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World: Hong Kong Banned Masks at Protests. Masked Crowds Protested the Ban.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s embattled leader invoked emergency powers on Friday to ban face masks, deploying a rarely used law that triggered another wave of violent protests and threatened to erode confidence in a city that depends heavily on international business and tourism.

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Scattered clusters of protesters were seen defying the mask prohibition — punishable by fines and jail time — after it took effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, suggesting a brewing weekend standoff between demonstrators and the authorities, who have tried for months to quell the protests.

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The decision by the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, reflected the growing intensity of the movement and the mounting pressure the government faces to take action.

Earlier this week, tens of thousands of protesters spread out across the city in mass demonstrations designed to overshadow a politically sensitive anniversary in China. The protests quickly turned into violent clashes, including the shooting of an 18-year-old student by a police officer.

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But the decision by Mrs. Lam invoking emergency powers could backfire by provoking further concern about government encroachment on the civil freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong and Beijing’s influence over the semiautonomous region.

In the hours before midnight, sporadic clashes broke out around the city between masked protesters and the police. Some protesters smashed windows and set fires at subway stations and storefronts, prompting the authorities to shut down the entire subway system two hours earlier than normal. The confrontations continued in outlying areas past midnight, although by then many central districts had emptied.

A 14-year-old boy received a gunshot wound in a leg, a local hospital authority confirmed, without providing information about the shooting. A police statement said that a plainclothes officer, attacked in Yuen Long, had “fired one shot in self-defense.” It was unclear whether they were related.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Office workers in Hong Kong protested a ban on face masks on Friday.© Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times Office workers in Hong Kong protested a ban on face masks on Friday.

While the ban could prompt some peaceful protesters to stay home, it could also incite others to pursue more confrontations. Any uptick in violence could add to the strain on the local economy, as the protests have deterred overseas tourists, mainland shoppers and business travelers.

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Mrs. Lam emphasized repeatedly at a news conference that she was not declaring an emergency, but was acting under a provision in the territory’s colonial-era law that allows the issuance of regulations in response to “a state of serious danger.”

“We are particularly concerned that many students are participating” in violent protests, “jeopardizing their safety and even their future,” she said. “As a responsible government, we have a duty to use all available means to stop the escalating violence and restore calmness in society.”

The ban on face masks will be punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine. It will apply to public gatherings of more than few dozen people. But enforcing the ban could prove difficult given their near ubiquity in the movement. Face masks are a common feature among the crowds of protesters, both for security and safety.

Many protesters wear gas masks and respirators, as do first aid responders and journalists, to protect themselves from tear gas that the police deploy to disperse crowds that engage in violence. Some wear them to protect their identity, fearful they will be captured in photos and by surveillance equipment, then targeted for retaliation.

a group of people in a room: Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and her cabinet during a news conference on Friday.© Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and her cabinet during a news conference on Friday.

Few people attend mass gatherings without one, even during peaceful marches and demonstrations. When Mrs. Lam held her first town hall with residents last week, many members of the audience who confronted her with difficult questions wore masks.

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But the face masks, and the anonymity they provide, have given cover to more violent protesters, who have beaten police officers and vandalized property. Undercover police officers have also used masks to disguise themselves as protesters and make arrests.

As word of the ban spread on Friday during lunchtime, hundreds of people, many wearing face masks, blocked a major road in downtown Hong Kong. They chanted antigovernment slogans, saying it was “unreasonable legislation” and “covering faces is not a crime.” Some called for Mrs. Lam to change course and disband the police.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Many protesters wear gas masks and respirators for protection from tear gas, as do first aid responders and journalists. Some protesters also wear them to protect their identities.© Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times Many protesters wear gas masks and respirators for protection from tear gas, as do first aid responders and journalists. Some protesters also wear them to protect their identities.

“This ban is ridiculous,” said Wilson Lee, a 29-year-old paralegal. “It just shows the government’s incompetence and refusal to listen to any of our concerns. They are just making things worse.”

After the ban was announced, the city began to prepare for more unrest. Shopping malls and stores closed. Companies, including the global bank HSBC, let workers out early.

Tens of thousands of people marched through the city’s main roads in a spontaneous protest after work on Friday, as lingering anger over the shooting on Tuesday mixed with new fury over the ban.

Protesters erected barricades using road signs, trash bins, rocks and traffic cones. Fast food restaurants perceived as having pro-Beijing owners were vandalized. Some subway stations were closed, and police fired tear gas.

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Castor Lau, a 29-year-old dressed in a black shirt, black trousers and a surgical mask, said that he believed the ban on face masks had made tensions worse, not better. “I used to not wear masks in protests, because I mainly attended protests that had been allowed by the police,” he said. “But after the police shot one of our citizens with real guns, we can’t be so passive and peaceful any more.”

Mrs. Lam’s use of emergency powers, a colonial-era law that has not been used in decades, suggests that the government and the police force may have run out of ways to restore order without limiting some civic freedoms.

The law, the so-called Emergency Regulations Ordinance, offers the chief executive extensive legal authority to pass rules without having to go through the legislature. It was last used during deadly riots in 1967, when pro-Communist protesters railed against the British government that oversaw the city. Back then, the authorities used the law to suspend the publication of some leftist newspapers and hold dozens of radicals for months without charges at a special prison in the southwest of the city center.

Ms. Lam’s government has been debating whether to take such an extraordinary step for weeks, concerned about the message it sends to the city and the world. The face mask ban could hurt the government’s efforts to persuade Hong Kong’s public, tourists and the international business community that the city is generally safe, a reputation that helped make Hong Kong one of the major financial capitals of the world.

a little boy that is sitting on the side of a road: A police officer arresting a protester in Wong Tai Sin on Tuesday.© Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times A police officer arresting a protester in Wong Tai Sin on Tuesday.

Ronny Tong, a member of the Executive Council, the top advisory body to the chief executive, said that he had been wary of invoking the emergency regulations because he feared the stigma it would bring to Hong Kong. But he said that a face mask ban was preferable to a general curfew, an idea recently suggested by some pro-Beijing hard-liners.

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a crowd of people: Protesters clashing with the police in Wong Tai Sin in Hong Kong on Tuesday, China’s National Day holiday.© Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times Protesters clashing with the police in Wong Tai Sin in Hong Kong on Tuesday, China’s National Day holiday.

Lawmakers, too, debated the efficacy of such rules, pointing to other countries’ experiences. France has such a ban, but it has not prevented many so-called yellow vest protesters from wearing them anyway.

“The government has been weighing the pros and cons, and those who are against it argue it wouldn’t help much,” said Jasper Tsang, the founder of the biggest pro-Beijing political party and the president of the legislature until 2016.

Although the government was deeply split on the issue, Mr. Tsang said that the escalation of violence on Tuesday, including the first police shooting of a protester, left the authorities reconsidering every option.

“It appears we need more effective, more stringent measures,” he said.

Beijing said on Friday it supported Mrs. Lam’s decision to ban the masks, the state television network CCTV reported.

Yang Guang, a spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said the situation in Hong Kong had reached a critical moment and could not continue unabated.

Critics contend that the ban merely conceals a crackdown on the right to protest. Students have regularly worn masks while joining hands before school and during lunchtime. These so-called human chains are often covered by the local news media, and the masks provide anonymity to youngsters worried about repercussions.

“Political reasons should not be presented as something done on behalf of students,” Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker who represents the education sector said at a news conference on Friday.

The ban is already stoking protesters’ worries about wider erosions of privacy and personal freedoms.

The protests began this summer over opposition to a law that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party. The movement has since morphed into a broader call to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy, a special administrative region of China ruled through a policy known as “one country, two systems.”

Although the emergency law is not as powerful as it was back in 1967, Mrs. Lam has wide discretion to issue new regulations — without having to go through the usual legislative process. A curfew could be set. Buildings could be entered and phones could be searched more easily without warrants. Penalties up to life imprisonment could be imposed for offenses that typically carry much lighter sentences.

Teresa Cheng, the secretary for justice, said the government would send the new face mask regulation for review by the legislature, which has the power to block it. But the pro-Beijing majority is unlikely to do so.

“For the international community, any kind of emergency powers will send warning bells,” said Simon Young, a professor at the University of Hong Kong Law School. “Although it may start out with an incremental measure, then nothing’s to stop another measure from being added, and further measures from being added.”

“The only limit is you can’t have the death penalty,” Mr. Young said.

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting.

Reporting was contributed by Elaine Yu, Ezra Cheung, Javier Hernández and Katherine Li.

Police Officer Is Stabbed in Hong Kong During Flash-Mob Protests .
A police officer was stabbed in Hong Kong on Sunday, police officials said, in what appeared to be an escalation of the street violence that has gripped the city for months, as flash-mob gatherings unfolded across town. The gatherings, in more than half of the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s 18 districts, were the first significant unrest since Hong Kong was convulsed by violence a week earlier over opposition to a ban on face masks at public gatherings.

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