Chaos hits Hong Kong again as thousands defy mask ban

07 Oct 2019


A PROTESTER decides to go head-to-head with a police officer during a demonstration on Sunday.—Reuters
A PROTESTER decides to go head-to-head with a police officer during a demonstration on Sunday.—Reuters

HONG KONG: This city was rocked by fresh violence on Sunday as tens of thousands hit the streets to defy a ban on face masks, sparking clashes with police, street fights and vandalism across the strife-torn city.

Large crowds marched through torrential rain in peaceful but unsanctioned rallies on both sides of Victoria Harbour, condemning the government for deploying emergency powers to ban face masks at public gatherings.

But violence erupted as police dispersed crowds with tear gas, and then battled hardcore protesters in multiple locations — plunging the finance hub into chaos once more.

In one incident, a taxi driver was beaten badly 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,” a witness said, adding the crowd managed to push the car off the wounded woman.

A photographer saw volunteer medics treating both the driver and the injured women before paramedics and police arrived. Protesters smashed up the taxi.

Earlier, a crowd ransacked nearby government offices, while multiple Chinese banks and subway stations were vandalised across the city.

Hospital authorities said three people had been admitted in serious condition.

In the evening, a yellow warning flag was raised on the roof of a People’s Liberation Army barracks after protesters shone laser pens at the building, RTHK news reported.

Hong Kong police use similar colour-coded flags to warn people to disperse.

Activists have staged three straight days of flash-mob rallies and sprees of vandalism after Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam outlawed face coverings by protesters, invoking colonial-era emergency powers not used for half a century.

Pro-democracy lawma­kers went to the High Court on Sunday morning seeking an injunction against the ban, arguing the emergency powers bypassed the legislature and contravened the city’s mini-constitution. But a senior judge dismissed their case.

The law allows Lam — who has record-low approval ratings — to make “any regulations whatsoever” during a time of public danger.

She warned she would use the powers to introduce new regulations if the unrest did not abate.

The ban was welcomed by government supporters and Beijing, but opponents and protesters saw it as the start of a slippery slope, tipping the international finance hub into authoritarianism.

It has done little to calm tensions or stop crowds coming out so far.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2019