Thousands march in Hong Kong protest despite ban on face masks and city in lockdown

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A protester takes part in a flash mob rally in Hong Kong's Mongkok district on Oct 5, 2019. PHOTO: AFP
Protesters during a flash mob rally in Hong Kong's Sham Shui Po district on Oct 5, 2019. PHOTO: AFP
Protesters in a flash mob rally in Hong Kong's Sham Shui Po district on Oct 5, 2019. PHOTO: AFP
Police chase down a couple wearing face masks in Hong Kong's Central district on Oct 5, 2019. PHOTO: AFP
Protesters marching in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on Oct 5, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters marching in Hong Kong's Central district on Oct 5, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS
A usually busy road in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay shopping district is pictured mostly empty of people and traffic in the afternoon on Oct 5, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Even with the city in lockdown mode, thousands in face masks marched on Saturday (Oct 5) from the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay to Central, holding banners and chanting slogans, openly defying the face-mask ban which took effect on the same day.

Other protesters also gathered in Tsim Sha Tsui to form a human chain and marched in other districts including Sheung Shui and Mong Kok.

A man and a woman, both wearing masks, were pinned down by riot police near Statue Square in Central where dozens had gathered to sing and chant anti-government slogans. The couple were later freed but a man was seen being taken away in a police vehicle.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam had resorted to emergency powers on Friday to impose the ban. Offenders will be liable to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (S$4,400) and imprisonment of one year. They can be charged up to a year after the date of the alleged offence.

The protesters, wearing casual black tops and surgical masks, shouted slogans such as "disperse the police force", "fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong", and raised their hands to reflect their five key demands.

They want the government to completely withdraw a controversial extradition Bill which Mrs Lam has already said she would scrap on Oct 16 when the Legislative Council resumes; an independent judge-led probe into police brutality; amnesty for all those arrested in the protests; removal of the label "riot" from violent incidents; and universal suffrage.

The anti-mask move by the government led to tensions rising to fever pitch in the territory. Thousands of protesters flooded the streets on Friday night to show their disapproval with the new law. Many wore masks and some went on a rampage across the city, barricading roads, smashing shops they believed to be pro-government or pro-China.

Fires were ignited in several places, the glass fronts of the branches of the Bank of China, China Construction Bank and China Travel Services were smashed, while other businesses, including a Starbucks, were also vandalised.

A 14-year-old was shot in the thigh in Yuen Long in a confrontation with the police, who fired multiple rounds of tear gas throughout the night to disperse the crowds. Local news publication Apple Daily reported that the plainclothes officer shot the teenager after a minor traffic incident led to a confrontation with a group of protesters. Police said the officer acted in self-defence.

The city's rail operator was also not spared given that it is often now a target during violent protests.

A burnt and closed entrance to the Admiralty MTR station in Hong Kong, damaged during protests. PHOTO: AFP

The MTR Corporation shut down the entire network on Friday night and train services were suspended on Saturday, with the exception of the Airport Express which resumed limited service in the afternoon.

MTR Corporation said in a statement: "After the outbreak of violence at multiple districts, maintenance staff have to make sure of their own safety before they could travel to the damaged stations to inspect and assess the extent of damage at our stations, and to carry out repair works."

Multiple shopping malls across the city, supermarkets, and branches of Bank of China (Hong Kong), Bank of East Asia, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which have been targeted by protesters, were shut on Saturday in anticipation of further unrest.

In a pre-recorded video message released on Saturday, Mrs Lam condemned the "extreme violence" overnight, saying the rioters' acts justified the move to have the new anti-mask law.

"The radical behaviour of rioters took Hong Kong through a very dark night, leaving society today half-paralysed," the Chief Executive said.

"The extreme violence clearly illustrated that Hong Kong's public safety is widely endangered," she said, adding that this was why she had to resort to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance - last used during the 1967 riots - to implement an anti-mask law.

The move will be tabled in the Legislative Council for discussion on Oct 16.

Mrs Lam is due to present her policy address that day, and the government has also promised to withdraw the controversial extradition Bill after her speech.

She said the new measure, aimed at masked violent protesters and rioters, was meant to restore peace and order to society following four months of unrest.

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