Hong Kong police arrest protesters, fire repellents

Hong Kong police arrest protesters, fire repellents

Riot police disperse anti-government protesters during a protest at Mong Kok in Hong Kong, China on Sunday. (Reuters photo)
Riot police disperse anti-government protesters during a protest at Mong Kok in Hong Kong, China on Sunday. (Reuters photo)

Hong Kong police arrested at least 10 people and fired “pepper balls” in an attempt to disperse groups of pro-democracy demonstrators who defied social distancing rules, local media reported.

Demonstrators appeared in malls across Hong Kong, including the Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok, Taikoo Shing and Sha Tin districts, chanting anti-government slogans and singing protest songs. The police warned them that they were in violation of rules against group gatherings put in place to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

RTHK reported police arrested at least 10 people and fired pepper balls -- projectiles that contain irritants that are used to disperse crowds. A 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old student reporter were among those taken away, the report said. Police representatives didn’t immediately respond to calls and an email seeking comment.

Hong Kong on Friday eased restrictions on the number of people permitted to gather socially, raising the limit to eight from four previously. Small anti-government protests have returned to the city in recent weeks after a lull because of the spread of Covid-19.

The city was wracked by sometimes-violent protests for about six months from the middle of last year after activists initially voiced their objections to a proposed law to allow extraditions to jurisdictions including China. While the bill was dropped, the demonstrators’ demands grew to include a call for greater democracy.

Police appealed to all protesters to stop gathering and leave immediately, and said they would take enforcement actions “resolutely,” according to a statement issued Sunday evening.

Although the coronavirus has largely been brought under control in the city in recent weeks, the economy doesn’t have the scope to handle renewed protests that could interfere with the recovery, Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote in a blog Sunday.

“The epidemic can be prevented and controlled, but violence is hard to stop,” Chan wrote. “In recent days, crowds and conflicts have reappeared in some areas, and even interfered with the operations of shops or malls. This is absolutely bad news for the already-weak Hong Kong economy, råetail market, small shops and wage earners.”

On Saturday night, dozens of protesters appeared at malls in Diamond Hill and Tai Po shouting anti-government slogans before riot police cleared the crowds.

Hong Kong reported three new coronavirus infections Sunday, all imported, for a total of 1,047 confirmed cases. The city has not recorded a locally transmitted case for more than 20 days.

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