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Hong Kong Protesters Defy Ban On Face Masks And Adopt A New Slogan

Oct 5, 2019

Hundreds of masked protesters peacefully marched through Hong Kong's central business district Saturday afternoon, some linking arms to form human chains, in defiance of a decision to ban face masks at public gatherings only the day before.

They chanted a new demand, adding to a list of five demands reiterated over more than four months of protest: "We have the right to wear face masks."

The protesters have been demanding democratic reforms, an independent police inquiry into policy violence against protesters and for a complete suspension of an extradition bill with China. Only the last demand has been granted.

Saturday's march comes after Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's embattled chief executive, announced Friday that she would invoke colonial-era emergency powers to enforce the ban, the first time such powers have been used in more than half a century.

Her announcement set off a night of violent protests and pitched street battles among hardcore demonstrators and the city's police on Friday.

A 14-year-old protester was shot by a police officer during the night's melee, according to local Hong Kong media reports. The protester is the second to be shot with a live round this week; on Tuesday, a police officer critically wounded an 18-year-old protester after he and others attacked two officers.

Protesters also began vandalizing metro stations and setting fires outside metro entrances Friday night, causing the city's metro operator to completely shut down the metro system soon after. The entire metro system — normally known for its efficiency and speed — remained shuttered Saturday morning.

"The extreme acts of the rioters brought dark hours to Hong Kong last night and half-paralyzed society today," Lam said in videotaped remarks sent to press Saturday.

Saturday, normally one of the city's busiest shopping days, was unusually quiet as shopping malls, supermarkets and restaurants were closed following Friday night's violence. 7/11, the convenience store open 24 hours a day, even through Hong Kong's tumultuous typhoon season, also closed its locations Saturday.

A last customer leaves as an employee pulls down the shutters at 5 p.m. at a convenience store normally open 24 hours a day in Hong Kong on Saturday.
Mohd Rasfan / AFP via Getty Images

Many of the city's major banks stopped service at their branches across Hong Kong, citing safety concerns for their customers and employees. Protesters have targeted mainland Chinese bank branches in Hong Kong by graffitiing their facades. Bank branches have begun saran-wrapping their exteriors up to eye-level to prevent further damage.

Some protesters in Telegram chat groups used to coordinate marches called for a "day of rest" on Saturday in preparation for the much bigger rally planned on Sunday, while others pressed ahead for Saturday's march.

"Fear has become the ultimate tool of this government," read one of the many protest posters sent out across Telegram groups in preparation for Saturday's march.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.