Monday 14 October 2019

Hong Kong lawmakers clash ahead of protests

Measure: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam banned face masks being worn. AP Photo/Vincent Yu
Measure: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam banned face masks being worn. AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Twinnie Siu and Jessie Pang

Hundreds of mask-wearing pro-democracy protesters marched through Hong Kong's central business district yesterday, occupying a main thoroughfare and disrupting traffic as the Chinese-ruled city braced for another weekend of unrest.

Chanting their core demands, which include universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, the crowd occupied the financial district at lunchtime before peacefully dispersing.

Hong Kong's metro operator opened all stations for the first time in a week ahead of more planned anti-government protests, while the city's legislature began its first session since protesters stormed the building in July.

Pro-establishment and democratic lawmakers shouted at each other before the session, underscoring the tension and divisions in Hong Kong after four months of often violent anti-China protests.

Some lawmakers wore black masks as they sat in the chamber, while others carried placards reading: "Police brutality still exists, how can we have a meeting?"

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam invoked British colonial-era emergency laws last Friday and banned the wearing of face masks which protesters have used to shield their identities.

The protests have plunged the city, an Asian financial hub, into its worst crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, posing the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

What began as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has evolved into a pro-democracy movement fanned by fears that China is stifling Hong Kong's freedoms, guaranteed under a "one country, two systems" formula introduced in 1997.

China denies the accusations and says foreign countries, including Britain and the US, are fomenting unrest.

Ninety people have been arrested for anti-mask law violations in the past week, pushing the total number of arrests since June to more than 2,300, police said yesterday.

Police said they were investigating four reports of blackmail involving emails from a group claiming to be pro-democracy and threatening to target shops unless they fund protests via bitcoin.

Many residents fear the emergency laws may be expanded, further eroding civil liberties, but the government said on Thursday it would not bring in any other measures.

Hong Kong has been relatively calm for a few days after a street march by tens of thousands of people last Sunday spiralled into a night of violent clashes.

Several protests are planned across the city through the weekend.

Irish Independent

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