Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up Christmas Eve protest chaos

By Clare Jim and Marius Zaharia

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong riot police fired rounds of tear gas at thousands of protesters, many wearing masks and reindeer horns, after scuffles in shopping malls and in a prime tourist district as pro-democracy rallies escalated into Christmas Eve chaos.

Protesters inside the malls threw umbrellas and other objects at police who responded by beating some demonstrators with batons, with one pointing his gun at the crowd, but not firing.

Some demonstrators occupied the main roads and blocked traffic outside the malls and nearby luxury hotels in the Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district of Kowloon.

A man was shown on public broadcaster RTHK as falling from the second floor to the first floor of a mall in the rural Yuen Long district as he tried to evade police. He was conscious as he was taken away by paramedics.

There was a heavy police presence into the night in Tsim Sha Tsui with hundreds of officers standing guard on the roads as thousands of Christmas shoppers and tourists, some wearing Santa hats, looked on. A water canon and several armored police Jeeps were parked nearby.

Dozens of protesters started digging up bricks from the roads and set up barricades, as police said in a statement they would deploy “minimum force to effect dispersal” and arrest “rioters”.

Many families with children had congregated in the area to view the Christmas lights along the promenade, the spectacular backdrop of Hong Kong island on the opposite side of the harbor.

The protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, now in their seventh month, have lost some of the scale and intensity of earlier violent confrontations. A peaceful rally this month still drew 800,000 people, according to organizers, showing strong support for the movement.

Scores of black clad, mask wearing protesters chanted slogans including “Revive Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” and “Hong Kong independence” as they roamed the malls.

“Lots of people are shopping so it’s a good opportunity to spread the message and tell people what we are fighting for.” said Ken, an 18-year-old student.

“We fight for freedom, we fight for our future.”

A bank branch of global banking group HSBC was vandalized in Mong Kok, according to television footage. The bank on Friday became embroiled in a saga involving an official crackdown on a fund-raising platform supporting protesters in need.

HSBC denied any link between a police clampdown on the platform, called Spark Alliance, and the earlier closure of an HSBC bank account tied to the group.

Protesters had nevertheless called for a boycott of the bank at its headquarters in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district.

Around 100 protesters also trashed a Starbucks inside a mall called Mira Place, breaking the glass counters displaying pastries and spraying graffiti on the walls.

The coffee shop chain has been a common target of protesters after the daughter of the founder of Maxim’s Caterers, which owns the local franchise, condemned the protesters at a U.N. human rights council in Geneva.

Metro operator MTR Corp said it shut two stations, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui, early on Tuesday night due to protests in the area. Train services were meant to run overnight on Christmas Eve.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized some of the biggest marches involving more than a million people, has applied to stage another march on New Year’s Day.

Police have arrested more than 6,000 people since the protests escalated in June, including a large number during a protracted, violent siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in mid-November.

Many Hong Kong residents are angry at what they see as Beijing’s meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.

In a video posted on her Facebook page, Chief Executive Carrie Lam wished Hong Kong citizens “a peaceful and safe Merry Christmas”.

Lam has so far refused to grant protesters’ demands which include an independent inquiry into police behavior and the implementation of full universal suffrage.

(Reporting by Clare Jim, Marius Zaharia, Twinnie Siu, Mari Saito and James Pomfret; writing by Farah Master; editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

French police fire tear gas at strikers challenging Macron reform

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas at protesters in the center of Paris on Thursday and public transport ground to a near halt in one of the biggest strikes in France for decades, aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to ditch a planned reform of pensions.

The strike pits Macron, a 41-year-old former investment banker who came to power in 2017 on a promise to open up France’s highly regulated economy, against powerful trade unions who say he is set on dismantling worker protections.

The outcome depends on who blinks first – the unions who risk losing public support if the disruption goes on for too long, or the government which fears voters could side with the unions and blame officials for the standoff.

“People can work around it today and tomorrow, but next week people may get annoyed,” said 56-year-old cafe owner Isabelle Guibal.

Rail workers voted to extend their strike through Friday, while labor unions at the Paris bus and metro operator RATP said their walkout would continue until Monday.

Trade unions achieved their initial objective on Thursday, as workers at transport enterprises, schools and hospitals across France joined the strike. In Paris, commuters had to dust off old bicycles, rely on car pooling apps, or just stay at home. The Eiffel Tower had to close to visitors.

On Thursday afternoon, tens of thousands of union members marched through the center of the capital in a show of force.

Trouble erupted away from the main protest when people in masks and dressed in black ransacked a bus stop near the Place de la Republique, ripped up street furniture, smashed shop windows and threw fireworks at police.

Police in riot gear responded by firing tear gas, Reuters witnesses said. Nearby, police used truncheons to defend themselves from black-clad protesters who rushed at them. Prosecutors said, in all, 57 people were detained.

Macron wants to simplify France’s unwieldy pension system, which comprises more than 40 different plans, many with different retirement ages and benefits. Rail workers, mariners and Paris Opera House ballet dancers can retire up to a decade earlier than the average worker.

Macron says the system is unfair and too costly. He wants a single, points-based system under which for each euro contributed, every pensioner has equal rights.

PRESIDENT’S SWAGGER

Macron has already survived one major challenge to his rule, from the grassroots “Yellow Vest” protesters who earlier this year clashed with police and blocked roads around France for weeks on end.

Having emerged from that crisis, he carries himself with a swagger on the world stage, publicly upbraiding U.S. President Donald Trump this week over his approach to the NATO alliance and counter-terrorism.

But the pension reform – on which polls show French people evenly split between supporters and opponents – is fraught with risk for him as it chips away at social protections many in France believe are at the heart of their national identity.

“People are spoiling for a fight,” Christian Grolier, a senior official from the hard-left Force Ouvriere union which is helping organize the strike, told Reuters.

The SNCF state railway said only one in 10 high-speed TGV trains would run and police reported power cables on the line linking Paris and the Riviera had been vandalized. The civil aviation authority asked airlines to cancel 20% of flights because of knock-on effects from the strike.

Past attempts at pension reform have ended badly for the authorities. Former president Jacques Chirac’s conservative government in 1995 caved into union demands after weeks of crippling protests.

(Reporting by Caroline Pailliez, Geert de Clercq, Sybille de La Hamaide, Marine Pennetier, Laurence Frost in paris and Guillaume Frouin in Nantes; Writing by Richard Lough and Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Hong Kong protesters confront police to try to free campus allies

Anti-goverment protesters trapped inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University abseil onto a highway and escape before being forced to surrender during a police besiege of the campus in Hong Kong, China November 18, 2019. HK01/Handout via REUTERS

Hong Kong protesters confront police to try to free campus allies
By Nick Macfie and David Lague

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police used tear gas and water cannon on Monday against protesters who tried to break through cordons and reach a university at the centre of a week-long standoff between demonstrators and law enforcement.

The black-clad protesters hurled petrol bombs as they tried to get to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, occupied by activists during a week that has seen the most intense violence in five months of anti-government demonstrations.

“We have been trying to rescue them all day,” said a young man in a blue T-shirt, cap and spectacles, running down Nathan Road, the Kowloon district’s main commercial street. “They are trapped in there.”

Later, about a dozen protesters pinned inside the campus escaped on the backs of waiting motorbikes after lowering themselves with rope onto the road.

The size of demonstrations has dwindled in recent weeks, but clashes between protesters and police have escalated sharply 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.

On Monday night, protesters under cover of umbrellas huddled along the median strip in Nathan Road, filling bottles with petrol to make crude bombs, a weapon they have used increasingly.

Some residents were trapped at police cordons, and all the shops along a stretch of commercial strip that is usually one of Hong Kong’s busiest were shut.

TIGHTENED CORDON

Earlier on Monday, police tightened their cordon around the Polytechnic University, and fired rubber bullets and tear gas to pin back about 100 anti-government protesters armed with petrol bombs and other weapons and stop them from fleeing.

Dozens, choking on the tear gas, tried to leave the campus by breaking through police lines, but were pushed back.

“The police might not storm the campus but it seems like they are trying to catch people as they attempt to run,” Democratic lawmaker Hui Chi-fung told Reuters.

“It’s not optimistic now. They might all be arrested on campus. Lawmakers and school management are trying to liaise with the police but failed.”

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

“All roads to Poly U are blocked,” said a policeman who stopped Reuters reporters at a road block on Monday night. “All are blocked.”

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 foreign ministry said on Monday no one should underestimate its will to protect its sovereignty.

On Sunday, Chinese soldiers in a base close to the university were seen monitoring developments at the university with binoculars, some dressed in riot gear.

On Saturday, Chinese troops in shorts and T-shirts, some carrying red plastic buckets or brooms, emerged from their barracks in a rare public appearance to help clean up debris.

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, 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)

Violence brings Hong Kong to ‘brink of total breakdown’: police

Violence brings Hong Kong to ‘brink of total breakdown’: police
By Kate Lamb and Josh Smith

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas at pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong’s Central financial district and at demonstrators on the other side of the harbour on Tuesday as a senior officer said the unrest had brought the city to “the brink of total breakdown”.

The clashes took place a day after police shot a protester at close range and a man was doused with petrol and set on fire in some of the worst violence in the Chinese-ruled city in decades.

More than 1,000 protesters, many wearing office clothes and face masks, rallied in Central for a second day during lunch hour, blocking roads below some of the city’s tallest skyscrapers and most expensive real estate.

After they had dispersed, police fired tear gas at the remaining protesters on old, narrow Pedder Street. Police made more than a dozen arrests, many pinned up on the pavement against the wall of luxury jeweller Tiffany & Co.

Police said masked “rioters” had committed “insane” acts, throwing trash, bicycles and other debris on to metro tracks and overhead power lines, paralysing transport in the former British colony. TV footage showed activists dropping heavy objects from overpasses on to traffic below, just missing a motorcyclist.

“Our society has been pushed to the brink of a total breakdown,” Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told a briefing, referring to the last two days of violence

The demonstrators have been protesting since June against what they believe to be meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the territory returned to China from British rule in 1997. Tough police tactics in response to the unrest have also fuelled anger.

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

STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE

As well as the protests in Central, the heart of the Asian financial hub on Hong Kong island, clashes also erupted in several places on the mainland.

Police fired tear gas at City University in Kowloon Tong and at Chinese University in the New Territories, where protesters threw petrol bombs and bricks at police.

Students in hard hats and gas masks had since morning been barricading City University. Activists, who had home-made shields, stockpiled bricks and petrol and nail bombs on bridges and other approaches.

They overran the campus and smashed up the adjacent Festival Walk shopping mall and set fires, including to a big Christmas tree.

Streets inside and outside the Chinese University campus entrance were littered with bricks, other debris and street fires as police tackled protesters to the ground.

The students were taking part in a heated exchange with the principal when clashes reignited, with police again firing volleys of tear gas and protesters throwing petrol bombs.

Protesters also threw petrol bombs from an overpass on to the highway linking the Northern New Territories with Kowloon, bringing traffic to a standstill in a haze of tear gas smoke.

Several students were wounded in the violence.

Police also fired tear gas in the town of Tai Po, where a truck was set on fire, and in the densely populated Kowloon district of Mong Kok, whose shopping artery Nathan Road has been the scene of many clashes.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said protesters were being selfish and she hoped that universities and schools would urge students not to take part in the demonstrations.

More than 260 people were arrested on Monday, police said, bringing the total number to more than 3,000 since the protests escalated in June. Schools and universities said they would close again on Tuesday.

DEADLY FORCE

The United States on Monday condemned “unjustified use of deadly force” in Hong Kong and urged police and civilians alike to de-escalate the situation.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged Britain and the United States not to intrude, saying: “Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference.”

China has a garrison of up to 12,000 troops in Hong Kong who have kept to barracks since 1997 but it has said it will crush any attempts at independence, a demand for a small minority of protesters.

Geng also said the Chinese government firmly supported Lam’s administration and the Hong Kong police in maintaining order and protecting citizens’ safety.

Yang Guang, spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said China condemned the dousing of the man with petrol and setting him on fire. He demanded that the person responsible be arrested as soon as possible.

Following Tuesday’s violence, the Hong Kong Jockey Club said all off-course betting centres would be closed ahead of Wednesday’s racing at Happy Valley, to ensure the safety of our employees and customers.

(Reporting by Donny Kwok, Clare Jim, Marius Zaharia, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim, Meg Shen, Josh Smith, Kate Lamb, Jessie Pang and Farah Master in Hong Kong and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Nick Macfie; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up Halloween party protests

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up Halloween party protests
(Editor’s note: Paragraph eight contains language that some readers my find offensive)

By Tom Westbrook and John Geddie

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired tear gas to break up masked anti-government protesters mingling with Halloween revelers in fancy dress near the upmarket club district of Lan Kwai Fong on Thursday after a standoff lasting hours.

Police also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters, many dressed in black and wearing now-banned face masks, in Nathan Road, one of the main arteries of Kowloon on the other side of the harbor.

Protesters have for five months taken to the streets of the Chinese-ruled city in a sometimes violent response to perceived Chinese meddling with its promised freedoms. This was the first time Lan Kwai Fong had been targeted.

Shouts of “Give us back Halloween!” rang out as police used their shields to push the crowds forward on the sloping, narrow streets, scene of a deadly New Year stampede nearly 27 years ago.

Revelers and some demonstrators were penned in by police trying to keep the protesters away.

Many of the protesters wore the Guy Fawkes masks made popular by anti-establishment hackers, others wore the clown make-up of the deranged title figure in the movie “Joker”. One was dressed up as Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam in a dog collar and on a leash.

(For an infographic on weapons and tactics used by Hong Kong police and protesters – https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/hong-kong-protests-violence/index.html)

‘LET PEOPLE HAVE FUN’

The gridlock infuriated protesters and drinkers alike.

“Stop blocking the road. Fuck you!” they shouted at police. “We want to drink. Can’t you let people have some fun for once?”

“Chinese bullies!” another roared. “This is overkill. It’s “Halloween!”

“China is an evil Communist country,” said Larry, 26, a social worker enjoying a drink in Lan Kwai Fong. “China is trying to put its dirty hands on Hong Kong, trying to stop our freedoms. No!”

Police raised many blue warning banners reading “Disperse or we may use force”, before firing volleys of tear gas at protesters in Central, below Lan Kwai Fong, which hung in the air above the narrow streets lined with luxury shopping malls, banks and jewelery shops.

The protesters were dispersed in all directions, but some played cat-and-mouse with police late into the night.

Most weekends see hordes of revelers spilling out of the bars and clubs on to the streets in and around Lan Kwai Fong, which got going as an entertainment area in the late 1970s and early 1980s with clubs like “Disco Disco” and “Club ’97”, named after the year Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule.

A stampede during New Year celebrations on Dec. 31, 1992, when thousands had gathered on streets slippery with beer and champagne, killed at least 20 people and wounded scores.

RECESSION

As widely expected, Hong Kong slid into recession for the first time since the global financial crisis in the third quarter, according to data released on Thursday, weighed down by the increasingly violent anti-government protests and the protracted U.S.-China trade war.

Questioned about government plans to relieve the pressure that the protests are putting on businesses in Hong Kong, Lam told a conference the circumstances warranted “exceptional” measures.

Her administration has pledged around HK$21 billion ($2.7 billion) of financial aid for businesses since August, partly from rent and fuel subsidies.

The protesters say Beijing’s is interfering more and more in Hong Kong, which returned from British to Chinese rule under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that mainland citizens do not have.

China denies meddling and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of stirring up trouble.

China said after a meeting of its top leadership that it would safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and protect national security.

Some protesters in Hong Kong have thrown petrol bombs at police, lit fires and vandalized government buildings and businesses, especially those seen as pro-Beijing, during recent demonstrations.

Police have responded with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannon and sometimes live rounds.

In Kowloon, the protests in the Mong Kok area marked two months since police beat protesters on a subway train as they cowered on the floor, CCTV footage of which was widely shown online.

(Reporting by Sarah Wu, John Geddie, Twinnie Siu, Simon Gardner, Clare Jim, Farah Master, Greg Torode, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret and Tom Westbrook in Hong Kong and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Kevin Liffey)

U.S. company supplying tear gas to Hong Kong police faces mounting criticism

By Rajesh Kumar Singh

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Another U.S. senator has joined a chorus against Pennsylvania-based NonLethal Technologies Inc for selling riot gear to Hong Kong that is being used against pro-democracy protesters.

The privately held company, which makes and exports a wide range of riot and crowd control equipment for military and law enforcement agencies, has been in the spotlight ever since it was discovered that Hong Kong police are employing its tear gas canisters to disperse anti-government demonstrations.

In one photo that has been widely shared on social media, NonLethal’s name is stamped on the casing of a spent tear gas canister.

The use of U.S.-made gear to quell protests has prompted several lawmakers to call for halting and even banning tear gas exports to the city. In July, Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, proposed in a tweet that the United States consider banning exports of tear gas to Hong Kong if the attacks on the protesters were not stopped.

Similarly, in August, U.S. Representatives Chris Smith, a Republican, and James McGovern, a Democrat, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Commerce Wilber Ross, asking them to suspend future sales of crowd and riot control equipment to Hong Kong police.

They followed up their letter with a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives last month, which seeks to prohibit commercial exports of certain nonlethal crowd control items and defense articles and services to the city. If passed, the ban would take effect within 30 days.

U.S. Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, on Thursday became the latest to raise concerns about the exports.

In a letter to NonLethal’s president shared on Twitter, Scott said the sales were equivalent to supporting efforts of the Chinese president to “harm ordinary citizens and peaceful protesters.” He urged the manufacturer of tear gas to “put human rights above profits.”

The protests have plunged the city, an Asian financial hub, into its worst crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, posing the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

What began as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has evolved into a pro-democracy movement fanned by fears that China is stifling Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula introduced in 1997.

China denies the accusations and says foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, are fomenting unrest.

In his Oct. 10 letter, Scott said during a recent trip to the city he saw firsthand how the company’s products were used in a “dangerous and malicious manner to intentionally harm protesters.”

He requested to meet with the company’s president, Scott Oberdick, to discuss his concerns.

Oberdick, however, told Reuters on Friday that he had not seen Scott’s letter. When asked about the criticism his company has been facing for selling tear gas to Hong Kong police, Oberdick hung up the phone.

NonLethal does not share its financial details with public. However, in 2017, it was listed as one of the top 10 companies in the world producing riot-control systems, according to London-based market research firm Visiongain.

According to its website, the company provides “a full range of less lethal grenades and less lethal ammunition to allow the most effective level of force to be used for various situations.” However, for overseas sales, most of its products require an export license from the United States Department of Commerce.

An online petition, urging the White House to suspend any export application of crowd control equipment to Hong Kong, has garnered more than 110,000 signatures.

Amnesty International has also called on countries including the United States to halt all transfers of less lethal “crowd control” equipment – including water cannon vehicles, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, projectile launchers and parts and components – to Hong Kong.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Hong Kong set to enact emergency laws as it struggles to contain violence

By Clare Jim and Felix Tam

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s government is expected to discuss sweeping emergency laws on Friday that would include banning face masks at protests, two sources told Reuters, as the Chinese-ruled territory grapples with an escalating cycle of violence.

Authorities have already loosened guidelines on the use of force by police, according to documents seen by Reuters on Thursday, as they struggle to stamp out anti-government protests that have rocked Hong Kong for nearly four months.

The loosening of restrictions on the use of force by police came into effect just before some of the most violent turmoil yet at protests on Tuesday, when a teenaged secondary school student was shot by an officer in the chest and wounded – the first time a demonstrator had been hit by live fire.

More than 100 people were wounded, after police fired about 1,400 rounds of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets and six live rounds as protesters threw petrol bombs and wielded sticks.

The Beijing-backed local government was set to hold a meeting on Friday morning where it was likely to enact a colonial-era emergency law that has not been used in half a century, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Media reports earlier on Thursday of an expected ban on face masks – which hundreds of thousands of protesters wear to conceal their identities and shield themselves from tear gas – sent Hong Kong’s stock market up to a one-week high.

Growing opposition to the former British colony’s government has plunged the financial hub into its biggest political crisis in decades and poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power.

Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy in the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong returned to China in 1997.

China dismisses accusations it is meddling and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of stirring up anti-China sentiment.

As speculation of an emergency law swirled, riot police moved into districts across Hong Kong that have seen violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces in recent weeks, according to Telegram groups, a popular encrypted messaging app popular with protesters.

LIVE ROUNDS

Local media Now TV and Cable TV reported the changes to the police procedures manual took effect on Sept. 30, the day before Tuesday’s violence at widespread protests on China’s National Day, during which the student was shot.

Reuters could not confirm when the changes were made, but has seen police documents that showed changes to some guidelines on how officers could act when considering force.

The updated guidelines also removed a line that said “officers will be accountable for their own actions”, stating only that “officers on the ground should exercise their own discretion to determine what level of force is justified in a given situation”.

Police declined to comment when asked if amendments had been made to the manual.

“The guidelines on the use of force involve details of operation. It may affect the normal and effective operation of the police force and work of police on crime prevention if details are made public,” police said in a statement to Reuters.

Hong Kong’s police have long been admired for their professionalism compared with some forces elsewhere in Asia.

But the public has become increasingly hostile towards the force over past weeks amid accusations of heavy-handed tactics. Police say they have shown restraint.

The unrest, which began over opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, shows no sign of letting up.

Protesters, fired up over the shooting of the young man this week, are planning more demonstrations at shopping malls across 11 districts on Thursday night and throughout the weekend.

“HEINOUS CRIMES”

Elizabeth Quat, a lawmaker for a pro-Beijing political party, told a news conference the looming ban on face masks under a law giving police broad emergency powers was aimed at stopping “illegal assemblies”.

“This law is not targeting peaceful protesters. It is focused on targeting those rioters who have committed heinous crimes,” she said.

But pro-democracy lawmakers fear the emergency powers could be used to further curtail freedoms.

“To impose an anti-mask law in the current social condition is to further infuriate the people and will definitely be met with escalating violence,” lawmaker Fernando Cheung told Reuters. “This is no different than adding fuel to fire. The result will be riots.”

Goldman Sachs estimated this week that the city might have lost as much as $4 billion in deposits to rival banking center Singapore between June and August.

On Thursday, Lam Chi-wai, chairman of the Junior Police Officers Association, urged the city’s leader to impose a curfew to maintain public order.

“We cannot work alone – clapping only with one hand – without appropriate measures and support from top level,” Lam said.

TEENAGER CHARGED

Tony Tsang, the 18-year-old who was shot at close range as he fought an officer with what appeared to be a white pole on Tuesday, has since been charged with rioting, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence, and assaulting a police officer.

Tsang is in hospital in a stable condition and was not able to attend a court session on Thursday, but his lawyer appeared on his behalf. About 200 supporters turned up to watch the proceedings.

Separately, the lawyer for an Indonesian journalist injured when police fired a projectile during protests on Sunday said she had been blinded in one eye.

The European Union said in a statement it was deeply troubled by the escalation of violence and the only way forward was through “restraint, de-escalation and dialogue”.

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, James Pomfret and Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

China warns Hong Kong protesters not to ‘play with fire’

A demonstrator throws a traffic cone at a group of people opposing the anti-government protesters, during a demonstration in support of the city-wide strike and to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – Protesters in Hong Kong must not “play with fire” and mistake Beijing’s restraint for weakness, China said on Tuesday in its sharpest rebuke yet of the “criminals” behind demonstrations in the city whom it vowed to bring to justice.

Hong Kong has suffered weeks of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law, which would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland courts.

But the protests have swelled into a broader backlash against the government of the Asian financial hub, fueled by many residents’ fear of eroding freedoms under the increasingly tight control of the Communist Party in Beijing.

“I would like to warn all of the criminals: don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness,” the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a document issued during a briefing in Beijing.

A small group of violent radicals were at the forefront of the protests, with “some kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join,” according to the document attributed to two officials, Yang Guang and Xu Luying.

It said anti-China forces were the “behind-the-scenes masterminds” who had “openly and brazenly emboldened” the protesters.

“We would like to make clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it,” the office said.

“At the end of the day, they will eventually be punished.”

China has been quick to label U.S. officials as “black hands” instigating unrest in Hong Kong in an attempt to contain China’s development, but it has not provided any concrete evidence.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Friday urged the Trump administration to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong police, which have been accused of using excessive force.

Police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters in the former British colony after a general strike hit transport and the city’s Beijing-backed leader, chief executive Carrie Lam, warned its prosperity was at risk.

The protests surpassed earlier shows of dissent in scale and intensity, seemingly stoked by Lam’s refusal once again to meet any of the protesters’ demands, including for her resignation and independent inquiries into police use of force.

The protests are the greatest political threat to Hong Kong’s government since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and one of the biggest popular challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

‘CIVILIZED POWER’

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Hong Kong has remained in barracks since the protests started in April, leaving Hong Kong’s police force to deal with the massive demonstrations.

Last week, the PLA garrison there issued a video showing “anti-riot” exercises, and its top brass warned violence is “absolutely impermissible”.

Diplomats and foreign security analysts are watching the situation closely, but believe there’s little appetite in Beijing for the PLA to be deployed on the streets of Hong Kong.

So far, the central government and the PLA have said only that there are clear provisions in law covering the prospect of the force’s intervention in the city.

During the briefing, Yang called the PLA “a strong force that defends every inch of its sacred territory”, and said the central government would not allow any “turbulence” beyond the control of the Hong Kong government to threaten national unity or security.

“The PLA is a force of power but also a civilized power,” Yang said.

“As long as it has the strong support of the central government and the Chinese people, the Hong Kong government and police “are fully capable of punishing those criminal activities and restoring public order and stability”, he said.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

Hong Kong protesters smash up legislature in direct challenge to China

Anti-extradition bill protesters use the flashlights from their phones as they march during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By John Ruwitch and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters stormed the legislature on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to China on Monday, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti in a direct challenge to China as anger over an extradition bill spiraled out of control.

Some carried road signs, others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding upstairs and downstairs as about a thousand gathered around the Legislative Council building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district.

Some sat at legislators’ desks, checking their phones, while others scrawled “Withdraw anti-extradition” on walls.

The government called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year.

There was no immediate response from the protesters, although some appeared to retreat as the evening wore on.

A small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave.

The council, the mini-parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately.

It did not say what would happen if they didn’t but police did not immediately intervene.

The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement canceling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security consideration”.

Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.

Banners hanging over flyovers at the protest site read: “Free Hong Kong.”

The protesters, some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas, once again paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.

It was not immediately clear that the announcement it would lapse would ease the tension.

The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

“The kind of deafness that I see in the government this time around despite these protests is really worrying. The complete disregard for the will of the people is what alarms me,” said Steve, a British lawyer show has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years.

“If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong.”

Opponents of the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.

Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.

China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation. Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong any more and was opposed to its “gesticulating” about the territory.

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

THOUSANDS RALLY

Tens of thousands marched in temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F) from Victoria Park in an annual rally. Many clapped as protesters held up a poster of Lam inside a bamboo cage. Organizers said 550,000 turned out. Police said there were 190,000 at their peak.

More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger.

A tired-looking Lam appeared in public for the first time in nearly two weeks, before the storming of the legislature, flanked by her husband and former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.

“The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” she said. “This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiment accurately.”

PROTEST MOVEMENT REINVIGORATED

Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong has intensified markedly since Xi took power and after pro-democracy street protests that gripped the city in 2014 but failed to wrestle concessions from China.

Tensions spiraled on June 12 when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters near the heart of the city, sending plumes of smoke billowing among some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

The uproar has reignited a protest movement that had lost steam after the failed 2014 demonstrations that led to the arrests of hundreds.

Activists raised a black bauhinia flag to half-mast outside the Legislative Council building before the rally and turned Hong Kong’s official flag, featuring a white bauhinia flower on a red background, upside down.

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for Beijing, which is grappling with a trade dispute with the United States, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.

Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill has spooked some Hong Kong tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers familiar with the details.

(Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Alun John, Vimvam Tong, Thomas Peter, David Lague, Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree, Sharon Lam, Donny Kwok, Joyce Zhou, Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Protesters scuffle with Hong Kong police, government offices shut

Pro-democracy legislators speak to the media demanding the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdraw a controversial extradition bill outside Government House, following a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, in Hong Kong, China June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Clare Jim and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in Hong Kong on Thursday as hundreds of people kept up a protest against a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up big crowds.

Protests around the city’s legislature on Wednesday forced the postponement of debate on the extradition bill, which many people in Hong Kong fear will undermine freedoms and confidence in the commercial hub.

Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence and urged a swift restoration of order but has vowed to press ahead with the legislation despite the reservations about it, including within the business community.

The number of protesters milling about outside the legislature in the financial district fell overnight but rose again through the day on Thursday to about 1,000 at one stage.

They expect the legislature, which has a majority of pro-Beijing members, will try to hold the debate at some stage, though it issued a notice saying there would be no session on Thursday.

“We will be back when, and if, it comes back for discussion again,” said protester Stephen Chan, a 20-year old university student.

“We just want to preserve our energy now.”

Earlier, some protesters tried to stop police from removing their supplies of face masks and food and scuffles broke out.

Police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways and plainclothes officers checked commuters’ identity cards.

A clean-up got underway to clear debris like broken umbrellas, helmets, plastic water bottles and barricades from the streets after the previous day’s clashes. Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on Wednesday in a series of skirmishes to clear demonstrators from the legislature.

Officials said 72 people were admitted to hospital.

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said what began as a peaceful gathering on Wednesday had degenerated into a riot with protesters “acting violently in an organized manner”.

Police arrested 11 people and fired about 150 tear gas canisters at the crowd. The city’s hospital authority said a total of 81 people were injured in the protests. 22 police were injured according to Lo.

Police also later arrested two students at the University of Hong Kong after a raid on a student hall of residence, according to an official at the university. The police gave no immediate response to Reuters inquiries on what charges the students face.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Chinese government “strongly condemns the violent behavior and we support the (Hong Kong) government in dealing with it according to law”.

‘LAWLESSNESS’

Authorities shut government offices in the financial district, which is overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong in decades.

Hong Kong’s benchmark stock exchange slid as much as 1.5% on Thursday before closing down 0.1%, extending losses from the previous day.

Most roads in the business district were open on Thursday but some shops and offices were closed and banks, including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS, said they had suspended branch services in the area.

Wednesday saw the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover of the former British colony back to Chinese rule.

The handover included a deal to preserve special autonomy, but many Hong Kong people accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms and interference in local elections.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concern it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.

Beijing rejects accusations of meddling and Chinese state media said this week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the bill.

The English-language China Daily said the “lawlessness” would hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its law.

Lam and her officials say the law is necessary to plug loopholes that allow criminals wanted on the mainland to use the city as a haven. She has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized Sunday’s huge march, said it was planning another demonstration for Sunday.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

Opponents of the bill, including lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions and arbitrary detention.

Democratic city legislators condemned Lam and what they said was heavy-handed police action.

“We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that,” said legislator Fernando Cheung.

“But ‘mother Carrie Lam’ did it. What kind of mother is she?”

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not accept any extradition requests from Hong Kong under the proposed law. The self-ruled island also issued a travel alert.

Hong Kong’s Tourism Board called off a dragon boat carnival this weekend while the city’s Bar Association expressed concern over video footage of police using force against largely unarmed protesters.

Amnesty International and domestic rights groups condemned what they said was excessive force by the police, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.

Diplomatic pressure was also building after leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the protests.

The European Union said it shared many concerns over the proposed extradition reform and urged public consultation.

(Reporting by Joyce Zhou, Julie Zhu, Sumeet Chatterjee, Clare Jim, Jennifer Hughes, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret, Alun John, Vimvang Tong, Jessie Pang and Felix Tam; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI, Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell in BEIJING, and David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode in HONG KONG; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)