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HK lashed by fresh violence as thousands defy mask ban

HK lashed by fresh violence as thousands defy mask ban

Hong Kong: Hong Kong was rocked by fresh violence Sunday as tens of thousands hit the streets to defy a ban on face masks, sparking clashes with police, street fights and vandalism across the strife-torn city.

Large crowds marched through torrential rain in peaceful but unsanctioned rallies on both sides of Victoria Harbour, condemning the government for deploying emergency powers to ban face masks at public gatherings.

But violence erupted as police dispersed crowds with tear gas, and then battled hardcore protesters in multiple locations — plunging the finance hub into chaos once more.

In one incident, a taxi driver was beaten bloody in the district of Sham Shui Po after he drove into a crowd that had surrounded his car.

"Two girls were hit by the car and one girl was trapped between the car and a shop," a witness, who gave his surname as Wong, told AFP, adding the crowd managed to push the car off the wounded woman.

An AFP photographer saw volunteer medics treating both the driver and the injured women before paramedics and police arrived. Protesters smashed up the taxi.

Earlier, a crowd ransacked nearby government offices, while multiple Chinese banks and subway stations were vandalised across the city.

Activists have staged three straight days of flashmob rallies and sprees of vandalism after Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam outlawed face coverings by protesters, invoking colonial-era emergency powers not used for half a century.

Pro-democracy lawmakers went to the High Court Sunday morning seeking an injunction against the ban, arguing the emergency powers bypassed the legislature and contravened the city's mini-constitution.

But a senior judge dismissed their case. The law allows Lam — who has record-low approval ratings — to make "any regulations whatsoever" during a time of public danger.

She warned she would use the powers to introduce new regulations if the unrest did not abate. The ban was welcomed by government supporters and Beijing, but opponents and protesters saw it as the start of a slippery slope, tipping the international finance hub into authoritarianism. It has done little to calm tensions or stop crowds coming out so far. "If Carrie Lam wants to de-escalate the situation, this is not the right way," a 19-year-old protester, who gave his first name as Corey, said he marched under a forest of umbrellas on the main island.

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