All HK rail services to remain suspended after protest violence

A masked protester holds up his hand to represent the protesters' five demands as he walks next to a banner reading "Hong Kong police deliberately murder" in Hong Kong on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. All subway and trains services are closed in Hong Kong after another night of rampaging violence that a new ban on face masks failed to quell. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

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

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 have to make sure of their own safety before they could travel to the damaged stations to inspect and assess the extent of damage at our stations, and to carry out repair works,” the statement said, adding that the closure would be reviewed later on Saturday.

More than a dozen shopping malls, supermarkets, and branches of Bank of China (Hong Kong), Bank of East Asia, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which have been targeted by protesters, said they would not open on Saturday.

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 plainclothes 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 protesters’ actions were condemned by the government, who denounced them for showing a “complete disregard for human life” and jeopardised the safety of people, reported RTHK.

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 (LegCo) 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.

At a gathering in a shopping mall in Ma On Shan on Friday night, hundreds of people denounced the government for the anti-mask move and read a manifesto declaring to establish a provisional government.

They also demanded that all official positions be vacated and elections be held in one year. The LegCo should also be dissolved and elections be held within three months.

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 mask ban 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.

By Claire Huang