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Thousands protest as bid to block Hong Kong masks ban fails

The ban came into force on Saturday, triggering more violence.

Protesters carrying umbrellas march on a rainy day in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)
Protesters carrying umbrellas march on a rainy day in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

By Eileen Ng and John Leicaster, Associated Press

Thousands of protesters shouting “Wearing masks is not a crime” braved the rain to march in central Hong Kong as a court rejected a second legal attempt to block a ban on masks at pro-democracy rallies.

The ban, aimed at quashing violence during four months of protests, came into force on Saturday, triggering more clashes and destruction.

A teenage protester was shot in the thigh on Friday night when an off-duty police officer fired his pistol in self-defence.

Politician Dennis Kwok said the High Court had refused to grant an injunction on the masks ban, but it agreed to hear later this month an application by 24 legislators against Hong Long leader Carrie Lam’s use of emergency powers to impose the measure by circumventing the legislature.

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Protesters carrying umbrellas march past a pedestrian bridge displaying vandalised photos of tainted Chinese President Xi Jinping and communist party flags in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

The embattled leader has said the ban on masks, which allows radical protesters to conceal their identity, was needed to stop widespread violence that “semi-paralysed” the city.

It is also the biggest challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping since the former British colonial returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Many malls, shops and the entire MTR network of subways and trains shut on Saturday following the overnight rampage.

About half of the city’s 94 subway stations reopened on Sunday but many malls, especially in the Causeway Bay shopping district, remained shuttered as thousands of protesters marched with umbrellas and most of them wearing masks in defiance.

Critics fear the use of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which gives Ms Lam broad powers to implement any measures she deems necessary in an emergency, would pave the way for more draconian regulations.

The law was enacted by British colonial rulers in 1922 to quell a seamen’s strike and last used in 1967 to crush riots.

Ms Lam has not ruled out further measures if violence continues.

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Protesters wearing face masks in defiance of the ban (Vincent Thian/AP)

“This emergency law is so ancient and draconian. Carrie Lam is using it as some sort of weapon of mass destruction to nuke Hong Kong,” said legislator Claudia Mo.

Even though the court rejected the legal challenge, Mr Kwok and Ms Mo welcomed the decision to expedite the hearing. The court did not give any dates but indicated it would be at the end of this month.

“This is a constitutional case. The court has acknowledged there is controversy involving the use of the emergency law,” said Ms Mo said.

Ms Lam has said she will seek the backing of the legislature when it resumes on October 16.

Ms Mo called it a sham because only Ms Lam has the power to repeal the masks ban under the emergency law.

Many protesters who wore masks said on Sunday that the ban curtails their freedom of expression.

The ban applies to both illegal and police-approved gatherings, and carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine.

“Carrie Lam is not the god of Hong Kong. She can’t do anything she likes,” said retiree Patricia Anyeung, who marched with her sister, Rebecca. Both wore masks. She said she has been protesting for months and will not be cowed.

“They can’t arrest us all. There are thousands of us,” she said.

“There is no going back, we are at the point of no return.”

Patricia Anyeung, who described herself as a wealthy retiree with a UK passport, said she may leave if Hong Kong’s freedom is extinguished.

Some protesters spray painted the word “Resist” along a pavement.

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A man watches from a footbridge protesters wearing face masks and holding umbrellas march on a street in Hong Kong (Vincent Thian/AP)

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

But the shooting of the teenager on Friday night – the second victim of gunfire since the protests began in early June – stoked fears of more bloody confrontations.

An 18-year-old protester was also shot at close range by a riot police officer on Tuesday.

He has been charged with rioting and assaulting police, while the younger teenager has been arrested.

The protest movement that started in June over a now abandoned Bill which would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited for trial in mainland China has snowballed into an anti-China movement as protesters demand more democratic rights including direct elections for the city’s leader and police accountability.

PA

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