Hong Kong Holiday Protests Small as Stricken City Cleans Up

Denise Wee, Alfred Liu and Aaron Mc Nicholas
Hong Kong Holiday Protests Small as Stricken City Cleans Up

(Bloomberg) -- A fresh round of Hong Kong protests remained small Monday night as the city cleaned up from a chaotic weekend in which demonstrators battled with police, vandalized shops and paralyzed swaths of the Asian financial hub.

The violence -- erupting after leader Carrie Lam invoked an emergency law for the first time in more than half a century to ban face masks -- dealt another blow to the Hong Kong economy on a three-day weekend normally packed with tourists.

Activists had called for protests across Hong Kong again Monday, starting at 8 p.m., but they failed to gain significant traction.

Riot police were on standby in parts of the city despite the sparse groups of black-shirted demonstrators milling around areas including the central Causeway Bay shopping district, a focal point for the violence, where some shops had pulled their shutters down early.

The MTR Corp. provided only limited train service Monday, a public holiday, and ended it completely at 6 p.m., except for an express to the airport, to allow for repairs to vandalized stations. Financial markets were closed for the holiday, although many shops and restaurants were open.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority canceled afternoon appointments at 13 outpatient clinics “to ensure patient and staff safety.” The Education Bureau urged students to steer clear of “unlawful activities” and advised checking traffic conditions before heading to school Tuesday.

The latest protests followed warnings from opposition leaders that Lam’s decision to invoke a colonial-era emergency law to impose the mask ban would only further anger protesters fighting for greater political freedoms, including the right to elect their own leaders.

“There is growing distrust against the government, against the police,” said Eric Cheung, a law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the committee that elects the city’s leader.

Hard Choice

The continued violence leaves Lam and her backers in Beijing with a difficult choice: Either take more drastic steps that could further erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and prompt an international backlash, or come up with a political compromise that could produce a leader who challenges its rule over the city.

Through periods of torrential rain Sunday, police battled with protesters who occupied streets, vandalized property and targeted businesses with links to the mainland. Some demonstrators gathered briefly outside a People’s Liberation Army barracks were issued a warning from men inside for the first time, according to media reports.

From the huge turnout “you can see people aren’t abandoning us and the movement,” said a 17-year-old protester who gave his name as Rocky, wearing all black and a mask on his face. “Hong Kong people would only be angrier and more united if she rolled out more measures under the emergency law.”

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Police and local media including the South China Morning Post also reported a man was dragged from his taxi and seriously beaten after apparently plowing into a crowd of protesters.

“The public order of the whole city is being pushed to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” a police statement issued early Monday said.

Almost four months of growing discontent have taken their toll on the tourism and the retail industries, driving the city’s $360 billion economy toward recession. Financial Secretary Paul Chan warned in the Global Times last month that while Hong Kong likely entered a technical recession in the third quarter, the performance of the fourth will depend on whether the city can quell the unrest.

Tourism from China declined 42% in August as the value of retail sales fell by almost a quarter. Luxury goods such as jewelry and watches are common purchases by mainland tourists, and the value of those sales slid by almost half. Some smaller store owners have closed down: In Hong Kong’s usually bustling Causeway Bay shopping district, one in 10 stores now stand empty, according to data from real estate agency Midland IC&I Ltd.

Protesters initially hit the streets in June to protest a bill that would’ve allowed extraditions to mainland China. While Lam finally withdrew the proposal in September, the protests have since expanded to include calls for an independent inquiry into police violence and greater democratic accountability in the former British colony. Violent clashes between activists and police occur on a weekly, sometimes almost daily basis.

Shot and Injured

A 14-year-old boy was shot and injured Friday night during a scuffle between a plainclothes police officer and demonstrators who had attacked his car. Just days earlier, police shot and injured an 18-year-old man who had attacked them during the National Day protests. Both shooting victims have also been arrested.

The High Court denied an application for an interim injunction by all 24 pro-democracy lawmakers on the ban of wearing face masks during protests, Radio Television Hong Kong reported. The court adjourned a hearing on their application for a judicial review of the government measure to later this month, it said.

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A small crowd gathered Monday outside the Eastern Magistrates’ courthouse where two protesters -- an 18-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman -- detained early Saturday on charges including violating the mask ban appeared. They were released on bail and ordered to abide by a curfew and not leave Hong Kong, according to RTHK.

Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last U.K. colonial governor, told Sky TV that the mask ban was “madness” as he criticized Lam’s handling of the protests. The Hong Kong office of China’s foreign affairs ministry condemned his comments as “shameless hypocrisy,” saying the U.K. had taken similar steps during the London riots of 2011.

(Updates with fresh protest details from first paragraph.)

--With assistance from Fion Li, Tian Chen, Jinshan Hong and Stanley James.

To contact the reporters on this story: Denise Wee in Hong Kong at dwee10@bloomberg.net;Alfred Liu in Hong Kong at aliu226@bloomberg.net;Aaron Mc Nicholas in Hong Kong at amcnicholas2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net, ;Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Paul Geitner, Karen Leigh

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