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04 October 2019 18:01

Increasing desperate to shut down Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, the island’s government is set to ban face masks.

the grandfather of Hong Kong democracy

YANGON (Reuters) - The 18-year-old protester shot in the chest by Hong Kong police this week was throwing bricks and "rioting" at the time he was wounded, a prosecutor told a court packed with his supporters on Friday. Protesters hold up placards to demand the release of Singaporean teenager Amos Yee outside the Singapore Consulate in Hong Kong, China July 5, 2015. The prosecutor said Tsang was more violent than others who have attended recent rallies, which began after the government announced its intention to introduce an extradition law. The proposed legislation, which would have meant the possibility of people facing trial in mainland courts, has been withdrawn but the protests have evolved into a broad pro-democracy movement. Many of those gathered in the court and outside were wearing masks, in defiance of an expected government ban on the wearing of face-masks in public - as many protesters do to disguise their identities.

Increasing desperate to shut down Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, the island's government is set to ban face masks. The move will make protesters easier to identify as pro-Beijing authorities struggles to end months of violent unrest in the Chinese-ruled city. Local media reports said Carrie Lam, the city's Beijing-backed leader, would hold a news conference to announce the face-mask ban and that the edict would become law at midnight Friday (local time). "After so many months the government has refused to answer our demands," said one protester, who asked to be identified only as "Chan", at a demonstration in the city's Central district. "Police brutality is becoming more serious and the set up of an anti-mask law is to threaten us from protesting," said the 27-year-old financial industry worker.

Anti-government protests have gripped the former British colony for months, plunging it into its biggest political crisis in decades and posing the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power. The protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city's affairs despite a promise of autonomy in the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong returned to China in 1997. What began as opposition to a proposed extradition law, that could have seen people sent for trial in mainland courts, has grown into a call for five demands, including universal suffrage and an inquiry into alleged police brutality. Protesters, some wearing gas masks and helmets, marched past some of the city's most expensive real estate including British bank HSBC's head office, on Friday, calling out for "five demands, not one less". "We need to stay strong for Hong Kong and that is why I am joining this flash mob protest," Chan said.

The protests have been inflamed by the police shooting of a teenaged secondary school student on Tuesday during a clash, and more rallies are expected later in the evening and over the weekend. Riot police moved in to districts across Hong Kong overnight, firing tear gas at a chanting crowd in a residential area, while rail operator MTR Corp shut several stations as violence escalated. Pro-Beijing groups have also been pushing for legislation to ban face masks at demonstrations but the government has declined to comment on whether it was considering one, or broader emergency laws, stating it would study existing legislation to cope with the protests. HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing will donate HK$1 billion ($128 million) to support local small and medium sized businesses, his foundation said on Friday, a move that comes as the city's economy has been roiled by pro-democracy protests. Hong Kong tycoons and property developers have come under pressure from Beijing for not doing enough to alleviate housing problems in the Chinese-ruled city.

Li, in particular, was singled out by China's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission in September for "harbouring criminality" after he called on authorities to offer young people an olive branch amid the anti-government protests that have roiled the city. The Li Ka-shing Foundation said it would discuss the support measures with the government and had made the donation as Hong Kong's economy faced "unprecedented challenges." The move comes as Hong Kong's government is expected to discuss sweeping emergency laws on Friday that would include banning face masks at protests, two sources told Reuters. What is remarkable (though rarely remarked upon) is the restraint shown by the police who, although employed by the Hong Kong city government, ultimately serve the repressive dictatorship in Beijing. It's only relative restraint, of course – we are not talking about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or 'kindly British bobbies' here – but during months of escalating violence, they have still managed not to kill anybody. Even on Tuesday, when the rest of China was marking the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic, the protests in Hong Kong continued and nobody died. How many protesters would American police have killed by now if equally violent protests had been taking place in the streets of a major American city every weekend for the past four months? When Britain returned the colony of Hong Kong to China in 1997, it was China's main financial window on the world. Two decades later, its status as a global financial centre remains a major asset for the regime, but there are red lines that President Xi Jinping will never cross, like letting Hong Kong people choose their own government in a free election. As Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, explained in a private meeting with business leaders last month, her freedom of action is "very, very, very limited." She got into trouble in the first place by putting forward a new extradition law that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be tried in Chinese courts, where accused people have few rights and the conviction rate is 99 per cent. When the public pushed back, sensing that this could be the beginning of the end for Hong Kong's relative freedom, Lam probably wanted to drop the matter, but it took her months to persuade Beijing to let her do it. By then the protests had escalated far beyond the specific law to sweeping demands for democracy in Hong Kong. The protesters have won what they originally came out for: the withdrawal of the extradition law. A practising barrister, former parliamentarian and founding chairperson of the United Democrats, Hong Kong's first political party, Lee played a leading role in the group that drafted the Basic Law that specified the fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens when the former British territory was handed back to China in 1997. Now in his ninth decade, Lee still looks boyishly young and he is still heavily invested in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. As the unrest in the city enters its fifth month, Lee says the "fortunes of democracy are everywhere now at rock bottom." "That's why what's happening here is so important," he tells me at a cafe in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district last weekend. The police are now in effect governing Hong Kong. And he understands why surveys show that a majority of Hong Kong citizens, among them growing numbers of schoolchildren, support the uprising through thick and thin. He feels certain Beijing wants further crackdowns, for instance, banning people from wearing masks at public gatherings. We fear Hong Kong will become just another Chinese city." "We now know that in the early 1970s, as a concession to China, they removed Hong Kong from the United Nations list of colonies entitled to self-government. He played a leading role in the opening negotiations about the future of Hong Kong with top Communist Party officials who gave reassurances, he says, that little would change. I compared our situation to a see-saw game: balancing big China and little Hong Kong required granting us democracy and limited interference by Beijing. Lee says the half-million-strong demonstration that forced the scrapping of a draft anti-subversion law in 2003 was the tipping point. Beijing went from hands-off to hands-on Hong Kong." Lee also doubts the viability of the Communist Party's State Council plan to integrate the southern mainland city of Shenzhen with neighbouring Hong Kong and Macau. "We were never consulted about this 'one country, three systems' plan, which would make Hong Kong citizens subject to Beijing's new social credit scheme. Lee points out that when handover negotiations began in the early 1980s, Hong Kong produced 20% of China's GDP. A full Beijing takeover of Hong Kong faces other obstacles. Lee agrees that Hong Kong is up against an emergent Chinese global empire. Another Cold War with the United States seems "inevitable", he says, which is why there's rising global awareness of what's at stake in Hong Kong. He'll soon visit the US in support of Congress's Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which he believes has a fighting chance of becoming law. Then there's the unfinished business of Hong Kong elections.