Hundreds of mask-wearing pro-democracy protesters marched through Hong Kong’s central business district on Friday, occupying a main thoroughfare and disrupting traffic as the Chinese-ruled city braced for another weekend of unrest.
Chanting their core demands, the crowd occupied the district at lunchtime before peacefully dispersing.
Hong Kong’s metro operator opened all stations for the first time in a week ahead of more planned anti-government protests, while the city’s legislature began its first session since protesters stormed the building in July.
Pro-establishment and democratic lawmakers shouted at each other before the session, underscoring the tension and divisions in Hong Kong after four months of often violent anti-China protests.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam invoked British colonial-era emergency laws last Friday and banned the wearing of face masks which protesters have used to shield their identities.
The protests have plunged the city, an Asian financial hub, into its worst crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, posing the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
What began as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has evolved into a pro-democracy movement fanned by fears that China is stifling Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula introduced in 1997.
China denies the accusations and says fore1ign countries, including Britain and the United States, are fomenting unrest.
The Chinese embassy in Bangkok on Friaday condemned Thai politicians for showing support for Hong Kong activists.
“This is wrong and irresponsible. China hopes that relevant people will understand the truth about problems in Hong Kong, act carefully and do useful things for the friendship between China and Thailand,” the embassy said in a statement.
Ninety people have been arrested for anti-mask law violations in the past week, pushing the total number of arrests since June to more than 2,300, police said on Friday. Many of those arrested are under 16, authorities said.
Police said they were investigating four reports of blackmail involving emails from a group claiming to be pro-democracy and threatening to target shops unless they fund protests via bitcoin.
“The intimidating messages even include videos of rioters inflicting extensive damage to shops over the past few weeks,” said acting police chief superintendent Kong Wing-cheung.
Protesters have targeted China banks and shops with links, or perceived links, to mainland China.
Many residents fear the emergency laws may be expanded, further eroding civil liberties, but the government said on Thursday it would not bring in any other measures.