Hong Kong MTR services suspended on Saturday after protest violence

Protesters burn items at the Causeway Bay metro station entrance in Hong Kong on October 4, 2019, as people hit the streets after the government announced a ban on face masks.
AFP

HONG KONG - All train services in Hong Kong including the line to the airport were suspended on Saturday (Oct 5), the city’s rail operator said, after violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters saw subway stations vandalised.  

“All MTR services covering the Heavy Rail including Airport Express, Light Rail and MTR bus cannot be resumed this morning,” the MTR Corporation said in a statement, AFP reported.  

“After the outbreak of violence at multiple districts, maintenance staff has to make sure of their own safety before they could travel to the damaged stations to inspect and assess the extent of damages at our stations, and to carry out repair works,” the statement said, adding that the closure would be reviewed later on Saturday.

Bus services running in the morning may be diverted due to road conditions after more than 100 sets of traffic lights were damaged or tampered with on Friday night, Bloomberg reported.

The MTR network was shut down entirely on Friday night, after multiple stations and lines were vandalised and set fire to by angry protesters reacting against the invocation of a half century-old emergency power banning the use of face masks in public assemblies.

A 14-year-old was shot in the thigh in Yuen Long in a confrontation with the police, who fired multiple rounds of tear gas throughout the night to dispel the crowds. Local news publication Apple Daily reported that the officer shot the teen after a minor traffic incident led to a confrontation with a group of protesters, who assaulted the officer.

Police said the officer fired the shot in self-defence as he came under attack and that a petrol bomb was then thrown at him, engulfing him in flames.  As he tried to escape the flames, he dropped his pistol, which a protester tried to take. Another petrol bomb caught his feet on fire, it added.

The angry protests that have rocked Hong Kong for months rose to fever pitch on Friday as thousands - wearing masks in a show of defiance - went on a rampage across the city, barricading roads east and west of Central and targeting Chinese businesses.

Fires were set as the glass fronts of the branches of the Bank of China, China Construction Bank and China Travel Services were smashed, while other businesses, including a Starbucks, were also vandalised.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has come under intense pressure to quell the escalating unrest, had earlier said the new law, aimed at masked violent protesters and rioters, would take effect from Saturday. Similar anti-mask regulations are in force in other countries such as Australia, Canada, France and Germany.

Mrs Lam turned to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance - last used during the 1967 riots - to implement the latest measure which will be tabled in the Legislative Council for discussion on Oct 16.

The Chief Executive is due to present her policy address on that day and the government has also promised to withdraw the controversial extradition Bill after her speech.

She stressed that the latest measure did not mean that Hong Kong was in or entering a state of emergency.

"But we are indeed in an occasion of serious danger, which is a state of condition in emergency regulations ordinance for the Chief Executive in Council to exercise certain powers and I will say that we are now in a rather extensive and serious public danger," she said.

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The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), organiser of some of the biggest protests, has condemned the anti-mask move, saying the government has intensified its efforts to suppress the people.

Hong Kong University legal scholar Eric Cheung told The Straits Times the move set a dangerous precedent, as it meant the government could change laws without legislative process.

Former student leader Lester Shum and retired civil servant Kwok Cheuk-kin filed judicial challenges against the at the High Court.

All 40 pro-government lawmakers threw their weight behind the new measure, saying it would help the police make arrests more easily and deter violent protesters. But the pan-democrats slammed the decision, saying it turned Hong Kong into a "police state" and officers could abuse their powers easily.

China threw its support behind the ban, calling it a necessary move. "The current chaos in Hong Kong cannot continue indefinitely," said Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China's central government.

"An important moment has come for stopping the violence with a clearer attitude and more effective measures."

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions in a statement described the new law as a needed step in quelling the unrest.

The Singapore Consulate-General in Hong Kong on Friday put out a travel advisory on Facebook, asking Singaporeans to defer non-essential travel to Hong Kong in view of the large-scale protests. It advised those already in the city to take all necessary precautions to ensure their own safety.

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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.