Hong Kong braces itself for Halloween havoc

University students wearing Guy Fawkes masks posing for a photo in support of anti-government protests during a graduation ceremony at Hong Kong Polytechnic University yesterday.
University students wearing Guy Fawkes masks posing for a photo in support of anti-government protests during a graduation ceremony at Hong Kong Polytechnic University yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Protesters targeting party district as police prepare to tackle incidents of public disorder

HONG KONG • Hong Kong is bracing itself for a rowdy and possibly hugely dangerous Halloween today, when thousands of pro-democracy protesters, many wearing banned face masks, plan to combine with fancy-dress clubbers in the party district of Lan Kwai Fong.

The protesters say they will march, without police permission, from a park in the Causeway Bay shopping district through the heaving bar streets of Wan Chai to the steep, narrow foothills of the Peak above Central.

Every weekend, the bars in Lan Kwai Fong spill onto the streets office-goers, clubbers and expatriate families, even without the activists who have thrown petrol bombs at police, set fires and trashed buildings during five months of unrest.

A stampede at midnight on New Year's Eve in 1992, when thousands had gathered, killed at least 20 and wounded scores.

This month, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam banned protesters from wearing face masks under a resuscitated British colonial-era emergency law, but few have taken any notice.

"Based on past experience, such unauthorised assembly will be a serious threat to public order and safety," a police statement said. "Members of the public should avoid travelling to the concerned area when public disorder occurs."

Protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing's increasing interference in Hong Kong, which returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula intended to guarantee freedoms not seen on the mainland. Some protesters are increasingly focusing their fury on mainland Chinese in the city.

China denies meddling and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of stirring up trouble.

Every weekend, the bars in Lan Kwai Fong spill onto the streets office-goers, clubbers and expatriate families, even without the activists who have thrown petrol bombs at police, set fires and trashed buildings during five months of unrest.

Mrs Lam said she expected negative economic growth in the Asian financial hub this year, in part as a result of the unrest. "The increasingly violent reality since June is hurting Hong Kong's economy," Mrs Lam said in a speech yesterday.

"What started off as peaceful protests, a hallmark of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms, have turned into violent acts by rioters."

Her gloomy forecast came two days after Financial Secretary Paul Chan said Hong Kong had slipped into a technical recession, meaning two successive quarters of contraction. That is expected to be confirmed by today's third-quarter gross domestic product data.

The protests, which started over a now-withdrawn extradition Bill, have plunged the city into its biggest crisis in decades and also pose the biggest populist challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2019, with the headline 'Hong Kong braces itself for Halloween havoc'. Print Edition | Subscribe