HONG KONG: The Hong Kong government said on Tuesday (Nov 5) it deeply regrets the involvement of civil servants in protests that have plunged the Chinese-ruled city into crisis as activists plan fresh demonstrations across the territory.
Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung's comments came after a commentary on the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily Weibo account said Hong Kong civil servants who support the anti-government demonstrations would "perish with the rioters".
The demonstrations began over a since-scrapped extradition Bill and escalated in mid-June.
Protesters have kept up their calls for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police behaviour, among other demands.
The protests, which pose a grave challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, have received broad support from Hong Kong people, including some civil servants, teachers and financial industry workers who have at times taken to the streets.
"In the past few months, a very small portion of the civil servants have broken the law, participating in illegal protests. We deeply regret that," Cheung said.
"Their first job is to serve society, serve the community. And to support government policies, that is the responsibility of the civil servants."
In August, thousands of civil servants defied a government warning to remain politically neutral and joined a rally, while the territory's chief executive Carrie Lam said in September she regretted the arrest of some civil servants during protests.
BONFIRE NIGHT PROTESTS
After gatecrashing fancy-dress Halloween festivities on Oct 31, hundreds of Hong Kong protesters marked Guy Fawkes Day on Tuesday in the Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district of Kowloon by wearing the white, smiling Guy Fawkes masks made popular by anti-establishment hackers, the film V for Vendetta and protesters globally.
Some protesters vandalised traffic lights and a restaurant perceived as being pro-Beijing, prompting police to move in with the water cannon, near the science museum, as they have done on many nights during five months of demonstrations. Some protesters were detained while others ran off.
Guy Fawkes Day, also called Bonfire Night, is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires every Nov 5 in Britain. Effigies of "guys" are burnt, marking the night in 1605 when Fawkes was arrested for a "gunpowder plot" to blow up parliament.
“We are here to tell the government that we are not afraid of them and that they should be afraid of us," masked protester Pete, 27, said in front of the huge, harbourfront neon Christmas decorations.
Lam banned face masks last month, invoking colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years, but protesters have largely ignored the ruling.
The number of people who take part in the mostly weekend rallies has dwindled from the millions who participated in June, but the violence and vandalism have escalated. Authorities have refused permits for many recent protests, making them illegal from the outset and activists liable to be arrested.
There have been many injuries in the protests, but no deaths. A 22-year-old student at a Hong Kong university who fell during protests at the weekend was in critical condition on Tuesday, hospital authorities said.
A man knifed several people on Sunday and bit off a part of a politician's ear before being beaten by protesters. A 48-year-old suspect has been charged for wounding.
Cheung said his administration would safeguard freedom of the press amid criticism of what many see as excessive police force, including against the media.
Cheung is standing in for Lam, who is visiting mainland China, where Xi said on Monday the central government had a high degree of confidence in her.
The demonstrations have battered the retail and tourism sectors, with preliminary government data showing the economy slid into recession for the first time in a decade in the third quarter.
An IHS Markit survey published on Tuesday showed business activity in Hong Kong's private sector fell to its weakest in 21 years in October, weighed down by anti-government protests and softening global demand.
Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" formula that is meant to protect its freedoms for 50 years.
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