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Protests over mask ban end in vandalism, stand-off

Police fire tear gas as anti-mask law protests go on for fourth day

HONG KONG: Protesters held mall demonstrations in Hong Kong yesterday, ending in more vandalism and a stand-off with police on the streets.

Officers fired tear gas on the fourth straight day of rallies against the newly imposed anti-mask law, South China Morning Post reported.

The protests came as a student and an unemployed woman were granted bail by a court after they became the first to be charged under the mask ban targeting anti-government demonstrators.

The gatherings yesterday were relatively small and less violent, but as night fell, dozens of protesters showed up in Mong Kok and Tseung Kwan O, with some setting up roadblocks in another confrontation with riot police, who fired tear gas and non-lethal rounds.

Protesters formed large circles inside multi-level shopping malls and chanted "disband Hong Kong police force", "fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong" and "I have the right to wear a mask", as shoppers on a public holiday looked on.

The introduction of colonial-era emergency powers last Friday banning face masks, which protesters use to hide their identity, has sparked some of the most violent clashes in four months of demonstrations, Reuters reported.

"Before long, unless we are very, very lucky, people are going to get killed, people are going to be shot," former British governor Chris Patten said.

"The idea that with public order policing, you send police forces out with live ammunition is preposterous."

Yesterday, Hong Kong's metro rail system was only partially operating due to what the authorities said was "serious vandalism" on Sunday night.

Some stations were torched in the protests. Many shops and Chinese banks were also extensively damaged.

Mrs Carrie Lam, the city's Beijing-backed leader, has said the face mask ban was necessary to end the violence by militant activists. But it has been criticised by human rights groups and the United Nations.

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"She would have to be crazy to be making these decisions on her own without being pressured into them. The face mask business, absolutely madness," said Mr Patten, who handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

"I fear for the future, unless Carrie Lam actually intervenes and understands the importance of dialogue."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry's Commissioner in Hong Kong dismissed Mr Patten's remarks.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Commissioner accused Mr Patten of ignoring public opinion in Hong Kong.

"Britain introduced an anti-mask law as early as 1723... It reintroduced such a law to tackle protests and disturbances in 2011. Were these crazy decisions too?" the spokesman said.

Protesters are demanding an independent inquiry into police action, which some say was key to ending the protests.

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