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Hong Kong defies face mask ban as thousands take to the streets

Hong Kong soldiers issue warning to protesters

Hong Kong — In direct defiance of the Hong Kong government's new emergency ban on face masks, tens of thousands of residents in this embattled city took to the streets to protest in heavy rain Sunday with their faces covered.

Anti-government demonstrators from all walks of life, including families, youth and the elderly, snaked a familiar, historic — and today, unauthorized — path of protest from Victoria Park in the shopping district of Causeway Bay westward to the international finance district of Central.

With umbrellas in hand, many wore blue surgical masks, while others donned black masks, Guy Fawkes masks and even paper bags.

By mid-afternoon, police started firing rounds of tear gas at people passing by Hong Kong's police headquarters. Pops of canister shots echoed across the city's skyscrapers as metallic pellets tracing white smoke hit the ground at the feet of protesters and the CBS News Asia team. Small teams of geared-up protesters picked up the silver disks, throwing them back in the direction of the police building. The humid air from the heavy rain helped slow the billowing of the acrid smoke.

"I feel angry at the government. We just use masks to protect ourselves. It's for protection. We don't have any other method to protect ourselves," one young woman protester told CBS News. "If we don't go out to fight for freedom — and if people don't have freedom anymore — then Hong Kong is not Hong Kong."

Any person arrested for wearing a mask during a protest now faces a fine of nearly $3,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.

"Every Hong Konger is afraid," said another young woman. "Everyone is very confused and very nervous. But if we don't fight for freedom now then maybe next time you cannot see me."

If arrested, she added, she fears she would disappear because of the government's new emergency powers.

Last Friday, a somber-faced Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the enactment of a tough, British colonial-era law from 1922 known as the Emergency Regulations Ordinance which allows the government to decree any regulation it deems necessary. Over the past 17 weeks, Hong Kong has been racked by escalating violent confrontations between protesters and police. The government's stated goal is to return peace to the city.

But by Sunday evening, protests that flared across the city — on Hong Kong Island and across Victoria Harbor on the Kowloon Peninsula — showed the government's move had only helped to inflame anger and chaos even further.

In a move never before seen from the People's Liberation Army, local television media broadcast men in uniform shining strong lights and raising a yellow flag at protesters outside their barracks, warning them they were violating the law and faced prosecution.

The city's subway system — perceived as being co-opted by the government, helping the police and hindering movement to rallies — had mostly been crippled or shut down. Protesters threw debris onto tracks at one station while still others set fire to the station entrance of another. A placard nearby read, "If we burn, you burn with us."

According to local and social media, a taxi driver reportedly struck at least one protester, enraging other demonstrators who smashed the windows of his vehicle, dragged him out and beat him. Live TV footage showed the man lying severely bloodied next to his vehicle.

Protesters also continued to target mainland China-linked businesses — shattering the storefront of a Bank of China and China Construction Bank, setting fire to a store of Beijing-headquartered smartphone company Xiaomi and convenience store chain Best Mart 360.

Meanwhile, various businesses supporting the protest movement blared the unofficial democracy anthem "Glory to Hong Kong."

As the night wore on, police established checkpoints at public transport locations looking for potential protesters, checking identification cards and bags.

In a statement on Facebook, the Hong Kong police force said, "The atrocities committed by rioters are far beyond the bottom line of any civilized society."

The once-stable Asian financial hub braces for yet another day of mass protest Monday, a public holiday. Protesters have called for all Hong Kong citizens to wear a mask every single day moving ahead in continued government rebellion.

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