Hong Kong goes quiet as subway, shops close after night of violence

Hong KongUpdated: Oct 05, 2019, 06:38 PM IST
main img

A man walks past a boarded Starbucks store in Wan Chai district, in Hong Kong. Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

Rail operator MTR Corp suspended all services, paralysing transport in the Asian financial hub.

Hong Kong fell eerily silent on Saturday, with the subway and most shopping malls closed in an unprecedented shutdown of one of the world's biggest commercial centres after the government invoked emergency measures to curb months of unrest.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters defied a ban on face masks and took to the streets across the Chinese-ruled city earlier in the day. But by evening they had largely dispersed in preparation for bigger marches planned for Sunday.

Rail operator MTR Corp suspended all services, paralysing transport in the Asian financial hub, while malls and shops closed early after a night of chaos in which police shot a teenage boy and protesters torched businesses and metro stations.

Protests had erupted on Friday across the former British colony hours after its embattled leader, Carrie Lam, invoked colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years to ban the use of face masks demonstrators have been using to hide their identities.

The night's "extreme violence" justified the use of the emergency law, Beijing-backed Lam said in a television address on Saturday.

"The radical behaviour of rioters took Hong Kong through a very dark night, leaving society today half-paralysed," she said in pre-recorded remarks.

"The extreme violence clearly illustrated that Hong Kong's public safety is widely endangered. That's the concrete reason that we had to invoke emergency law yesterday to introduce the anti-mask law", she added.

Undeterred by the ban and transport shutdown, several hundred pro-democracy protesters - many wearing masks - marched through the normally bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay on Saturday, but there was no repeat of Friday's violence.

Other groups gathered in Sheung Shui close to the border with mainland China and in the busy shopping and tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui.

"We felt we had to get out and show our basic right to wear a mask," said one protester, Sue, 22, who wore a black mask and dark glasses to the Causeway Bay march.

"The government needs to learn it can’t squeeze Hong Kong people like this", she added.

The increasingly violent demonstrations that have roiled the city for four months began in opposition to a bill that would have allowed people to be extradited to mainland China for trial. They have since spiralled into a broader pro-democracy movement.

The unrest has plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis since its handover from Britain to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that granted it autonomy and broad freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said on Friday the protests were evolving into a revolution backed by foreign forces and could not continue indefinitely.

The United Nations human rights chief called on Saturday for an independent probe into the violence seen during the protests.

Michelle Bachelet told a media conference in Kuala Lumpur the U.N. was "alarmed by the injuries to the police and protesters, including journalists and protesters shot by law enforcement officers".