Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam banned protesters from wearing masks Friday in a hardening of the government’s stance on the territory’s most disruptive crisis since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. Lam announced the ban at an afternoon news conference where she decried a recent escalation of violence after four months of anti-government demonstrations. The mask ban, imposed under a colonial-era Emergency Ordinance, takes effect Saturday and applies to people at "illegal" gatherings who use violence and exempts those who wear masks for “legitimate need," the AP reports. Lam said she would go to the legislature later to get legal backing for the rule. "People are asking can Hong Kong go back to normal?" Lam said as she announced the ban.
She said the ban targets violent protesters and rioters and "will be an effective deterrent to radical behavior." The ban makes the wearing of full or partial face coverings, including face paint, at unauthorized gatherings punishable by one year in jail. A six-month jail term could be imposed on people who refuse a police officer’s order to remove a face covering for identification. Lam wouldn't rule out a further toughening of measures if violence continues. Thousands of masked protesters chanted slogans calling for greater democracy as they marched in the city’s business district before Lam spoke. "Will they arrest 100,000 people on the street? The government is trying to intimidate us but at this moment, I don't think the people will be scared," one protester told an online live broadcast.
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