HONG KONG: Hong Kong police and protesters clashed on Sunday (Oct 6) as tens of thousands marched through the central city wearing face masks in defiance of colonial-era emergency powers which threaten them with a year in prison for hiding their faces.
Police fired tear gas and baton charged protesters in several locations, while some protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs at police, as night began to fall on Hong Kong.
In the first arrests under the new emergency laws, police detained scores of protesters, tied their wrists with cable and unmasked their faces before placing them on buses. Others lay in foetal positions on the ground, their wrists tied behind their backs, after being subdued with pepper spray and batons.
"The anti-mask law just fuels our anger and more will people come on to the street," Lee, a university student wearing a blue mask, said on Sunday, as he marched on Hong Kong island.
"We are not afraid of the new law, we will continue fighting. We will fight for righteousness. I put on the mask to tell the government that I'm not afraid of tyranny."
Authorities had braced for two major protests on Sunday, fearing a recurrence of Friday night's violent protests which saw the Asian financial centre virtually shut down the next day.
Only hours after Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers last used more than 50 years ago, mask-wearing protesters took to the streets on Friday, setting subway stations on fire, smashing mainland China banks and clashing with police.
The rallies on Sunday on Hong Kong island and across the harbour in Kowloon had been largely peaceful until police began to try and disperse the crowds, saying they were participating in unlawful assemblies, blocking major roads, and ordered protesters to leave immediately.
A taxi driver was beaten bloody in the district of Sham Shui Po after he drove into a crowd that had surrounded his car.
"Two girls were hit by the car and one girl was trapped between the car and a shop," an eyewitness, who gave his surname Wong, told AFP, adding the crowd managed to push the car off the wounded woman.
An AFP photographer on scene saw volunteer medics treating both the driver and the two women before paramedics and police arrived. Protesters had smashed up the taxi.
Protesters on Sunday chanted "Hong Kongers, revolt" and "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong", as riot police monitored them from overhead walkways and footbridges, some taking photographs and filming the marchers.
Some roads clogged with protesters resembled a field of flowers, with thousands of colourful umbrellas. Umbrellas are a symbol of an earlier pro-democracy movement, but were being used on Sunday simply to keep off the rain.
Protesters handed out face masks to encourage people to defy the ban. One masked protester carried a face-mask wearing Buzz Lightyear doll from Walt Disney Co's Toy Story animation.
As the day wore on protesters started to target subway stations and China banks, just as they did on Friday, which forced the unprecedented closure of the city's metro railway.
A branch of China Construction Bank (Asia) near Prince Edward station was vandalised on Sunday with "No China" sprayed on it's wall. Wan Chai station, closed with a neon sign saying serious vandalism, had a protester sheet draped over it which read: "this way to HELL".
Protesters set alight a blaze at the Mong Kok MTR station, with a placard nearby reading: "If we burn, you burn with us".
Friday night's "extreme violence" justified the use of the emergency law, Beijing-backed Lam said on Saturday.
The current "precarious situation", which endangered public safety, left no timely solution but the anti-mask law, Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong's chief secretary, wrote on his blog on Sunday. He urged people to oppose violence ahead of grassroots district council elections set for Nov 24.
HONG KONG STRUGGLES
Rail operator MTR Corp Ltd said it would not open some stations on Sunday, after an unprecedented shutdown following Friday night's violence. It said it needed time to repair vandalised facilities and would cut short operations on Sunday by more than three hours, to end at 9pm.
Most supermarkets and commercial stores reopened after the previous day's closures, though some malls, such as Sogo in the bustling Causeway Bay commercial district and IFC in Central, remained shuttered.
Global luxury brands from Prada to Cartier are counting the costs as the unrest has kept tourists away, taking retail sales down 23 per cent in August, their biggest decline on record.
Many restaurants and small businesses have had to shut repeatedly, with the protests pushing Hong Kong's economy to the brink of its first recession in a decade.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan in a blog on Sunday said despite recent obstacles, Hong Kong's banking system remained sound and the financial market was functioning well.
Hong Kong may have lost as much as US$4 billion in deposits to rival financial hub Singapore from June through August, Goldman Sachs estimated this week.
"Hong Kong will not implement foreign exchange controls. The Hong Kong dollar can be exchanged freely and capital can come in and out freely. This is the solemn guarantee of the Basic Law," said Chan.
Protesters have taken aim at some of China's largest banks, trashing automated teller machines at branches of Bank of China Ltd's Hong Kong unit, for example, while nearby international counterparts, such as Standard Chartered PLC, have escaped untouched.
Chan's comment came after Hong Kong's Monetary Authority said about 5 per cent of the city's ATMs could not transact cash withdrawals for 'various reasons.'
The Hong Kong Association of Banks condemned violent acts "which have caused serious damage to some bank branches and ATMs".
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