HONG KONG: China warned on Saturday (Oct 5) that the protests in Hong Kong are evolving into a "colour revolution" - a term coined to refer to popular uprisings in Ukraine and other former Soviet states that swept away long-standing rulers with interference from external forces.
In its statement China's Hong Kong Affairs Office also praised the anti-mask law enacted by embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Friday under colonial-era emergency powers.
"Hong Kong has reached a critical moment to stop the chaotic situation with more effective measures," the statement said. "The current chaotic situation in Hong Kong cannot continue indefinitely."
The law prohibits masks or other facial coverings during public meetings and processions, as well as unlawful assemblies and "riots". Offenders could be jailed for up to one year and fined up to US$3,190.
"Freedoms are not without limits," said Lam, when asked whether this move would trigger more anger amongst a public already bristling at what many see as a steady erosion of individual liberties under Chinese rule.
Lam said in a press conference that this was a decision made by the Hong Kong government and a high-level body of government advisors called the Executive Council. She said that during her brief trip to Beijing earlier this week to celebrate National Day, she had not met any Chinese officials to discuss this matter.
Lam said it was a difficult, but necessary decision to take at a time of "critical" danger for the financial hub. She admitted, however, that there was still a chance the move would escalate, rather than defuse the violence, while not ruling out further measures.
The Hong Kong leader added that people should not see this as Hong Kong being in a state of emergency, but a means to end the violence, aid police enforcement and restore order.
Early indications suggest that it may be counterproductive or even inflammatory, at least in the short term.
Protesters marched through Hong Kong in defiance of the ban as much of the city ground to a halt on Saturday with the subway suspended and swathes of shops and malls shuttered following another night of violence.
IS IT CONSTITUTIONAL?
Pro-democracy lawmakers criticised the move, saying new laws must involve legislative scrutiny and approval. Lam said while the law would take effect on Oct 5, it would later be scrutinised in the city's 70-seat legislature that re-opens in mid-October.
Some critics have already said they might seek a judicial review to challenge the anti-mask law.
Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, grants the legislature the power to enact, amend or repeal laws.
"The new law is clearly in breach of the Basic Law and therefore unconstitutional because as from 1/7/97, only the legislative council can enact laws including subsidiary legislation," Martin Lee, a veteran democrat and one of Hong Kong's leading barristers, told Reuters.
Professor Simon Young, of the University of Hong Kong's law school, said the government's move would still need to be squared with the freedoms outlined in 1991 Bill of Rights. That bill allows some freedoms to be effectively suspended if a public emergency threatening "the life of the nation" is declared, but the government has yet to take that step.
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