HONG KONG—Hundreds of protesters gathered in Hong Kong shopping malls on Oct. 7 demanding “freedom” ahead of expected new protests after overnight turmoil in the Asian financial hub brought a warning from the last British governor that people could be killed.
Protesters formed large circles inside multi-level shopping malls and chanted “disband Hong Kong police force,” “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” and “I have the right to wear a mask,” as shoppers on a public holiday looked on.
The introduction of colonial-era emergency powers on Friday banning face masks, which protesters use to hide their identity, has sparked some of the most violent clashes in four months of demonstrations.
“Before long, unless we are very, very lucky, people are going to get killed, people are going to be shot,” former British governor Chris Patten told Sky News. “The idea that with public order policing you send police forces out with live ammunition is preposterous.”
Two protesters have been shot, one in the chest and one in the leg. Authorities said the shootings were not intentional but occurred during skirmishes between police and protesters.
Many protesters, police and journalists have been injured in clashes, with police using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, some of whom throw bricks and petrol bombs.
A journalist working with Hong Kong’s public broadcaster was recovering in the hospital on Monday after being hit by a petrol bomb on Sunday night.
On Monday, Hong Kong’s metro rail system, which typically carries about 5 million passengers a day, was only partially operating due to what authorities said was “serious vandalism” on Sunday night. Some stations were torched in the protests.
Many shops and Chinese banks were also extensively damaged.
The Sunday night protests, the second night of violence since the imposition of emergency laws, saw scores of protesters arrested and the first warning from Chinese military personnel stationed in the territory.
The protests have plunged the former British colony into its worst political crisis in decades and poses one of the biggest popular challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
What started as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has grown into a pro-democracy movement against what is seen as Beijing’s increasing grip on the city, which protesters say undermines a “one country, two systems” status promised when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
‘Importance of Dialogue’
A 38-year-old woman and an 18-year-old man were charged on Monday for violating the emergency laws. They were also charged with unlawful assembly.
Tens of thousands of protesters, many families with children, marched peacefully through the center of Hong Kong on Sunday, most wearing face masks in defiance of the threat of a maximum one year in prison for doing so.
Police fired tear gas and charged with batons in an attempt to disperse protesters across the city and the rallies deteriorated into running clashes as night fell.
China’s Hong Kong military garrison warned protesters on Sunday they could be arrested for targeting its barracks with lasers—the first direct interaction between the People’s Liberation Army and protesters.
Carrie Lam, the city’s Beijing-backed leader, has said the face mask ban was necessary to end the violence by militant activists. But it has been criticized by human rights groups and the United Nations.
“She would have to be crazy to be making these decisions on her own without being pressured into them. The face mask business, absolutely madness,” said Patten, who handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
“I fear for the future, unless Carrie Lam actually intervenes and understands the importance of dialogue.”
Protesters are demanding an independent inquiry into police action.
Some protesters said an inquiry, which Patten also called for Lam to allow, was key to ending the protests.
“If they hold an independent inquiry, that would do it. Half of these people would go home. That is the key,” Kong said.
But others are worried the emergency powers are just the beginning of more erosion of their rights.
“The government can use the emergency law to enact other evil laws,” said student Isaac Shum, 19, at one shopping mall protest.
By Simon Gardner, Jessie Pang and Farah Masters