HONG KONG • Petrol bombs were thrown inside a Hong Kong metro station yesterday and a Starbucks outlet was smashed as pro-democracy protesters again took to the streets, angered by what they believe is Beijing's tightening grip on the city.
The Kowloon Tong station was seriously damaged in the attack, the government said in a statement. Riot police were deployed in the streets of Kowloon and inside several metro stations after the petrol bomb attack.
Hundreds of protesters, many young and wearing face masks, were marching in Kowloon at the time and were headed to a district near the Kowloon Tong station.
"No crime to cover our faces, no reason to enact (anti-mask) law," the protesters chanted. "I have the right to wear masks!"
The Hong Kong government this month introduced emergency laws banning the wearing of face masks at public rallies, a move that sparked some of the worst violence since the unrest started in June. Some protesters erected road barricades using public garbage bins and water-filled plastic barriers used for traffic control and security. Protesters elsewhere set fire to a government office in Kowloon and vandalised shops and metro stations, the government said.
There were no skirmishes between protesters and police and by nightfall, protesters had dispersed into small groups.
Hong Kong's protests started in opposition to a now-abandoned extradition Bill but have mushroomed in four months into a pro-democracy movement, and become an outlet for anger at social inequality in the city, an Asian financial hub.
The protests have plunged the city into its worst crisis since Britain handed the then colony back to China in 1997, and are the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
A small group calling itself the "Silver-Haired Marchers" began a 48-hour sit-in at police headquarters yesterday, describing themselves as "old but not obsolete".
"The young people have already sacrificed a lot, it is about time for us, the senior citizens in Hong Kong to come forward to take up part of the responsibility from the young people," 63-year-old Shiu, who was identified with only one name, told local media.
The police have arrested more than 2,300 people since June. Since September, nearly 40 per cent of those held were under the age of 18, and 10 per cent under 15.
Some protest marchers yesterday covered their faces with photocopies of the Chinese President's face, others with "V for Vendetta" Guy Fawkes masks. The face mask ban carries a maximum one-year jail term, but thousands, including school children and office workers, have defied the ban.
Many shops have been shutting early to avoid becoming a target of protesters, and due to closures of the damaged metro. Some stations on the network were closed yesterday after being targeted. Protesters have also targeted China banks and shops with perceived links to China, as well as US coffee chain Starbucks, which had a store in Kowloon trashed yesterday.
The protests have been driven by a concern that China has been eroding Hong Kong's freedoms, guaranteed under a "one country, two systems" formula introduced with the 1997 handover.
The now-withdrawn extradition Bill, under which residents could have been sent to Communist-controlled mainland courts, was seen as the latest move by Beijing to tighten control.
The use of US-made gear to quell the protests has prompted several US lawmakers to call for halting and even banning tear gas exports to the city. Senator Rick Scott last Thursday became the latest to raise concerns against Pennsylvania-based NonLethal Technologies, whose brand name was stamped on the casing of a spent tear gas canister in a photo that was widely shared on social media.
Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz, the highest-profile US politician to visit the city since the protests broke out, yesterday said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had scrapped a scheduled meeting with him. She had requested that the meeting be confidential and that Mr Cruz refrain from speaking to the media about it.
"She seems to misunderstand how free speech operates, and also how freedom of the press operates," said the vocal China critic who was stopping by Hong Kong for two days as part of a region-wide tour.