China envoy warns of ‘very bad damage’ if Canada follows U.S. lead on Hong Kong

OTTAWA (Reuters) – China’s new ambassador to Canada on Friday warned Ottawa not to follow the U.S. lead and formally back protesters in Hong Kong, saying such a move would cause “very bad damage” to already poor ties with Beijing.

Canada, which has been locked in a trade and diplomatic dispute with China, has repeatedly expressed concern about the safety of its 300,000 citizens in Hong Kong, hit by five months of mass demonstrations for more democracy and autonomy.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills to back the protesters and send a warning to China about human rights.

“If somebody here really tries to … have this kind of law like that in the United States, it’s very dangerous,” said Chinese envoy Cong Peiwu, speaking in English.

“If anything happens like this it will certainly have a very bad damage on our bilateral relationship and that is not in the interests of Canada,” he told a news conference in the embassy. He formally presented his credentials on Nov 1.

The uncompromising tone of his message indicated that while the ambassador may have changed, China’s approach has not.

Cong repeated Beijing’s demand that Canada immediately release Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is out on bail after Canadian police detained her on a U.S. arrest warrant last December.

“This incident has led to the severe difficulties the two countries are facing nowadays,” said Cong.

Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China picked up two Canadian citizens on state secret charges, and has since blocked imports of canola seed from Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked on Wednesday what additional measures Canada would take to protect its citizens in Hong Kong, said “we will continue to call for de-escalation and an end to violence” while urging dialogue.

If Canada wanted to protect its citizens, it should ask “those rioters to stop the violence, otherwise those Canadians living in Hong Kong, how can they be safe?” Cong said.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Protesters left on besieged HK campus weigh their options

By Kate Lamb and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – At least eight protesters who had been holding out at a trashed Hong Kong university surrendered on Friday, while others searched for escape routes past riot police who surrounded the campus but said there was no deadline for ending the standoff.

The siege at the Polytechnic University on the Kowloon peninsula appeared to be nearing an end with the number of protesters dwindling to a handful, days after some of the worst violence since anti-government demonstrations escalated in June.

Police chief Chris Tang, who took up the post this week, urged those remaining inside to come out.

“I believe people inside the campus do not want their parents, friends … to worry about them,” Tang told reporters.

Those who remain say they want to avoid being arrested for rioting or on other charges, so hope to find some way to slip past the police or hide.

Sitting in the largely deserted campus, one holdout described how his girlfriend had pleaded with him to surrender to the police.

He had refused, he said, telling her she might as well find another partner because he would likely go to jail.

“A man has to abandon everything otherwise it’s impossible to take part in a revolution,” the protester told Reuters.

Another man sitting nearby agreed, saying it was just as well he was divorced because a “man with family cannot make it to here.”

The campus was so quiet on Friday you could hear the chants of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers exercising on their nearby base.

Many levels of the buildings look like abandoned rebel hideouts strewn with remains — rucksacks, masks, water bottles, cigarette butts, with security cameras smashed throughout. Lockers were stuffed with gas masks and black clothes, and a samurai sword lay on the ground where it was abandoned.

“We are feeling a little tired. All of us feel tired but we will not give up trying to get out,” said a 23-year-old demonstrator who gave his name as Shiba as he ate noodles in the protesters’ canteen.

A Reuters reporter saw six black-clad protesters holding hands walk towards police lines, while a first aid worker said two more surrendered later.

The protests snowballed from June after years of resentment over what many residents see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Protesters, who have thrown fire bombs and rocks and fired bows and arrows at police, are calling for full democracy and an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, among other demands.

Police have responded to the attacks with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and occasional live rounds but say they have acted with restraint in life-threatening situations.

On Friday Hong Kong’s High Court said it would temporarily suspend its ruling that found a controversial law banning protesters from wearing face masks is unconstitutional.

The court said it would suspend its ruling for seven days while appeals processes proceeded.

Beijing has said it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong is governed. It denies meddling in its affairs and accuses foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, of stirring up trouble.

One older protester, who estimated only about 30 demonstrators remained, said some had given up looking for escape routes and were now making new weapons to protect themselves in case police stormed the campus.

There have been two days and nights of relative calm in the city ahead of district council elections that are due to take place on Sunday.

Tang said police would adopt a “high-profile” presence on Sunday and he appealed to protesters to refrain from violence so people feel safe to vote.

(Reporting by Clare Jim, Alun John, Kate Lamb, Jessie Pang and Felix Tam; Writing by By Anne Marie Roantree, Marius Zaharia, Nick Macfie and Josh Smith; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel and Philippa Fletcher)

Hong Kong students’ sewer escape thwarted

By Donny Kwok and Clare Baldwin

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Some anti-government protesters trapped inside a Hong Kong university on Wednesday tried to flee through the sewers, where one student said she saw snakes, but firemen prevented further escape bids by blocking a manhole into the system.

Reuters witnesses said fewer than 100 protesters remained inside the Polytechnic University, ring-fenced 24 hours a day by riot police, after more than 1,000 were arrested from late on Monday.

Some surrendered while others were held during escape attempts that included trying to clamber down ropes to waiting motorbikes on Monday night, with protesters throwing petrol bombs and police responding with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

The streets were quiet on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Protesters, wearing waterproof boots and carrying torches, resurfaced inside the campus after unsuccessfully probing the sewers – where fast-rising water levels are also a hazard – for a way out during the night.

Police said six people were arrested on Wednesday – four while removing a manhole cover outside the campus and two climbing out.

Firefighters, whom the students let on to the campus, were in place to stop any further attempts, blocking the only feasible entrance into the sewer system in an underground car park on campus.

“The sewer was very smelly, with many cockroaches, many snakes. Every step was very, very painful,” said Bowie, 21, a student at Hong Kong University who was forced to turn back.

“I’d never thought that one day I would need to hide in a sewer or escape through sewers to survive.”

The university on the Kowloon peninsula is the last of five that protesters had occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city over the past 10 days, blocking the central Cross-Harbour Tunnel and other arteries.

“This mission is a loss,” said Brutus, 21, who became a protest frontliner in August. He and his girlfriend were taking a break to eat an orange, a Snickers bar and hard boiled eggs in one of the classrooms.

“After all of the things that happened, I don’t think protesters taking control of the universities was a good option. We don’t have gear like the police. We are not well-organized like the police.”

Brutus said he also felt bad about damage to the university. Breaking the CCTV cameras was fine, he said, because that was about protecting people. But other damage was wrong – especially to the library.

“We are here to learn. Now we can’t pass those books to the students coming in next year. That is a great loss.”

He and his girlfriend left to look for a way to escape.

ROTTEN FOOD

Police said nearly 800 people had left the campus peacefully by late on Tuesday and they would be investigated, including nearly 300 under the age of 18. At least 24 were seen walking out on Wednesday.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has called for a humane end to a siege that saw the most intense clashes since the protests escalated more than five months ago.

Police said they had no plans to storm the campus, now wrecked and daubed with graffiti, parts of it stinking of petrol used to make Molotov cocktails and rotten food, with broken glass everywhere. “Ideas are bulletproof,” was spray-painted in a few places.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the then British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.

The unrest marks the most serious popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Protesters on the campus still have vast stocks of petrol bombs, bows and arrows and other makeshift weapons after a weekend of fiery clashes.

Police tightened security around the university, making the streets safe enough for a late Tuesday visit by the force’s new commissioner, Chris Tang, on his first day on the job.

Tang is under pressure to restore police morale as well as public confidence in a force that has come in for widespread criticism for increasingly violent tactics. Police deny using excessive force.

Police have made more than 5,000 arrests in connection with the protests since June.

The number of criminal damage cases reported between June and September was up 29.6% on the same period last year, Commerce Secretary Edward Yau said in a written statement. Arson cases were up 57.4%.

Chinese leaders say they are committed to Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formula for autonomy and have accused foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, of stirring up trouble.

Ties between China and those two countries came under strain over Hong Kong on Wednesday.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned China’s treatment of Simon Cheng, a former employee of Britain’s Hong Kong consulate, who said secret police beat him seeking information about the protest movement.

“We were shocked and appalled by the mistreatment he suffered while in Chinese detention, which amounts to torture,” Raab said.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Cheng had been detained for 15 days and had admitted his offences. All of his legal rights were safeguarded, the spokesman said.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act”, which would require the secretary of state to certify at least once a year that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to qualify for special U.S. trading consideration and would impose sanctions against officials responsible for rights violations.

China summoned a representative of the U.S. embassy in Beijing over the legislation and demanded that the United States stop meddling, the foreign ministry said.

The Hong Kong government expressed “deep regret” over the bill.

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia, Jessie Pang, Aleks Solum, Joseph Campbell, T^om Peter, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim, Donny Kwok, Clare Baldwin and Julie Zhu; Writing by Tony Munroe and Nick Macfie; Editing by Giles Elgood)

At embattled Hong Kong university, a dramatic escape

At embattled Hong Kong university, a dramatic escape
By James Pomfret and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Dozens of Hong Kong protesters staged a dramatic escape from a university campus sealed off by police on Monday by shimmying down plastic hosing from a bridge and fleeing on waiting motorbikes as the police fired projectiles.

Many more anti-government protesters remained trapped inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and two prominent figures were allowed by police onto the campus late on Monday to mediate, a sign that there is a growing risk of bloodshed.

“The situation is getting more and more dangerous,” Jasper Tsang, a pro-Beijing politician who is the former head of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, told Reuters soon after he arrived at the campus.

As he spoke, big explosions were heard and flames flared up at a distant part of the campus. In streets nearby, protesters rained down petrol bombs, burning parked cars and the front of a Standard Chartered Bank branch.

Polytechnic University in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong is at the center of a standoff in the past week that has seen the most intense violence in five months of anti-government demonstrations.

Some of the protesters who escaped on Monday lowered themselves about 10 meters from a bridge they had occupied on the campus to a flyover below. They then sped off on the back of motorcycles which were already waiting or quickly arrived.

A number of them appeared subsequently to have been arrested, a Reuters witness said.

Other protesters, hurling petrol bombs, tried repeatedly to break into the campus but police fired tear gas and water cannon to push them back.

The size of demonstrations has dwindled in recent weeks, but clashes have worsened since early last week, when police shot a protester, a man was set on fire and the city’s financial district was filled with tear gas in the middle of the workday.

The city’s hospital authority reported 116 injuries on Monday, including one female in serious condition.

TIGHTENED CORDON

Earlier on Monday, police tightened their cordon around the Polytechnic University and prevented dozens of people breaking through police lines.

“If the police decide to come in by force, to make their arrests then there will be very strong resistance from the protesters, and we’re afraid we may see bloodshed. This is something that we want to avoid,” Tsang said.

Tsang, who with legal scholar Eric Cheung was the first prominent mediator let onto the campus by police, said there were young children and elderly people trapped inside and that it was a priority to get the children out first.

Early on Tuesday, about 20 students accompanied by Tsang left the campus voluntarily, broadcaster RTHK reported on its livestream.

Police said officers had been deployed “on the periphery” of the campus for a week, appealing to “rioters” to leave.

Witnesses estimated there were more than 300 people still on the campus as of late Monday.

ARRESTS MOUNT

Police say 4,491 people, aged from 11 to 83, have been arrested since protests began in June.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in Hong Kong’s promised freedoms when the then British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.

China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong autonomy. The city’s police deny accusations of brutality and say they show restraint.

China’s ambassador to London on Monday accused foreign countries including the United States and Britain of interfering in Chinese internal affairs through their reactions to the violent clashes taking place in Hong Kong.

“Some Western countries have publicly supported extreme violent offenders,” Ambassador Liu Xiaoming told a London news conference. He also said Western reporting on Hong Kong was misleading and did not give enough prominence to violence perpetrated by the protesters.

The unrest poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and has blamed Western countries for stirring up unrest.

The Hong Kong government invoked a colonial-era emergency law in October banning faced masks commonly used by protesters. The High Court ruled on Monday the ban was unconstitutional and police said they would suspend all such prosecutions.

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia, James Pomfret, Josh Smith, Jessie Pang, Joyce Zhou, Donny Kwok, Anne Marie Roantree, Twinnie Siu, Greg Torode, Kate Lamb, Farah Master, David Lague, Jennifer Hughes and Tom Lasseter in Hong Kong and Phil Stewart in Bangkok; Writing by Greg Torode and Tony Munroe; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Timothy Heritage)

Hong Kong students hunker down as government dismisses curfew rumors

By Kate Lamb and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters paralyzed parts of the city for a fourth successive day on Thursday, forcing schools to close and blocking highways, as students built campus barricades and the government dismissed rumors of a curfew.

Protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police stations and trains, dropped debris from bridges on to traffic below and vandalized shopping malls and campuses, raising questions about how and when more than five months of unrest can be brought to an end.

A 70-year-old street cleaner who was believed to have been hit in the head by a brick on Wednesday died on Thursday, the hospital said. Police said he was believed to have been hit by “hard objects hurled by masked rioters” during his lunch break.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking in Brazil, said stopping violence was the most urgent task right now for Hong Kong, China’s state CCTV television reported.

He said China continued to firmly support Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam. China has a garrison of up to 12,000 troops in Hong Kong who have kept to barracks, but it has vowed to crush any attempts at independence, a demand from a very small minority of protesters.

The unrest was triggered by what many see as the stifling by China of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering in Hong Kong and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble.

Anger grew over perceived police brutality as the protests intensified. Police deny being heavy handed and say they have shown restraint in the face of potentially deadly attacks.

“HIGH-SPIRITED RIOTERS”

Thousands of students hunkered down at several universities on Thursday, surrounded by piles of food, bricks, petrol bombs, catapults and other homemade weapons.

Police said the Chinese University, in the New Territories, had become a “weapons factory and an arsenal” with bows and arrows and catapults.

“Their acts are another step closer to terrorism,” Chief Superintendent (Public Relations) Tse Chun-chung told a briefing, referring to protests on campuses across the Chinese-ruled city.

He also said police would temporarily avoid directly clashing with “high-spirited rioters” to give themselves a breather and avoid injuries.

Police said arrows were fired at officers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the morning. Several Hong Kong universities announced there would be no classes on campuses for the rest of the year.

During the apparent lull in police action, thousands were milling about on Nathan Road, the main artery leading south through the center of Kowloon to the harbor, building a wall from bricks. Police had fired tear gas earlier on the street earlier in the evening.

Baptist University, next to a People’s Liberation Army base in Kowloon Tong, issued an “urgent appeal”, telling students to stay away from campus.

“Your safety is so dear to our hearts and to your parents’ and friends’ hearts,” it said. “Please stay away from harm’s way.”

China’s Global Times tabloid, owned by the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Daily, said on Twitter that the Hong Kong government was expected to announce a weekend curfew after some of the worst violence in decades in the former British colony.

It deleted the post after a short time. The Hong Kong government said the rumors were “totally unfounded”.

PETROL BOMBS AND BRICKS

Hundreds of protesters occupied roads in the city’s business district, home to some of the world’s most expensive real estate, in the middle of the day.

Across the harbor, black-clad protesters and students maintained their blockade of major roads, including the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Hong Kong island to the Kowloon area, and a highway between Kowloon and the rural New Territories.

Police fired tear gas near the tunnel early on Thursday to try to clear the protesters. Protesters threw petrol bombs at the Kowloon-side tunnel turnstiles late in the evening and the tunnel remained closed.

At the Polytechnic University, near the same tunnel entrance, hundreds of students wearing gas masks readied for confrontation. They were practising throwing petrol bombs and archery in a half-empty swimming pool.

Boxes of petrol bombs were placed at vantage points overlooking roads.

Violence has escalated in recent days, with police shooting and wounding one protester at close range and one man described as a “rioter” dousing a man with petrol before setting him on fire. Several others have been wounded.

The man who was shot was in stable condition. The man who was lit on fire suffered burns to his torso and head, and was in critical condition.

(Reporting by Sarah Wu, Kate Lamb, Jessie Pang, Donny Kwok, Twinnie Siu, Anne Marie Roantree, Clare Jim, Ryan Chang and Felix Tam; Writing by Farah Master and Nick Macfie; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

China to ‘perfect’ HK system as water cannon breaks up Guy Fawkes protest

China to ‘perfect’ HK system as water cannon breaks up Guy Fawkes protest
By John Geddie and Kate Lamb

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Chinese Communist Party said on Tuesday it would “perfect” the system for choosing the leader of Hong Kong after months of anti-government protests, as police in the ex-British colony fired water cannon to break up a Guy Fawkes-themed march.

The party said in a statement it would support its “special administrative region” of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, and not tolerate any “separatist behavior” either there or in neighboring Macau, an ex-Portuguese colony that was handed back to Chinese rule two years later.

Some protesters in Hong Kong, angry at perceived Chinese meddling in its freedoms, have called for independence in sometimes violent unrest, a red line for Beijing. China denies interference.

As the party statement was released by Xinhua news agency, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she had held a short meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai.

“He expressed care and concern about Hong Kong, especially given the social disturbances that we have seen in the last five months and he expressed support for the various action taken by Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government,” she told reporters.

Referring to the foundation of the 1997 deal under which Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule, Lam said: “…In strict accordance with the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ (we will continue) upholding the rule of law and trying to put an end to the violence.”

The “one country, two systems” formula guarantees Hong Kong’s freedoms, including an independent judicial system, for 50 years.

Lam denied widely reported rumors that her government was considering an amnesty for protesters charged with offences, one of the demands of the protesters. “In simple terms, it will not happen,” she said.

BONFIRE NIGHT PROTESTS

After gatecrashing fancy-dress Halloween festivities on Oct. 31, hundreds of Hong Kong protesters marked Guy Fawkes Day on Tuesday in the Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district of Kowloon by wearing the white, smiling Guy Fawkes masks made popular by anti-establishment hackers, the film “V for Vendetta” and protesters globally.

Some protesters vandalized traffic lights and a restaurant perceived as being pro-Beijing, prompting police to move in with the water cannon, near the science museum, as they have done on many nights during five months of demonstrations. Some protesters were detained while others ran off.

Guy Fawkes Day, also called Bonfire Night, is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires every Nov. 5 in Britain. Effigies of “guys” are burnt, marking the night in 1605 when Fawkes was arrested for a “gunpowder plot” to blow up parliament.

“We are here to tell the government that we are not afraid of them and that they should be afraid of us,” masked protester Pete, 27, said in front of the huge, harborfront neon Christmas decorations.

Lam banned face masks last month, invoking colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years, but protesters have largely ignored the ruling.

China’s Communist Party, in a lengthy statement about decisions reached at a key leadership meeting known as a plenum last week, said it would improve the national security system in Hong Kong, as well as in Macau, though it gave no details.

The party decided to “establish a robust legal system and enforcement mechanism to safeguard national security in the special administrative regions and support them to strengthen law enforcement”.

The party will “perfect” the appointment and dismissal mechanisms for the leaders and senior officials of the two territories, it added, reiterating comments from a Chinese parliament official last week. Again, no details were given.

It will also perfect the system under which the party has full jurisdictional power over Hong Kong, in accordance with the constitution, Xinhua said.

The demonstrations in Hong Kong began over a since-scrapped extradition bill and escalated in mid-June against China. Protesters have kept up their calls for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, among other demands.

The protests, which pose the gravest challenge to Xi since he came to power in 2012, have received broad support.

The number of people who take part in the mostly weekend rallies has dwindled from the millions who participated in June, but violence and vandalism have escalated. Authorities have refused permits for many recent protests, making them illegal from the outset and activists liable to be arrested.

There have been many injuries in the protests, but no deaths. A 22-year-old student at a Hong Kong university who fell during protests at the weekend was in critical condition on Tuesday, hospital authorities said.

A man stabbed at least two people on Sunday and bit off part of a politician’s ear before being beaten by protesters. A 48-year-old suspect has been charged with wounding.

Lam expressed her sympathies for the wounded, singling out the 22-year-old student.

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok, Farah Master, Sharon Lam, Sarah Wu, Kate Lamb and John Geddie in Hong Kong and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Nick Macfie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Apple pulls police-tracking app used by Hong Kong protesters after consulting authorities

By Stephen Nellis and John Ruwitch

SAN FRANCISCO/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Apple Inc has removed an app that helped Hong Kong protesters track police movements, saying it was used to ambush law enforcement – a move that follows sharp criticism of the U.S. tech giant by a Chinese state newspaper for allowing the software.

The decision to bar the HKmap.live app, which crowdsources the locations of both police and protesters, from its app store plunges Apple into the increasingly fraught political tension between China and the protesters that has also ensnared other U.S. and Hong Kong businesses.

Apple had only just last week approved the app after rejecting it earlier this month. The Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper on Tuesday called the app “poisonous” and decried what it said was Apple’s complicity in helping the Hong Kong protesters.

Apple said in a statement on Wednesday it had begun an immediate investigation after “many concerned customers in Hong Kong” contacted the company about the app and Apple found it had endangered law enforcement and residents.

“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” it said.

Apple did not comment beyond its statement. The company also removed BackupHK, a separate app that served as a mirror of the HKmap.live app.

On Twitter, an account believed to be owned by the HKmap.live app’s developer said it disagreed with Apple’s decision and there was no evidence to support the Hong Kong police’s claims via Apple that the app had been used in ambushes.

“The majority of user review(s) in App Store … suggest HKmap IMPROVED public safety, not the opposite,” it said.

The app consolidates content from public posts on social networks and moderators delete content that solicited criminal activity and would ban repeated attempts to post such content in the app, it added.

Neither China’s foreign ministry nor the information office of the State Council had an immediate comment when asked about the HKmap.live app removal. Hong Kong police also had no immediate comment.

In a separate move, Apple also removed the Quartz news app from its App Store in China because Chinese authorities said the app violated local laws.

Quartz Chief Executive Zach Seward told technology publication The Verge in a statement: “We abhor this kind of government censorship of the internet, and have great coverage of how to get around such bans around the world.”

ANGER IN HONG KONG

The People’s Daily newspaper on Tuesday blasted Apple, saying it did not have a sense of right and wrong, and ignored the truth. Making the app available on Apple’s Hong Kong App Store at this time was “opening the door” to violent protesters in the former British colony, the newspaper wrote.

The HKmap.live app was taken down from Apple’s app store globally on Wednesday but continued to work for users who had previously downloaded it in Hong Kong, Reuters found. A web version was also still viewable on iPhones.

Word of the its removal spread quickly in Hong Kong, where residents have been campaigning for months in sometimes violent demonstrations – first to protest a now-withdrawn extradition bill and currently in a broader push for democratic rights.

“Does the entire world have to suck up to the garbage Communist Party?” one commentator called Yip Lou Jie said in an online forum, LIHKG, which is used by protesters in Hong Kong.

But Simon Young, associate dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, said Apple seemed to have a case given the circumstances.

“It sounds like they are being responsible. To do nothing when it’s being used for a specific purpose that actually facilitates these protests, to do nothing would be rather irresponsible,” he said.

Apple’s action has come amid a furor surrounding the National Basketball Association after a team official tweeted in support of the protests in Hong Kong and which has led Chinese sponsors and partners to cut ties with the NBA.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, has also felt the wrath of China’s aviation regulator, which has called for the suspension of staff who have taken part in the protests or expressed support.

Under Apple’s rules and policies, apps that meet its standards to appear in the App Store have sometimes been removed after their release if they were found to facilitate illegal activity or threaten public safety.

In 2011, Apple modified its app store to remove apps that listed locations for drunken driving checkpoints not previously published by law enforcement officials.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis and John Ruwitch; Additional reporting by Greg Mitchell in San Francisco; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

Police fire tear gas as protests swell after Hong Kong imposes emergency powers

By Clare Jim and Noah Sin

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam invoked colonial-era emergency powers last used more than 50 years ago on Friday, in a dramatic move that enraged protesters who took to the streets of the Chinese-ruled city within hours.

Lam, speaking at a news conference, said a ban on face masks would take effect on Saturday under the emergency laws that allow authorities to “make any regulations whatsoever” in whatever they deem to be in the public interest.

China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office praised the move in a statement that said the protests were evolving into a “color revolution”, a term coined to refer to popular uprisings in Ukraine and other former Soviet states that swept away long-standing rulers, with interference from external forces.

The emergency laws allow curfews, censorship of the media, and control of harbors, ports and transport, although Lam did not specify any particular action that might follow beyond the mask ban.

Nearly four months of anti-government protests have plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis since its handover from Britain to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that granted it autonomy and broad freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

Lam said her move was necessary to quell escalating violence.

But as darkness fell, defiant demonstrators took to the streets to vent their anger, vandalizing what they perceived to be China-friendly businesses and blocking road in the heart of the financial center. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in flashpoint districts across the territory, including Causeway Bay, Sha Tin and Wong Tai Sin.

Shopping malls, banks and shops across Hong Kong island had closed early in anticipation of violence as some protesters burned Chinese flags and chanted “You burn with us”, and “Hong Kongers, revolt”.

“The anti-mask law has become a tool of tyranny,” said Samuel Yeung, an 18-year-old university student, as crowds swelled in the main financial district of Central, beneath gleaming skyscrapers that house the Asia headquarters of companies including HSBC.

“They can make use of the emergency law to enact any policies or laws that the government wants. There’s no rule of law anymore. We can only be united and protest.”

“NOT A STATE OF EMERGENCY”

What began as opposition to a proposed extradition law, which could have seen people sent for trial in mainland courts, has grown into a broad pro-democracy movement and a serious challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs. China dismisses accusations it is meddling and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of stirring up anti-China sentiment.

On Friday evening, thousands of demonstrators – many blue-collar workers and unmasked residents – gathered across the territory, filling shopping malls and blocking roads. Bus routes were suspended and rail operator MTR closed stations.

Many protesters wear masks to hide their identity due to fears employers could face pressure to take action against them.

“Almost all protesters wear masks, with the intention of hiding their identity. That’s why they have become more unbridled,” said Lam.

“We can’t keep the existing regulations idle and let violence escalate and the situation continue to deteriorate.”

Lam described the territory as being in serious danger, but not in a state of emergency.

Pro-Beijing groups had been pushing for a mask ban, but it was not clear how the government would implement it in a city where many of its 7.4 million residents wear them every day to protect against infection following the outbreak of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

Police can stop anyone in public and ask them to remove a mask if the officer believes it may prevent identification, according to the law. Exceptions are made if the person wearing a mask can prove they need it for medical, religious or professional reasons.

Offenders face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 ($3,200) and imprisonment for a year, according to details of the prohibition published by the government.

“SOMETHING DRASTIC”

Authorities had already loosened guidelines on the use of force by police, according to documents seen by Reuters.

That came just before an escalation in violence on Tuesday, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when police fired about 1,800 volleys of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets and six live bullets – one of which hit an 18-year-old, the first time a protester had been hit be live fire.

The student, Tony Tsang, was shot at close range as he fought with a policeman. He is stable in hospital and has been charged with rioting, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence and assaulting an officer.

Pro-democracy campaigners condemned Lam’s latest decision.

“This is an ancient, colonial set of regulations, and you don’t use them unless you can’t legislate anymore,” said Martin Lee, a veteran activist and one of the city’s most prominent lawyers. “Once you start, there’s no end to it.”

The U.N. human rights office said Hong Kong must protect the right to freedom of assembly and Britain urged its former colony not to aggravate tension.

Some Hong Kong’s businesses, struggling with a dip in tourism and retail sales due to the protests, gave the law a warmer welcome.

“I agree with it at this point,” said businessman Allan Zeman, who is also an economic adviser to Lam. “You have to do something drastic to end the violence.”

But Hong Kong shares fell on Friday, hitting one-month lows.

(Reporting by Clare Jim and Noah Sin; Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Poppy McPherson, Donny Kwok, James Pomfret, Jessie Pang, Felix Tam and Farah Master in Hong Kong, Sun Yilei in Shanghai and Chen Aizhu in Singapore; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Bill Rigby; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

Special Report: China quietly doubles troop levels in Hong Kong, envoys say

By Greg Torode, James Pomfret and David Lague

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Last month, Beijing moved thousands of troops across the border into this restive city. They came in on trucks and armored cars, by bus and by ship.

The state news agency Xinhua described the operation as a routine “rotation” of the low-key force China has kept in Hong Kong since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997. No mention was made of the anti-government protests that have been shaking the metropolis since June.

It was a plausible report: China has maintained a steady level of force in the territory for years, regularly swapping troops in and out. And days earlier, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters, embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had told local businesspeople that China had “absolutely no plan” to order the army to put down the demonstrations.

A month on, Asian and Western envoys in Hong Kong say they are certain the late-August deployment was not a rotation at all, but a reinforcement. Seven envoys who spoke to Reuters said they didn’t detect any significant number of existing forces in Hong Kong returning to the mainland in the days before or after the announcement.

Three of the envoys said the contingent of Chinese military personnel in Hong Kong had more than doubled in size since the protests began. They estimated the number of military personnel is now between 10,000 and 12,000, up from 3,000 to 5,000 in the months before the reinforcement.

As a result, the envoys believe, China has now assembled its largest-ever active force of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops and other anti-riot personnel and equipment in Hong Kong.

Significantly, five of the diplomats say, the build-up includes elements of the People’s Armed Police (PAP), a mainland paramilitary anti-riot and internal security force under a separate command from the PLA. While Reuters was unable to determine the size of the PAP contingent, envoys say the bulk of the troops in Hong Kong are from the PLA.

PAP forces would be likely to spearhead any crackdown if Beijing decides to intervene, according to foreign envoys and security analysts. These paramilitary troops are specially trained in non-lethal tactics and methods of riot suppression and crowd control.

The envoys declined to say how exactly they determined that the recent troop movement was a reinforcement or how they arrived at their troop estimates. Reuters reporters visited the areas surrounding multiple PLA bases in Hong Kong and observed significantly increased movements by troops and armored vehicles at the facilities.

China’s Ministry of National Defense, the State Council Information Office, and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office did not respond to questions from Reuters. In early September, a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said China would “not sit idly by” if the situation in the city continued to deteriorate and posed a threat to “the country’s sovereignty.”

The office of Carrie Lam and the PLA garrison in Hong Kong also did not respond to questions. A Hong Kong police spokesperson told Reuters the police force was “capable of maintaining law and order and determined to restore public safety in Hong Kong.”

REVAMPING THE PARAMILITARY

The PAP is a key element in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s drive to reinforce the ruling Communist Party’s control over the nation of 1.4 billion people while building a potent military that can supplant the United States as Asia’s dominant power. The PAP has up to one million troops, according to an April research paper from the U.S.’s National Defense University – about half the size of China’s standing military. The paramilitary’s primary duty is to defend against potential enemies within – countering domestic upheaval and protecting top leaders. In recent years, it has contained unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet. Elements of this force are also trained for counter-terrorism, securing key infrastructure, disaster relief and international peacekeeping.

After installing himself as commander-in-chief and reshaping the regular military, Xi turned attention to the PAP. His first move was to take personal control. In early 2018, the PAP was brought under direct command of the Central Military Commission, the top military decision-making body that Xi chairs. Previously, the PAP had come under the split command of the commission and the State Council, China’s top government administrative body.

This put Xi at the apex of Beijing’s military and paramilitary forces, further concentrating power in his hands. With the eruption of the protests in Hong Kong, however, Xi now faces the biggest popular challenge to his rule.

News of the reinforcements in Hong Kong comes as city officials are bracing for more demonstrations on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Intense clashes between protesters and police rocked the city over the weekend ahead of the celebrations.

In her private remarks in August, city Chief Executive Lam played down the possibility that Beijing might deploy the PLA. Foreign envoys and security analysts said they too believe China’s strong preference is not to use troops.

Still, they said, the troop build-up shows Beijing wants to be ready to act if the Hong Kong government and its 30,000-strong police force lose control of the city. Lam herself expressed concern about the force’s ability to keep control. On some days, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets. She said the police are “outnumbered” by the protesters, making enforcement “extremely difficult.”

“Apart from the 30,000 men and women in the force we have nothing,” she told the gathering of businesspeople. “Really. We have nothing. I have nothing.”

Until now, the PAP’s presence in Hong Kong has been limited to a small advance detachment nestled discreetly within existing PLA facilities, according to one of the diplomats. The new deployment marks the first significant entry of the PAP into Hong Kong. It wasn’t mentioned in official accounts of the rotation nor in the state-controlled press.

The combined deployment of the PLA and the PAP follows months of official statements denouncing the protests and dramatic signaling to Hong Kongers. This included news reports and footage showing anti-riot drills by both the PLA and the PAP, released by the military on social media. Last month, hundreds of PAP troops conducted extensive exercises in a football stadium in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong. Troops in the area could also be deployed to Hong Kong if the crisis deepened, foreign diplomats said.

ENFORCING XI’S ‘RED LINE’

The protests and street violence in Hong Kong erupted in early June, over a bill – since scrapped – that would have paved the way for people to be extradited to the mainland. The unrest came two years after Xi defined a “red line” for Hong Kong. He used the phrase in a 2017 speech in the city, warning that domestic threats to national sovereignty will not be tolerated.

Chinese security forces are better equipped to handle civil unrest than they were a generation ago. In 1989, it was the PLA that was sent in to smash student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. It used the tools of war – battle tanks, armored vehicles and infantry.

In Hong Kong, the reinforcement includes equipment tailor-made for quelling urban violence with non-lethal force – including water cannon vehicles and trucks used to lay barbed-wire barricades. Additional transport helicopters have been moved into the city. Reuters reporters have seen these flying frequently around Hong Kong and its hinterlands, the New Territories, an observation confirmed by foreign envoys and security analysts monitoring developments here.

Other trucks, bearing military number plates, have been seen pre-loaded with street fortifications, at times moving about the city. Reuters reporters have tracked increased activity at many of the PLA’s 17 facilities across Hong Kong Island, its neighboring city of Kowloon and the rural New Territories. Most of these facilities were inherited by the PLA under agreement with the departing British forces during the 1997 handover.

Fatigues and other laundry can be seen hanging from the balconies of buildings that had lain dormant for years. Army buses and jeeps are parked in once-abandoned lots.

Some foreign analysts say China’s reinforced military presence was bigger than expected and appears to have been well-prepared. They say the size of the force means it is now far beyond the symbolic role traditionally played by the local garrison.

“They do seem to have an active contingency plan to deal with something like a total breakdown in order by the Hong Kong police,” said Alexander Neill, a Singapore-based security analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “I would think it would take something like that or some other worst-case scenario for them to deploy. But they are clearly more ready than before, and are leaving nothing to chance.”

So far, the expanded Chinese forces remain firmly within their barracks – a continuation of what has been an unobtrusive presence since the handover.

In 1997, trucks full of white-gloved PLA soldiers, some carrying flowers, rolled into Hong Kong within hours of Britain’s handover of its colony to Chinese rule. The sight sparked anxiety among politicians, activists and the public that still lingers. Beyond the occasional so-called open day, when the public gets access to the PLA barracks, the troops rarely interact with ordinary Hong Kongers.

Unlike forces on the mainland, soldiers within the Hong Kong garrison are not usually accompanied by their families. They are rarely allowed to socialize outside their bases; for news, they are given access to China’s state media.

“They live like monks,” said one Hong Kong-based mainland security specialist familiar with local PLA forces. “It is a vastly different deployment to anything on the mainland – almost akin to something they might experience on peacekeeping duties in Africa.”

The local Chinese security presence must be squared with handover guarantees that Hong Kong’s autonomy would remain for at least 50 years – including broad freedoms and an independent judiciary, which don’t exist in the rest of China.

Under the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, defense and foreign affairs are the sole responsibility of the Communist Party leadership in Beijing. The document states that the PLA garrison “shall not interfere in local affairs,” but Hong Kong can request the garrison’s assistance to maintain public order. And garrison members must abide by local laws.

Chinese law, meanwhile, allows for the standing committee of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, to deploy the garrison if a state of war or emergency is declared for Hong Kong. The law cites “turmoil” that threatens national security and is “beyond the control of the (Hong Kong) government.”

ONE PRESENCE, TWO FORCES

The PLA garrison is commanded by Major-General Chen Daoxiang, who is shadowed by a political commissar, Major-General Cai Yongzhong. But neither officer, nor territory leader Lam, would have the authority to deploy the security forces. Any military clampdown on China’s freest and most international city would only be ordered by Xi’s powerful Central Military Commission, say local officials and foreign diplomats.

In June, garrison commander Chen told a visiting Pentagon official that Chinese troops would not interfere in the city’s affairs, according to people briefed on the discussion. U.S. officials at the time said they read the comment as an early signal that Beijing intended to keep them in their barracks.

Less is known about the command structure of the PAP forces in Hong Kong. Few residents of the city are even aware of their presence within existing PLA facilities.

From the early years of its revolutionary struggle against the Nationalists, the Chinese Communist Party fielded a range of paramilitary forces to guard the leadership and key headquarters. These forces assumed an internal security role after the Communists took power in 1949. The PAP was formed in 1982, as the paramount leader of the time, Deng Xiaoping, modernized and downsized the military after the Cultural Revolution. The PAP absorbed thousands of regular army troops.

Still, the PAP was poorly trained and equipped, with a fragmented command, when the 1989 Tiananmen protests threatened the party’s grip. China’s leaders had to call on army units to crush the protests with tanks and machine guns. The scenes of bloodshed on the streets of the Chinese capital were a blow to the party’s reputation. In the aftermath, the leadership reequipped and retrained the PAP in crowd-control operations.

Security analysts say the PAP’s budget has grown as the force has modernized, but figures are undisclosed. The government stopped revealing full domestic security spending numbers in 2014 – after the internal security budget had topped the fast-growing regular military budget for the previous three years.

In the restive region of Xinjiang, the PAP has been used heavily to counter what China describes as a terrorist threat from Uighurs, an ethnic Muslim minority. As many as a million Uighurs and Muslims from other ethnic groups have been incarcerated in prison camps, according to the United Nations. China counters that the facilities are vocational training centers to help stamp out religious extremism and teach new work skills.

“The PAP can be seen as a blunt instrument with the key function of suppressing domestic unrest,” said Trevor Hollingsbee, a retired British defense ministry intelligence analyst who served as a Hong Kong security official until 1997. “Their role has been streamlined and their command sharpened under Xi.”

‘IT’S TOO RISKY’

The PAP also has been active in southern China, close to Hong Kong. PAP riot police have been sent to quell factory strikes and other labor unrest in the Pearl River Delta, one of China’s key manufacturing areas.

In 2011, before Xi came to power, PAP troops were deployed as part of the clampdown on Wukan. The southern coastal village drew international attention when residents threw up barricades against local authorities to protest land seizures. In a rare climbdown, the provincial government eventually dissolved the old village committee and allowed free elections. Many protest leaders were voted into office.

When fresh protests broke out in 2016, over a failure to resolve the land issues and other grievances, the PAP and other security forces were sent in again. This time, the response was harsher.

Video footage of the clashes was shown by villagers to a Reuters reporter who reached the area soon after the protests erupted. It showed locals hurling bricks at ranks of shield-carrying riot police. The troops used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. No deaths were reported. But a Reuters reporter on the scene observed several injured villagers, some with bloody head wounds.

In Hong Kong, Chinese military forces have been conducting anti-riot drills in their bases in recent weeks. Reuters reporters viewed one drill in late September from a public road near the PLA base in rural Tam Mei. They saw helmeted Chinese troops undergoing exercises, some armed with rifles, shields and batons. Inside the base were dozens of camouflaged armored personnel carriers, command jeeps, large bulldozers and trucks.

Reuters and foreign diplomats have also seen extra forces at the PLA headquarters in central Hong Kong, next to local government offices in the city’s Admiralty district. Protests have broken out repeatedly just meters from the PLA compound. Amid attempts by police to secure the area, protesters have at times hurled petrol bombs near the headquarters’ granite walls. Clouds of police tear gas have wafted into the compound.

So far, though, protesters haven’t targeted PLA bases directly, even as they have vandalized the national flag and other symbols of Chinese sovereignty.

“We don’t mess with the People’s Liberation Army,” said Leo Wong, a young protester, standing near the PLA headquarters during a late-September demonstration. “If we attacked the PLA, anything could happen. It’s too risky.”

(Reporting by Greg Torode, James Pomfret and David Lague. Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong. Editing by Peter Hirschberg.)

Hong Kong protesters denounce police ahead of flashpoint weekend

By Jessie Pang and Felix Tam

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of Hong Kong protesters rallied at the harbor side on Friday, chanting slogans accusing the police of brutality and setting the stage for a weekend of demonstrations leading up to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

The downtown rally was one of a series of protests that have united activists denouncing Chinese rule, calling for democracy and even for independence from Beijing, often resulting in violent clashes with police in the former British colony.

Activists have targeted police over more than three months with petrol bombs, rocks and laser shone in their eyes, furious at social media footage of random beatings, especially one night against protesters cowering on the floor of a subway train.

Police have responded with teargas, water cannon, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds fired into the air.

The protesters gathered at a park on reclaimed land in front of central government offices on Friday night calling for an investigation into the remote San Uk Ling camp near the Chinese border where they say detained protesters were abused, a claim police deny.

“It’s obvious that there’s a problem of police brutality,” said 19-year-old university student Peter Sin. “They now arrest people randomly and there’s much inhumane treatment during prosecution and detention.”

Police said the camp was no longer being used to hold protesters.

“Its setting and facilities are all in line with police policies and regulations,” they said in a statement. “We will stop using San Uk Ling Holding Centre for holding arrested people in this operation. The reason is to avoid any further public speculation and unnecessary remarks accusing the police.”

One officer told reporters last week that some officers had overstepped the line when dealing with protesters.

“You are talking about a prolonged situation, chaos, violent encounters,” he said. “We have established procedures to deal with allegations of abuse of force. Every day, with every chance we have, we remind our officers not to succumb to emotions.

“We’ve gone through multiple situations where lethal force would have been justified, but our officers chose not to use it.”

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, in the first “open dialogue” session with the people on Thursday, said she would not accede to protesters’ demands for an independent inquiry into police action. She did not explain why.

PROTESTS ON REPUBLIC’S ANNIVERSARY

This weekend, the Asian financial hub marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the “Umbrella” protests, a series of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 that failed to wrest concessions from Beijing.

One of the most prominent leaders of those protests, the bespectacled Joshua Wong, then just 17, is expected to announce on Saturday that he will run for local district council elections in November, his supporters said.

He is on bail after being charged with inciting and participating in an unauthorized assembly outside police headquarters on June 21.

Thousands of people are expected to rally in the city center on Saturday evening. Protests are also expected on Sunday to mark Global Anti-Totalitarianism Day, with solidarity events planned in cities across the world, including Paris, Berlin, Taipei, New York, Kiev and London.

But the biggest protests are likely to be on Oct. 1, marking the anniversary of the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, with protesters saying they plan to use the holiday to propel calls for greater democracy.

Activists plan a mass rally from Victoria Park in the bustling Causeway Bay district to Chater Garden near government headquarters.

Official festivities for National Day have been scaled back, with authorities keen to avoid embarrassing Beijing at a time when President Xi Jinping is seeking to project an image of national strength and unity.

Pro-Beijing rallies are also planned in the city, raising the prospect of clashes.

The protests were sparked in June by a bill, since withdrawn, that would have allowed the extradition of suspected criminals to mainland China but have since expanded into a broader pro-democracy movement.

Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.

China denies meddling. It has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of inciting the unrest.

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, Anne Marie Roantree, Twinnie Siu and Marius Zaharia; Writing by Poppy McPherson and Nick Macfie; Editing by Pravin Char)