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Amid mask ban and closed subway, night of protest gives way to eerie quiet

Nearly all of the city’s subway lines have been closed since Friday evening after the protesters smashed windows and set fires at subway stations.

By: New York Times | Hong Kong |
October 6, 2019 8:56:44 am
hong kong protests, hong kong tension, hong kong crisis, hong kong news Protesters rally in Hong Kong on Friday. (The New York Times)

Written by Andrew Jacobs, Mike Ives and Tiffany May

With its subways paralyzed and its shopping malls shuttered, Hong Kong was anxious and eerily quiet Saturday.

The city was taking a breather from a night of unrest that erupted after Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, invoked emergency powers to quell anti-government protests that have grown increasingly violent.

The unexpected tranquility masked a palpable sense of anger and dread that has swept the city since Lam announced Friday that she would draw on a colonial-era law to ban face masks during street rallies.

The government’s decision was ostensibly designed to dissuade moderate Hong Kongers from joining the demonstrations roiling this semiautonomous Chinese territory. But the turn to emergency powers that allow Lam to pass rules without having to go through the legislature immediately unleashed some of the most violent protests the city has seen in recent months.

Many in the protest movement see the move against face masks as a de facto ban on their right to protest and believe it would antagonize those already enraged by the leadership’s refusal to grant them the free elections and other demands they have been pressing since the protests began in June.

On Saturday afternoon, several hundred demonstrators gathered in central Hong Kong, but most of the city was calm.

Nearly all of the city’s subway lines have been closed since Friday evening after the protesters smashed windows and set fires at subway stations.

In a speech Saturday, Lam condemned the protesters who rampaged through neighborhoods across the city Friday night, destroying traffic lights, spray-painting ATMs and damaging state-owned Chinese businesses — or those whose owners are widely seen as hostile to the protest movement.

The face-mask ban, which went into effect early Saturday, carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and a $3,200 fine. So far, police appear to have largely taken a hands-off approach to those defying the measure.

The protests began four months ago in opposition to a now-abandoned bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland, but they have steadily grown more combative and dangerous. On Friday night, a 14-year-old boy was hit in the leg by a gunshot. Police said Saturday the teenager, who was in stable condition, had been arrested for rioting and assaulting police officers.

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