HONG KONG: Seventy-seven people were arrested for violating an anti-mask law enacted at the weekend, Hong Kong police told reporters on Tuesday (Oct 8).
The law was introduced under sweeping emergency powers invoked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam in a bid to quell often violent street protests in the city.
Police said protesters set buildings on fire and hurled petrol bombs at officers over the weekend, while others attacked members of the public who held different views from them.
"Such ruthless and reckless acts are pushing the rule of law to the brink of total collapse," Regional Commander of New Territories North Kwok Yam-yung said.
READ: First Hong Kongers appear in court for defying mask ban
"We are alarmed by the number of cases where rioters viciously beat up people with different views to theirs, in places like Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po," he added.
Many of those beaten up were left unconscious and some with "life-threatening injuries", the regional commander said.
"Please do not underestimate the gravity of this development. If the victims of such horrific attacks die from their injuries, all of the offenders are liable for prosecution for murder."
He said some protesters "showed intent to murder police officers".
Last Friday, a CID officer was dragged out of his car and beaten up by protesters with weapons. He fired a shot in an attempt to disperse the crowd, but they attempted to snatch his revolver, police said.
Since the anti-mask law came into force, 77 people have been arrested, some as young as 12 years old. Police told reporters 74 people were arrested for using face masks during the protests, while three others were arrested for "failing to comply" when police ordered them to remove their masks.
More than 80 sets of traffic lights and MTR stations were also smashed up over the weekend, leading to a "total shutdown" of the train network, police said. There have been more than 200 cases of vandalism in the last four days.
Mr Kwok appealed for members of the public to help "stop this madness".
The police said that according to their guidelines and orders, officers are justified in using their firearms when they encounter "the threat of serious bodily harm or even life-threatening attacks".
Mr Kwok added that the force is "both capable and determined to restore public safety order".
"We are committed in performing our very best in containing the social unrest, and helping Hong Kong to get back to normal," he said.
"The past few weeks unrest – we are facing (an) unprecedented challenge. We are facing a very formidable enemy.
"But we believe with the help from all sectors of society, we will be able to deal with it, by ourselves, by Hong Kong society. Not by police alone, but by Hong Kong society altogether.
"For that reason, I would leave the decision or any comment of the involvement of PLA (People's Liberation Army) back to our Hong Kong government, and as police, we will not comment further."
Earlier on Tuesday Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam said her administration had no plans to use colonial-era emergency powers to introduce new laws, after a long weekend of violent protests in defiance of a controversial ban on face masks.
She added that the city is equipped to handle the current situation on its own, although she would not rule out accepting help from mainland China in tackling increasingly violent protests.
"At this point in time, I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves. It is also the position of the central government (in Beijing) that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own," she said at a weekly news conference.
"But if the situation becomes so bad, then no options can be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance," she said,
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