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Thousands march in Hong Kong as police in black masks look on

Hong Kong anti-government protesters marched in a gritty industrial district of the Chinese-ruled city on Saturday.

Protesters gather for a rally in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on 18 August 2019, in the latest opposition to a planned extradition law that has since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city. Picture: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong anti-government protesters marched in a gritty industrial district of the Chinese-ruled city on Saturday, with some police wearing new black masks looking on, as China freed a British consulate worker whose detention helped fuel tension.

The offshore airport and the roads and railways leading to it were operating normally despite plans by protesters to implement a “stress test” of transport links and disrupt traffic after weeks of unrest in the Chinese-ruled city.

Authorities had taken out a court order to prevent demonstrations at the airport, which was forced to close for part of last week after protesters thronged the main terminal for several days, grounding around 1,000 flights and occasionally clashing with police.

Four MTR subway stations were closed around Kwun Tong, a densely populated area on the east of the Kowloon peninsula, but thousands packed the streets anyway, most carrying umbrellas against the sun despite hazy skies in the former British colony.

Some protesters sat on the ground to stop metal gates closing Kwun Tong station itself as others berated staff for shutting down the trains. Others set up roadblocks with bamboo scaffolding.

“Shame on the MTR,” some shouted. Others complained about increased surveillance. Station shops were closed.

It was not immediately clear why police were wearing the masks, with onlookers wondering if they were a defence against green lasers used by protesters as dusk falls or whether it meant a clash was imminent.

The protests, which began as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China, have swelled into wider calls for democracy, plunging the city into an unprecedented crisis and posing a direct challenge for Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrines a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong since it was handed back from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

A smaller, pro-government protest, with people waving the purple bauhinia Hong Kong flag, was held outside broadcaster RTHK’s headquarters.

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