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Hong Kong Protesters Met With Tear Gas After Defying Mask Ban


Today thousands of masked protesters poured into Hong Kong's rain-soaked streets. They marched despite risking a year in prison for covering their faces. That's because on Friday Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, invoked emergency powers for the first time in half a century to ban facemasks, bypassing the city's legislative council. NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng was out on the streets with protesters today as the peaceful march quickly escalated.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Tear gas being fired - it's now a regular sight each weekend in Hong Kong.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: (Speaking Cantonese).

FENG: Protesters and volunteer medics yell retreat and blow whistles. The mass of black-clad marchers run, chanting slogans as they go.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: (Chanting in Cantonese).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Cantonese).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: (Chanting in Cantonese).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Cantonese).

FENG: Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, riot police continued firing tear gas as protesters ripped up sidewalks and smashed storefronts. But police could not arrest all the mass demonstrators. There were simply too many for the ban on face masks to be enforced. Julius is a 24-year-old protester. He wore a hat, goggles and a mask to the march today. He risked a year in prison and a fine of up to $3,200 U.S. for doing so, which is why he did not want to use his full name. Yeah I got.

JULIUS: (Through interpreter) Of course I'm afraid. The police are targeting everyone even if they're unmasked. But being afraid does not mean I will stand back and watch.

FENG: The use of emergency powers is only galvanized protests, now in their 18th week. Emergency powers give Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government unchecked leeway to use any security measure they deem is in the public interest. That confirmed fears among protesters that a crackdown is imminent.

JULIUS: (Through interpreter) After the emergency law, it seems there is no separation of powers. The government may abuse this power to pass other inhumane laws.

FENG: So Julius and thousands of other protesters braved heavy rains and riot police to march in what they feel is a last stand against the Chinese Communist Party. And they sprayed fresh graffiti on Hong Kong's shuttered storefronts today. One of the most popular slogans - without freedom, I'd rather die. Emily Feng, NPR News, Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.

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