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  1. ITV Report

Tear gas fired at peaceful protesters and taxi driver swerves into crowd as thousands march in Hong Kong

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Police in Hong Kong have been battling pro-democracy protesters for weeks but today they fired tear gas into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, including children

Thousands of protesters shouting "wearing masks is not a crime" marched in central Hong Kong as a court rejected a second legal attempt to block a ban on masks at pro-democracy rallies.

But people were sent running for cover as tear gas was fired directly into the crowd, leaving many engulfed in the stinging and sickening fumes.

In Kowloon, other protesters attacked a taxi driver after he appeared to drive deliberately into a crowd.

He injured several people and one woman is in a critical condition in hospital.

The face mask ban, aimed at quashing violence during the protests, came into force on Saturday and was upheld by the High Court on Sunday.

However the ban has triggered more clashes, despite Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam saying the restriction on face coverings was needed to stop the widespread violence that "semi-paralysed" the city.

Protesters march in defiance of a ban against face masks. Credit: AP

After the ban came into force on Friday, demonstrators again took to the streets and a teenage protester was shot in the thigh after an off-duty police officer fired his pistol in self-defence. Violence continued into the night with widespread arson attacks, looting, fighting with police and beatings taking place.

Many shopping centres, shops, and the entire MTR network of subways and trains shut on Saturday following the overnight rampage.

The Hong Kong government has appealed for a public shift in attitude against rioting.

About half of the city’s 94 subway stations reopened on Sunday but many malls, especially in the Causeway Bay shopping district, remained shuttered as thousands of protesters marched with umbrellas, most of them wearing masks in defiance of the ban.

Police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse protesters near its headquarters in central Hong Kong, as other defiant demonstrators marched on.

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Critics fear the use of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which gives Ms Lam broad powers to implement any measures she deems necessary in an emergency, would pave the way for more draconian regulations.

The law was enacted by British colonial rulers in 1922 to quell a seamen’s strike and last used in 1967 to crush riots.

Ms Lam has not ruled out further measures if violence continues.

Protesters carrying umbrellas march past a pedestrian bridge displaying vandalised photos of tainted Chinese President Xi Jinping and communist party flags in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

“This emergency law is so ancient and draconian.

"Carrie Lam is using it as some sort of weapon of mass destruction to nuke Hong Kong,” said legislator Claudia Mo.

Politician Dennis Kwok said the High Court had refused to grant an injunction on the masks ban, but it agreed to hear later this month an application by 24 legislators against Ms Lam’s use of emergency powers to impose the measure by circumventing the legislature.

Even though the court rejected the legal challenge to block the ban on masks, Mr Kwok and Ms Mo welcomed the decision to expedite the hearing.

The court did not give any dates but indicated it would be at the end of this month.

“This is a constitutional case.

"The court has acknowledged there is controversy involving the use of the emergency law,” said Ms Mo said.

A man watches from a footbridge protesters wearing face masks and holding umbrellas march on a street in Hong Kong. Credit: Vincent Thian/AP

Ms Lam has said she will seek the backing of the legislature when it resumes on October 16.

Ms Mo called it a sham because only Ms Lam has the power to repeal the masks ban under the emergency law.

Many protesters who wore masks said on Sunday that the ban curtails their freedom of expression.

The ban applies to both illegal and police-approved gatherings, and carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine.

A protester uses a paper bag cut as a mask in a march in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

“Carrie Lam is not the god of Hong Kong.

"She can’t do anything she likes,” said retiree Patricia Anyeung, who marched with her sister, Rebecca.

Both wore masks.

Ms Anyeung said she has been protesting for months and will not be cowed.

A police official said some arrests were made on Sunday for violating the ban, but he could not give any numbers.

Enforcement is tricky in a city where masks have often been used since a deadly respiratory disease outbreak in 2003.

“They can’t arrest us all," she said.

"There are thousands of us.

“There is no going back, we are at the point of no return.”

A masked protestor holding a shield march towards Wong Tai Sin in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

Ms Anyeung described herself as a wealthy retiree with a UK passport, and said she may leave if Hong Kong’s freedom is extinguished.

Some protesters spray painted the word “Resist” along a pavement.

“We cannot let them act like emperors,” Feng Yiucheng said through his black mask as he handed out bottles of water to marchers from his van, accompanied by his wife and two-year-old son.

“I’m thinking of my kid’s future. For the sake of our freedom, there’s nothing we’re afraid of.”