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Face mask ban struck down as Hong Kong police use tear gas on protesters

Riot officers broke into a university before dawn as fires raged inside.

University students wearing Guy Fawkes masks during a protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)
University students wearing Guy Fawkes masks during a protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

By Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press

Hong Kong’s high court has struck down a face mask ban aimed at protesters trying to hide their identity to avoid arrest.

A ruling issued on Monday said that the ban infringes on fundamental rights more than is reasonably necessary for the furtherance of its goals.

The government used its emergency powers to impose the ban last month.

The court said it did not consider anti-mask laws unconstitutional in general, but in this case, the law infringed on fundamental rights further than was reasonably necessary.

I hope that you will accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner Jin-Guang Teng

For days, Hong Kong’s protesters fortified a university campus to keep police from getting in. Cornered by authorities, they are now trying to get out.

Officers repelled one attempt with tear gas, driving a few hundred protesters back into the Hong Kong Polytechnic campus.

The situation has played out repeatedly during the city’s months of anti-government unrest. The protesters want to avoid arrest. The police want to pick up as many as they can.

Hong Kong’s work week started with multiple protests that disrupted traffic, schools closed because of safety concerns and at least a temporary lull in the pitched battles for control of the Polytechnic campus, as the emphasis shifted from battering the protesters with tear gas and water cannons to waiting for them to come out.

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A policeman in riot gear points his weapon as protesters try to flee from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Ng Han Guan/AP)

The protests started peacefully in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China.

But by the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory’s government and Beijing.

Anti-government protesters barricaded themselves inside the university last week. Police surrounded the area on Sunday night and began moving in after issuing an ultimatum for people to leave the area.

The crowd wore raincoats and carried umbrellas to shield themselves from police water cannons.

Riot officers broke in one entrance before dawn as fires raged inside and outside the school, but they did not appear to get very far.

Fiery explosions were seen as protesters responded with petrol bombs.

Police, who have warned that everyone in the area could be charged with rioting, reportedly made a handful of arrests.

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Medical volunteers help a protester retreat from the front lines of a barricade outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Ng Han Guan/AP)

At daybreak, protesters remained in control of most of the campus. In one outdoor area, some demonstrators made petrol bombs while others dozed while wearing gas masks.

Two walked about with bows and quivers of arrows, while many stared at their smartphones.

A lull settled on the area as the president of the university said in a video message that that police have agreed to suspend their use of force.

Jin-Guang Teng said police would allow protesters to leave and he would accompany them to the police station to ensure their cases would be processed fairly.

“I hope that you will accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner,” he said.

It seemed unlikely the protesters would accept the offer given that they would all likely be arrested.

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Police in riot gear drag a protester who was trying to flee from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Ng Han Guan/AP)

A few hundred streamed out of the campus about 8.15am in an apparent bid to escape, but they were driven back by police tear gas.

Some wearing gas masks calmly picked up smoking tear gas canisters and dropped them into heavy-duty bags, but the protesters decided to retreat with a phalanx of officers lined up across the road in the distance.

Police have set up a dragnet around the campus to try to arrest protesters, who typically try to melt away after blocking traffic or causing other disruption before police run in to grab as many as they can.

Other protesters blocked a major road not far from the campus in a bid to distract police and help those inside the campus escape.

The police issued a “wanted” notice for an injured woman after they say protesters stopped an ambulance and removed her from police custody.

A statement on the police Facebook page said protesters hurled rocks and bricks while officers escorting the woman were trapped inside the ambulance.

One police officer fired three shots from his weapon, but the police say the shots did not hit anyone.

The statement says the 20-year-old woman had been arrested for participating in an unlawful assembly and that anyone who aided her would face the serious charge of assisting an offender, carrying up to 10 years in prison.

PA

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