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Hong Kong Court Temporarily Reinstates Ban on Face Masks During Protests


Protesters wearing face masks hold up their hands during an anti-government protest at Yoho Mall in Yuen Long, Hong Kong, China, Nov. 21, 2019.

Hong Kong's High Court has reversed an earlier decision and reinstated a ban on anti-government demonstrators wearing face masks. The court ruled Friday that the government could enforce the ban for one week. The ban was initially imposed in October under rarely used emergency powers so that protesters could not hide their faces.

The latest decision comes as police prepare for possible unrest during contested district council elections scheduled for Sunday.

When the court suspended the ban, it said the measure infringed on the protesters' fundamental rights more than was reasonably necessary. China's parliament rebuked that court ruling and there was concern that Beijing could try to overrule the decision.

Many protesters have defied the ban, and 632 people have been arrested under the regulation, of which 61 have been charged, the court's latest ruling said.

FILE - This combination of pictures created Oct. 4, 2019, shows protesters wearing face masks during demonstrations in Hong Kong.
FILE - This combination of pictures created Oct. 4, 2019, shows protesters wearing face masks during demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Anti-government rallies were held sporadically in recent days. Riot police broke up minor scuffles between protesters and pro-Beijing supporters at a downtown bridge Friday, but there were no major clashes ahead of the elections.

The anti-government protests began in June in opposition to a proposed bill — now withdrawn — that would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to the mainland. The protests quickly turned into wider calls for democracy and opposition to growing Chinese influence. The protests also spread to local universities. At Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a number of students have been arrested amid images of property damage.

Trump comments

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday commented on the situation in Hong Kong, calling it "a complicating factor" in U.S.-China relations and the ongoing trade talks between the two countries. In a telephone interview with the "Fox & Friends" news program, Trump claimed credit for preventing a violent incursion from China into Hong Kong.

"If it weren't for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes. He's got a million soldiers, standing outside of Hong Kong," said the president, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump also said he had asked the Chinese leader to refrain from any actions that would negatively impact the bilateral trade talks.

On a possible trade agreement, Trump said later Friday at the White House, "The China deal is coming along very well. It's a matter of whether I want to make it."

Human rights bills

The U.S. president is currently reviewing two bills aimed at supporting human rights in Hong Kong following the months of unrest in the semi-autonomous city.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the legislation Wednesday, a day after the Senate passed them on voice votes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday it is the duty of the United States to speak out against human rights abuses.

Trump did not give a clear answer as to whether he intends to sign them into law. One of the bills mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses. The measure also calls for an annual review of the special status granted to Hong Kong. The other bill bans the export to Hong Kong of certain crowd control munitions.

China has warned about "strong counter measures" if Trump signs the bills into law, a possible move that could complicate the ongoing trade talks between the world's largest economies.