Hong Kong protesters defy mask ban as city grinds to halt

HONG KONG: Masked pro-democracy protesters marched through Hong Kong in defiance of a ban on face coverings as much of the city ground to a halt on Saturday, with the subway suspended and many shops shuttered following another night of violence.
Thousands of protesters staged unsanctioned marches and flash mob protests at multiple locations, a day after the city’s leader outlawed face coverings at protests, invoking colonial-era emergency powers not used for half a century.
The latest acts of resistance came after a night of widespread chaos as hardcore protesters trashed dozens of subway stations, vandalised shops, set fires and blocked roads.
As the crowds began marching, city leader Carrie Lam released a stony-faced video statement in which she condemned protesters for “a very dark night”.
“We cannot allow rioters any more to destroy our treasured Hong Kong,” Lam said as she called on citizens to distance themselves from the more hardcore protesters.
Throughout the afternoon and evening crowds gathered in masks, most of them moderates without the helmets and body armour worn by more radical protesters.
They formed human chains and chanted slogans or sang protest songs.
“The anti-face mask law is the first step,” Hosun Lee, a protester in Causeway Bay, said, saying he feared more laws under the emergency order were on the way.
Some gatherings were light-hearted. In the harbourside district of Tsim Sha Tsui, a masked man walked dressed in a banana costume, the word “Revolt” emblazoned on its front.
But in Sheung Shui, close to the Chinese border, AFP reporters saw groups of masked protesters smashing the windows of businesses either owned by mainland Chinese entities or thought to be supportive of Beijing.
Police officers — many of whom had their faces covered and were not wearing identification numbers — were seen tackling a young couple wearing masks in the district of Central.
Crowds shouted “triads” at the police and the couple were eventually released. But another masked man was handcuffed and led away soon after.
Hong Kong has been battered by four months of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests. — AFP