GONG KONG – When the government tries to quell increasingly violent protests, Hong Kong's military leader on Friday asked for emergency powers to ban face masks, using a rarely-used law that can ignite tensions and damage the city's downtown reputation. for finance and tourism.
The decision of Mayor Kerry Lam reflects the growing intensity of the months-long traffic and the pressure the Beijing government is facing to take action.
Earlier this week, tens of thousands of protesters dispersed across the city for mass demonstrations aimed at obscuring a politically sensitive anniversary in China. The protests quickly turned into violent clashes, including the shooting of an 1
But Mrs. Lam's decision could have countered, igniting the protesters' core and causing more confrontation. Face masks are a common feature of protests for both safety and security.
Many protestors put on gas masks and respirators as well as ambulances and journalists to protect themselves from tear gas. Some wear them to protect their identities.
Announcing the ban, Ms. Lam said, "We are particularly concerned that many students are engaging in violent or even unrest, endangering their security and even their future. As a responsible government, we have a responsibility to use all available means, to stop the rising violence and restore peace in society. "
As word of the ban spread throughout Friday, hundreds of people, many wearing face masks, were blocked off the main road in downtown Hong Kong. They chanted anti-government slogans and called on Mrs Lam to change course. More demonstrations are planned for the evening.
"This ban is ridiculous," said Wilson Lee, a 29-year-old lawyer. "It just shows the incompetence of the government and the refusal to listen to any of our concerns.
The ban on face masks goes into effect at 12:01 on Saturday. This will apply to all public meetings.
Ronnie Tong, Member of the Executive Council, Senior Member The body's executive director said Thursday that he was wary of any emergency measures because he feared it would bring stigma to Hong Kong internationally, but said he was "reluctant to approve" the ban on face masks as an alternative in general curfew, an idea recently proposed by some pro-Beijing hardliners.
Jasper Tsang, founder of the largest pro-Beijing political party and president of parliament until 2016, said that for many weeks, the highest levels of divisiveness of the government have been deplorable.
"The government weighed the pros and cons. And those who oppose it say it doesn't help much, "he said, adding that supporters of the idea viewed it as a possible way to deter violence.
Opponents of the ban on face masks made two arguments, Mr. – Tsang said. One thing was that it could be difficult to enforce, there was such a ban in France, but it did not prevent many so-called protesting yellow vests
The ban on a face mask could also hurt the government's efforts to convince the Hong Kong public, its tourists and international business community that most of the city is safe most of the time, he said.
But while the government split deeply on the matter Tuesday, the escalation of violence on Tuesday night, including the first Tsang police shooting, said protesting,
"Looks like we need more effective, tougher measures," he said.
Ms. Lama's use of emergency powers allowed her to bypass the legislature, and emphasized how governments and police might , there are not enough ways restore order without restriction on some civil liberties. The event alarmed some observers who feared it might exercise other extraordinary powers, such as curfew, stifling the press, deporting foreigners, and ending various democratic rights.
"For the international community, any emergency forces will send a warning bell," said Simon Young, a professor at Hong Kong University Law School. "While this may begin with a step-by-step approach, nothing can stop the addition of another event and the subsequent presentation of measures."
For protesters, masks are symbolic and practical. Many people fear that they will be able to identify themselves with photos and surveillance equipment and then seek revenge. Few people attend mass meetings without one, even during peaceful marches and demonstrations. When Mrs. Lam held the first town hall last week, many audience members, who were confronted with difficult questions, wore masks, demonstrating their fear of retribution.
Reports were contributed by Elaine Yu, Ezra Cheung, Havir Hernandez and Tiffany May.