Hong Kong police fire tear gas as protesters defy emergency law

1 / 2
People gather for a rainy protest march in the Causeway Bay shopping district of Hong Kong on Sunday, October 6, 2019. (AFP)
2 / 2
People queue as they wait for the bus, next to a suspended metro station in Tsim Sha Tsui district in Hong Kong on Saturday, October 5, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 07 October 2019

Hong Kong police fire tear gas as protesters defy emergency law

  • Hong Kong metro system carries about 5 million passengers a day
  • The increasingly violent protests have roiled the former British colony for four months

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police fired tear gas on Sunday as protesters defied an emergency law and marched wearing masks through the Chinese-controlled city, witnesses said.
There was no obvious reason for the tear gas, as the rally at Pacific Place on Hong Kong island seemed peaceful, said one witness.
Tens of thousands of protesters wore face masks in defiance of colonial-era emergency powers that threaten them with a year in prison for hiding their faces.
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 braced for large demonstrations expected later in the day.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong court rejected a challenge to the emergency law criminalizing protesters wearing face masks.
Pro-democracy lawmakers went to the High Court on Sunday seeking an emergency injunction against the ban, arguing the emergency powers bypassed the legislature and contravened the city’s mini-constitution.
But a senior judge dismissed their injunction demand.
Violent protests had erupted across the Asian financial center 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 vandalized facilities, and also cut short operations by more than three hours, to end at 9 p.m.
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 percent 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.
The current “precarious situation,” which endangered public safety, left no timely solution but the anti-mask law, Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong’s chief secretary, wrote on his blog on Sunday.
He urged people to oppose violence ahead of grassroots district council elections set for Nov. 24.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan also addressed the protests in his blog, saying that despite recent obstacles, Hong Kong’s banking system remained sound and the financial market was functioning well.
Protesters have taken aim at some of China’s largest banks, trashing ATM machines at branches of Bank of China’s Hong Kong unit, for example, while nearby international counterparts, such as Standard Chartered, have escaped untouched.
Chan’s comment came after Hong Kong’s Monetary Authority said about 5 percent of the city’s ATMs could not transact cash withdrawals for ‘various reasons.’
The Hong Kong Association of Banks (HKAB) condemned violent acts “which have caused serious damage to some bank branches and ATMs.”
Protesters are angry at what they see as creeping interference in Hong Kong, which Britain returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula guaranteeing freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.
China dismisses the accusation, saying foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, have fanned anti-China sentiment.

 


Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

Updated 50 min 58 sec ago

Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

  • Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown
  • Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science

WASHINGTON: The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen Wednesday despite unprecedented lockdowns, as the head of the United Nations sounded the alarm on what he said was humanity’s worst crisis since World War II.
The warning came as Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a “very painful” few weeks after the United States registered its deadliest 24 hours of the crisis.
Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown as governments struggle to halt the spread of a disease that has now infected more than 850,000 people.
Well over 40,000 are known to have died, half of them in Italy and Spain, but the death toll continues to rise with new records being logged daily in the US.
“This is going to be a very painful — a very, very painful — two weeks,” Trump said, describing the pandemic as “a plague.”
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”
America’s outbreak has mushroomed rapidly. There are now around 190,000 known cases — a figure that has doubled in just five days.
On Tuesday, a record 865 people died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, taking the national toll so far to more than 4,000.
Members of Trump’s coronavirus task force said the country should be ready for between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the coming months.
“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
America’s under-pressure health system is being supplemented by field hospitals sprouting up all over New York, including a tented camp in Central Park, a hospital ship and converted convention centers.
But even with the extended capacity, doctors say they are still having to make painful choices.
“If you get a surge of patients coming in, and you only have a limited number of ventilators, you can’t necessarily ventilate patients,” Shamit Patel of the Beth Israel hospital said. “And then you have to start picking and choosing.”
The extraordinary economic and political upheaval spurred by the virus presents a real danger to the relative peace the world has seen over the last few decades, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday.
The “disease ... represents a threat to everybody in the world and... an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.”
“The combination of the two facts and the risk that it contributes to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict are things that make us believe that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War,” he said.
In virtual talks Tuesday, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 major economies pledged to address the debt burden of low-income countries and deliver aid to emerging markets.
Last week G20 leaders said they were injecting $5 trillion into the global economy to head off a feared deep recession.
In the European Union, however, battle lines have been drawn over the terms of a rescue plan.
Worst-hit Italy and Spain are leading a push for a shared debt instrument — dubbed “coronabonds.”
But talk of shared debt is a red line for Germany and other northern countries, threatening to divide the bloc.
Deaths shot up again across Europe. While there are hopeful signs that the spread of infections is slowing in hardest-hit Italy and Spain, which both reported more than 800 new deaths Tuesday.
France recorded a one-day record of 499 dead while Britain reported 381 coronavirus deaths, including that of a previously healthy 13-year-old.
That came after a 12-year-old Belgian girl succumbed to an illness that is serious chiefly for older, frailer people with pre-existing health conditions.
Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science.
Researchers said China’s decision to shutter Wuhan, ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic, may have prevented three-quarters of a million new cases by delaying the spread of the virus.
“Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan” by mid-February, said Oxford University’s Christopher Dye.