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Hong Kong protests spread to subway as bank warns of economic fallout

Anti-extradition bill protesters react after the police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstration at Sham Shui Po, in Hong Kong, China. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Hong Kong Aug 21, 2019, 01.31 PM (IST)

A major bank warned on Wednesday that weeks of protests in Hong Kong could hit the economies of the Chinese-ruled city and mainland China itself as demonstrators prepared a sit-in at a subway and site of a mid-summer mob attack.

Hong Kong-based Bank of East Asia Ltd (BEA) posted a 75% slump in first-half net profit after it wrote down loans in China because of a downturn in commercial property markets outside China's top cities.

It also warned that social unrest in Hong Kong and a trade dispute between China and the United States could affect the economies of China and the former British colony.

"The tense atmosphere (in Hong Kong) is likely to weigh on consumer and business confidence, and on in-bound tourism, if there is no resolution soon," it said in a statement.

Some Hong Kong companies have been dragged into controversy after 11 weeks of sometimes violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms.

Pilots and cabin crew at Cathay Pacific Airways described a "white terror" of political denunciations, sackings and phone searches by Chinese aviation officials.

BEA and its rivals have closed branches in the vicinity of protests on a number of separate occasions.

"The recent situation in Hong Kong causes signs of concerns for the local SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises)," bank co-chief executive Adrian Li told reporters. "It is because you see that if the current condition continues, (it) shall affect tourism, retail trade as well as investors' confidence. Nevertheless, our Hong Kong asset quality remains very healthy."

Protesters were preparing to gather on Wednesday at the suburban Yuen Long mass-transit rail station, one of a series of running demonstrations over 11 weeks that have sometimes turned violent, including the storming of the legislature and havoc at the airport.

On the night of July 21, about 100 white-shirted men stormed the station hours after protesters marched through central Hong Kong and defaced China's Liaison Office - the main symbol of Beijing's authority over the city.

The men attacked black-clad protesters returning from Hong Kong island, passers-by, journalists and lawmakers with pipes and clubs, wounding 45 people.

Anger erupted in June over a now-suspended bill that wouldallow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said again on Tuesday the legislation was dead.

Story highlights

Some Hong Kong companies have been dragged into controversy after 11 weeks of sometimes violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms.