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Hong Kong leader invokes emergency powers to ban protester face masks

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by Jerome TAYLOR / Jasmine LEUNG

Hong Kong’s leader announced a ban Friday on protesters wearing face masks, invoking colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in 52 years, in a bid to quell months of violent anti-government unrest.

Chief executive Carrie Lam said she had made the order under the
Emergency Regulations Ordinances, a sweeping provision that grants her
the ability to make any law during a time of emergency or public
danger.

“We believe that the new law will create a deterrent effect against
masked violent protesters and rioters, and will assist the police in
its law enforcement,” Lam said.

But she stressed her use of the powers did not mean the government had
officially declared a state of emergency.

Before the announcement, thousands of masked protesters — many of
them office workers — marched through the city’s commercial district
on Friday, promising to defy the new law.

“Youngsters are risking their lives, they don’t mind being jailed for
10 years, so wearing masks is not a problem,” a 34-year-old office
worker wearing a surgical mask, who gave her first name as Mary, told
AFP at a protest on Friday afternoon.

Critics decried the move was a major step towards authoritarianism for
Hong Kong, which has been governed by China under a “one country, two
systems” framework since British colonial rule ended in 1997.

“This is a watershed. This is a Rubicon,” pro-democracy lawmaker
Claudia Mo told AFP.

“And I’m worried this could be just a starter. More draconian bans in
the name of law could be lurking around the corner.”

Prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong said the law “marks the
beginning of the end of Hong Kong”.

“It is ironic that a colonial-era weapon is being used by the Hong
Kong government and the Chinese Communist Party,” he told AFP.

– Months of unrest –

Hong Kong’s protests were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow
extraditions to the mainland, which fuelled fears of an erosion of
liberties promised under “one country, two systems”.

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