, which forced the unprecedented closure of the city’s metro railway.

A branch of China Construction Bank (Asia) near Prince Edward station was vandalised on Sunday with “No China” sprayed on it’s wall. Wan Chai station, closed with a neon sign saying serious vandalism, had a protester sheet draped over it which read: “this way to HELL”.

Protesters tore up pavements bricks to use as ammunition against police, who in return baton charged and pepper sprayed fleeing protesters.

Friday night’s “extreme violence” justified the use of the emergency law, Beijing-backed Lam said on Saturday.

The current “precarious situation”, which endangered public safety, left no timely solution but the anti-mask law, Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong’s chief secretary, wrote on his blog on Sunday. He urged people to oppose violence ahead of grassroots district council elections set for Nov 24.

READ: New protests as Hong Kong government invokes emergency powers, bans face masks

HONG KONG STRUGGLES

Rail operator MTR Corp Ltd said it would not open some stations on Sunday, after an unprecedented shutdown following Friday night’s violence. It said it needed time to repair vandalised facilities and would cut short operations on Sunday by more than three hours, to end at 9pm.

Most supermarkets and commercial stores reopened after the previous day’s closures, though some malls, such as Sogo in the bustling Causeway Bay commercial district and IFC in Central, remained shuttered.

Anti-government protesters attend a demonstration in Wan Chai district, in Hong Kong
Anti-government protesters attend a demonstration in Wan Chai district, in Hong Kong, China October 6, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Global luxury brands from Prada to Cartier are counting the costs as the unrest has kept tourists away, taking retail sales down 23 per cent in August, their biggest decline on record.

Many restaurants and small businesses have had to shut repeatedly, with the protests pushing Hong Kong’s economy to the brink of its first recession in a decade.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan in a blog on Sunday said despite recent obstacles, Hong Kong’s banking system remained sound and the financial market was functioning well.

Hong Kong may have lost as much as US$4 billion in deposits to rival financial hub Singapore from June through August, Goldman Sachs estimated this week.

“Hong Kong will not implement foreign exchange controls. The Hong Kong dollar can be exchanged freely and capital can come in and out freely. This is the solemn guarantee of the Basic Law,” said Chan.

Protesters have taken aim at some of China’s largest banks, trashing automated teller machines at branches of Bank of China Ltd’s Hong Kong unit, for example, while nearby international counterparts, such as Standard Chartered PLC, have escaped untouched.

Chan’s comment came after Hong Kong’s Monetary Authority said about 5 per cent of the city’s ATMs could not transact cash withdrawals for ‘various reasons.’

The Hong Kong Association of Banks condemned violent acts “which have caused serious damage to some bank branches and ATMs”.

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