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Petrol bombs, tear gas rock HK; many arrested for defying mask ban

Scores detained in first arrests under emergency law that makes wearing of masks illegal

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police and protesters clashed yesterday as tens of thousands marched through the central city wearing face masks in defiance of colonial-era emergency powers which threaten them with a year in prison for hiding their faces.

Police fired tear gas and baton-charged protesters in several locations, while some protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs at police, as night began to fall.

In the first arrests under the new emergency powers, police detained scores of protesters, tied their wrists with cable and unmasked their faces before placing them on buses.

Others lay in foetal positions on the ground, their wrists tied behind their backs, after being subdued with pepper spray and batons.

'FUELS OUR ANGER'

"The anti-mask law just fuels our anger and more people will come on to the street," Lee, a university student wearing a blue mask, said yesterday, as he marched on Hong Kong island.

"We are not afraid of the new law, we will continue fighting. We will fight for righteousness. I put on the mask to tell the government that I am not afraid of tyranny."

The authorities had braced for two major protests yesterday, fearing a recurrence of Friday night's violent protests which saw the Asian financial centre virtually shut down the next day.

The rallies yesterday on Hong Kong island and across the harbour in Kowloon had been largely peaceful until police began to try and disperse the crowds, saying they were participating in unlawful assemblies, blocking major roads, and ordered protesters to leave immediately.

Protesters yesterday chanted "Hong Kongers, revolt" and "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong" as riot police monitored them from overhead walkways and footbridges, some taking photographs and filming the marchers.

Some roads clogged with protesters resembled a field of flowers, with thousands of colourful umbrellas.

Umbrellas are a symbol of an earlier pro-democracy movement but were being used on Sunday simply to keep off the rain.

Protesters handed out face masks to encourage people to defy the ban.

One masked protester carried a mask-wearing Buzz Lightyear doll from Walt Disney's Toy Story animation film.

As the day wore on, protesters started to target subway stations and China banks, just as they did on Friday, which forced the unprecedented closure of the city's metro railway.

A branch of China Construction Bank (Asia) near Prince Edward station was vandalised yesterday with "No China" sprayed on its wall.

Wan Chai station, closed with a neon sign saying serious vandalism, had a protester sheet draped over it that read: "This way to hell".

Protesters set alight a blaze at the Mong Kok MTR station, with a placard nearby reading: "If we burn, you burn with us".

Four months of protests have pushed the Asian financial hub to the brink of its first recession in a decade.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan in a blog yesterday said despite recent obstacles, the banking system remained sound and the financial market was functioning well.

"Hong Kong will not implement foreign exchange controls. The Hong Kong dollar can be exchanged freely and capital can come in and out freely. This is the solemn guarantee of the Basic Law," he said. - REUTERS

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