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Hong Kong Protesters Defy Face Mask Ban


Now to Hong Kong, where anti-government protests are in their 18th week. Today, tens of thousands of protesters, some with their faces covered, began a peaceful march in heavy rain, defying a ban on wearing masks at public gatherings. But then police fired tear gas to disperse them. It's the first large-scale march since Tuesday when Hong Kong police shot and critically wounded an 18-year-old protester. On Friday, another protester was shot during some of the most violent clashes between demonstrators and police yet.

NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng is in Hong Kong. Emily, what are you seeing right now?

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: I'm on this major road in downtown Hong Kong, and we're under this overpass where a couple hundred people have stopped. And they're facing off with riot police, who have completely blocked off the street. The street itself has been torn up, graffiti. There's umbrellas littered all over the place. And all of the mainland Chinese banks have been completely smashed in by protesters who are protesting against Beijing's influence and asking for pro-democracy reforms.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did you see earlier today at these protests? I mean, the scenes that you're describing are pretty serious.

FENG: Yeah. This is a pattern that we've seen over and over again, which is that peaceful marches happen during the day, and then very quickly, riot police come in, fire tear gas and protesters - you can pitch street battles with police. That happened this afternoon as marchers streamed into the streets, despite heavy rain. And that was - you can hear they're still out and facing off with riot police that they're furious at because the police (unintelligible) increasingly violent behavior towards protesters, and protesters, likewise, have gotten more violent.

But today, again, the protest we saw at the very beginning of the day saw tens of thousands of people stream out in masks, some of them wearing goggles and hoods. And this was in complete defiance of an anti-mask ban that was announced on Friday. These people face up to a year in prison if they're arrested. Because so many people were wearing masks, the ban was basically unenforceable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us about the attitude of the protesters. I mean, I can hear things going on behind you. You must have been out and talking to some of the people who were taking to the streets.

FENG: They're obviously angry. I mean, this is the 18th week of protests so far. Their five demands, which include an inquiry into police violence and for pro-democracy reforms, have not been met. And the Friday decision to invoke emergency powers has only infuriated people more. But there's also fear because people fear that emergency powers will pave the way for an even more draconian crackdown on their civil liberties in ways to quell protests, including raids on people's homes and searches of people's phones.

One person I talked to today, an 18-year-old protester named Ho, had this to say.

HO: (Foreign language spoken).

FENG: He's saying that if the Hong Kong government can use emergency powers to ban face masks, they can use it to ban all other civil liberties that Hong Kongers enjoy. And although he faces great risk in demonstrating today, it's worth it to protect his home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Emily Feng, speaking to us from Hong Kong.

Emily, thanks so much. Stay safe.

FENG: Thank you.


Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.