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Hong Kong suspends trains after fresh violence over face masks ban

The government of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory has appealed for a public attitude shift over the ongoing protests.

Masked protesters march in Hong Kong (AP)
Masked protesters march in Hong Kong (AP)

By John Leicester

Anti-government protests have continued in Hong Kong after authorities shut down subway services and criminalised the wearing of face masks at rallies.

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam reaffirmed her determination not to let rioters get the upper hand in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, which she said had been “semi-paralysed” by demonstrations.

Marchers have defied the new ban on face coverings, which the government says have made it difficult for police to identify violent protesters.

Shielded under umbrellas, with many still wearing masks, several hundred demonstrators marched through a thoroughfare in the central business district, carrying a yellow banner marked: “Glory to Hong Kong” and chanting: “Hong Kong, resist.”

Scattered gatherings of protesters in masks popped up elsewhere, with some forming human chains.

Protester numbers on Saturday afternoon appeared to be down from previous weekends, when tens of thousands of people flooded the streets.

A combination of factors seemed to be at work. Some marchers said the protest movement that has plunged Hong Kong into its deepest crisis since its handover from Britain to China in 1997 is merely gathering strength for the long haul.

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Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam (AP)

The closure of the entire MTR network of subways and trains which habitually handles more than four million trips a day also caused major disruption to the city of 7.5 million people.

An express link to Hong Kong international airport also closed for a while before reopening with reduced service on Saturday afternoon.

“From MTR to EmptyR,” tweeted activist Joshua Wong, a key player in the 2014 protests that foreshadowed the past four months of demonstrations which have snowballed into sustained action against Chinese rule.

Following up on the face mask ban that came into effect on Saturday, the government also hammered home a get-tough message that it would not bow to rioters and appealed for public support after an overnight rash of widespread violence, including arson attacks.

Citizens awoke on Saturday not only to closed subway stations but also closed shops and banks, where queues formed at cash machines.

In a televised address broadcast, a solemn Carrie Lam described Hong Kong as “semi-paralysed”, and said: “Everyone is worried, anxious, or even scared.

“The government needs to take drastic measures to say no to violence, restore peace in society, protect citizens’ right to continue their daily lives and freedom, not allowing a small group of rioters to destroy it.”

John Lee, the government’s security secretary, said by not condemning violence, people are stoking it.

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Anti-government protesters block a road in Hong Kong (AP)

“What is adding oil to violence is people’s support for these acts,” he said. “What is important is that everybody comes out to say: ‘No, society will not accept violence.'”

Many peaceful protesters say violence has become a means to an end, the only way for young masked protesters to force the government to bend to calls for full democracy and other demands.

Under cover of darkness, masked protesters set fires, set up makeshift roadblocks that backed up traffic, and vandalised subway stations, China-linked businesses and other property.

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Protesters walk next to a banner reading: ‘May Glory be to Hong Kong’ (AP)

During the unrest, an officer fired a single shot from his gun in self-defence after he was attacked by protesters in the northern Yuen Long district, said police spokeswoman Yolanda Yu.

She said a man was wounded, although another police official said the victim was 14. Hospital officials said he is in a serious but not critical condition.

The teenager became the second victim of gunfire in the protests that began in June. An 18-year-old protester was also shot at close range by a riot police officer on Tuesday.

PA

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