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Protests over expected ban on face masks in Hong Kong

Chief executive Carrie Lam is expected to ban the masks at a press conference.

A protester wears a gas mask (AP)
A protester wears a gas mask (AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Masked pro-democracy protesters have marched in central Hong Kong ahead of an expected ban on wearing face masks amid months of anti-government rallies.

The government is taking a tougher stance over the territory’s most disruptive crisis since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Chief executive Carrie Lam will hold a news conference at 3pm local time (8am BST), her office said.

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Protesters hold up their hands to represent their movement’s five demands (AP)

Local media reported that Ms Lam plans to bypass the legislature to announce the mask ban under emergency powers to quash four months of anti-government demonstrations.

Thousands of people, all wearing masks, chanted slogans calling for greater democracy as they marched in the city’s business district.

One protester told reporters: “Will they arrest 100,000 people on the street? The government is trying to intimidate us but at this moment, I don’t think the people will be scared.”

Analysts warned the use of the Emergency Ordinance for the first time in over half a decade set a dangerous precedent.

The law, a relic of British rule enacted in 1922 to quell a seamen’s strike which was last used to crush riots in 1967, gives broad powers to the city’s chief executive to implement regulations in an emergency.

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Thousands of protesters wore masks in defiance of the expected ban (AP)

Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University, said: “Even though the mask ban is just a small move under the Emergency Ordinance, it is a dangerous first step.

“If the anti-mask legislation proves to be ineffective, it could lead the way to more draconian measures such as a curfew and other infringement of civil liberties.”

The planned ban follows widespread violence in the city which marred China’s National Day and included a police officer shooting a protester, the first victim of gunfire since the protests started in June over a now-shelved extradition bill.

The wounded teenager has been charged with attacking police and rioting.

The movement has since snowballed into an anti-China campaign amid anger over what many view as Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s autonomy. More than 1,750 people have been detained so far.

Activists and many legislators have warned the face mask ban could be counter-productive, impractical and difficult to enforce in a city bubbling with anger and where tens of thousands have often defied police bans on rallies to take to the streets.

PA

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