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Banks close Hong Kong branches

London-based banks HSBC and Standard Chartered have been forced to shut bank branches in Hong Kong as the territory's political unrest spills into the financial markets.

Pro-democracy protests yesterday sparked one of the biggest police crackdowns in Hong Kong since it returned to China rule in 1997, causing the Hang Seng stock market to fall 2% to a two-month low.

Standard Chartered said it temporarily shut ATMs and branches in five locations as part of a "business continuity plan". The bank, whose UK-listed shares have fallen nearly 2%, has 6,000 staff across 78 branches in Hong Kong.

HSBC, which has 27,000 staff and around 100 branches in the city, said it too activated elements of its continuity plan after closing a couple of branches early. The FTSE 100 group's shares are trading about 1.5% down.

HSBC's main building in Hong Kong operated normally during the day but one office was closed and alternative arrangements put in place.

Other banks affected by the unrest include Bank of China and Singapore's largest bank DBS.

The Hang Seng's fall comes amid signs of slowing growth in China, the second-largest economy in the world.

However, Fitch Ratings analyst Andrew Colquhoun said the protests were unlikely to last long enough, or be on a wide enough scale, to have a material effect on the economy or financial stability of Hong Kong, which it rated "AA+" two weeks ago.

"Hong Kong retains a number of credit strengths supporting its very high rating including the strength of the government's balance sheet, supply-side economic flexibility, and high standards of governance underpinned by high-quality public institutions," he said.

Ryan Huang, an analyst at IG Markets, said businesses most likely to be affected by the unrest are retailers and tourism-related firms.

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