Hong Kong’s rail operator reopened part of its metro system on Sunday after an unprecedented shutdown, but kept many typically busy stations closed, as the Chinese-ruled city braces for large demonstrations expected later in the day.
Participants in two major protests, one on the island and another on the Kowloon peninsula, are expected to defy a ban on face masks that took effect at midnight on Friday, hours after embattled leader Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers, reports Reuters.
Violent protests had erupted across the Asian financial centre soon after Lam wielded the colonial-era powers for the first time in more than 50 years to order the ban in hopes of curbing months of unrest.
The night’s “extreme violence” justified the use of the emergency law, Beijing-backed Lam said on Saturday, when the city felt eerily quiet, with the subway and most shopping malls closed and many roads deserted.
Despite the closure of the metro, which carries about 5 million passengers a day, hundreds of anti-government protesters took to the streets, defying the ban on face masks, but had largely dispersed by evening.
Hong Kong’s protests have plunged the city into its biggest political crisis in decades, posing the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power.
“These extreme radicals have rampant arrogance and behave vilely,” China’s representative Liaison Office in Hong Kong said on Sunday, denouncing Friday’s destruction of one of its buildings by “extremist militants”.
“We strongly condemn this and support the SAR government and the police to severely punish illegal violent elements in accordance with the law,” it said in a statement, referring to Hong Kong’s status as a special autonomous region of China.
Rail operator MTR Corp said it would not open some stations on Sunday, as it needed time to repair vandalised facilities, and also cut short operations by more than three hours, to end at 9:00pm.
Most supermarkets and commercial stores reopened after the previous day’s closures, although some malls, such as Sogo in the bustling Causeway Bay commercial district and IFC in Central, remained shuttered.
Global luxury brands from Prada to Cartier are counting the costs as the unrest has kept tourists away, taking retail sales down 23 per cent in August, their biggest decline on record.
Many restaurants and small businesses have had to shut repeatedly, with the protests pushing Hong Kong’s economy to the brink of its first recession in a decade.
The increasingly violent protests that have roiled the former British colony for four months began in opposition to a bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, but have spiraled into a broader pro-democracy movement.
Lam said the ban on face masks, which many protesters use to conceal their identities, was ordered under the emergency laws that allow authorities to “make any regulations whatsoever” in whatever they deem to be in the public interest.
But it enraged protesters, who took to the streets on Friday to vent their anger, many of them masked in open defiance. Some set fires, hurled petrol bombs at police and burned the Chinese national flag, in a direct challenge to authorities in Beijing.
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