The entire Hong Kong metro network was at a standstill on Saturday and dozens of businesses closed after a night of violence between pro-democracy protesters and police following the authorities’ ban on wearing masks at rallies.
Local chief Carrie Lam on Saturday condemned the violent actions of “rioters” who ransacked shops and metro stations, insisting that the population was “scared”. “The extreme acts committed by the rioters are causing a very dark night for Hong Kong and the Hong Kong society is half paralyzed today”, “everyone is very worried or even frightened,” he said.
Carrie Lam invoked emergency provisions dating back to 1922, which had not been used in the last 52 years. It also did not rule out further measures in this context if the situation continued to escalate.
As soon as the ban was made public, protests began everywhere in the former British colony, while social calls were blooming for the next three days.
Large crowds, mostly office workers, have blocked arteries in the very heart of the business district, some tearing banners to the glory of China.
In the evening, clashes erupted as police used tear gas to disperse protesters who invaded streets, lit fires, and vandalized subway stations (all lines were stopped) and pro-China commercial establishments.
“The government does not listen to us. So we are stepping up our action, “said 32-year-old protester Nathalie, while radical protesters ransacked a subway station in the usually quiet neighborhood of Tseung Kwan.
“It’s very sad to see the station so ransacked,” said Saturday morning Marco, a French living in the neighborhood.
In Yuen Long District, a police officer opened fire when his car was surrounded by the crowd and a Molotov cocktail exploded at his feet, according to witnesses on the scene. “A large crowd of rioters attacked a plainclothes policeman. He fell to the ground and was beaten by many people. In these life-threatening circumstances, the policeman fired five bullets for his safety, “police said in a statement.
New events expected
In the same neighborhood, a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a medical source, but could not link the two events.
After the vandalization of metro stations, the public operator MTR announced Saturday that traffic was suspended throughout the network. The services of MTR “can not resume this morning,” said the operator in a statement, adding that the situation would be reviewed in the day. The Airport Express, the high-speed train connecting the airport to the center, is also at a standstill.
Some shopping centers and supermarkets are closed, as are many Chinese banks, targets of violence on Friday night.
New demonstrations are expected during the day and the police have called on the population to remain vigilant.
Since June, Hong Kong has been through its worst political crisis since its return to Beijing in 1997, with almost daily actions and increasingly violent confrontations between police and masked protesters.
“We believe the new law will act as a deterrent to violent protesters and masked rioters and help the police with its policing mission,” Carrie Lam told a news conference on Friday. She said the ban, which was to come into force at midnight and provides up to one year in prison for offenders, did not mean that a state of emergency had been declared in that semi-autonomous territory.
The Chinese central authorities have judged the measure taken in Hong Kong “extremely necessary”. “It is high time to put an end to the violence by adopting a clearer attitude and more effective measures”, because “the current chaos in Hong Kong can not continue indefinitely”, said in a statement the spokesman of the Office in the Chinese government, Hong Kong and Macau affairs, Yang Guang.
To avoid being identified and avoid legal proceedings, protesters march since June masked face. Some also wear helmets, goggles or gas masks to protect themselves from tear gas and police shots.
“Young people risk their lives, it does not matter to them to be imprisoned for 10 years, so it’s not wearing a mask that will cause them a problem,” said a 34-year-old employee hiding his face.
Hong Kong experienced its most violent day on Tuesday since June. While China was celebrating its 70th anniversary, the territory has been the scene of clashes in many neighborhoods that have significantly tested the police’s policing capabilities.
Law of 1922
And for the first time, a protester was shot by a police officer whose unit had been attacked. Since then, loyal elected officials in Beijing and police unions have been calling on the executive to resort to the 1922 law, which allows the executive to take “any measure” without the green light of the legislature in the country. possibility of an emergency or danger to the population.
The political majority considers these urgent measures necessary in front of a radical fringe more and more violent. But the opposition believes that allowing Carrie Lam to bypass parliamentary control would put the territory on a slippery slope, especially since Hong Kong has built its reputation as a global financial center on respect for the rule of law. the independence of justice.
For Joshua Wong, a figurehead of the fight for democracy, this law “announces the beginning of the end of Hong Kong.” “It’s ironic that a colonial-era weapon is being used by the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party,” he told AFP.
Special Reporting by Abhijit Roy Chaudhary