Police and protesters engaged in a standoff in Hong Kong's nightlife district on Thursday after pro-democracy demonstrators urged people to celebrate Halloween by wearing masks in defiance of a government ban on face coverings. Riot police pushed people back slowly from the Lan Kwai Fong area of bars, clubs, and restaurants that is usually abuzz with revelers on Halloween. Police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd, but it wasn't immediately clear whether there had been violence between protesters and officers or if anyone had been arrested, the AP reports. RTHK reports that one of its reporters was pepper-sprayed at close range after asking a police officer for his identification number.
Organizers had called on supporters of the protest movement to take part in a "masquerade" on Thursday to put to the test a recent government ban on masks at public gatherings. Digital fliers circulated online called on people to wear masks depicting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and other senior officials. Face masks have become a hallmark of protesters in Hong Kong, even at peaceful marches, amid fears their identities will be uncovered and spread online, resulting in retribution. In Beijing on Friday, the ruling Communist Party said it planned to strengthen laws regarding Hong Kong in the name of national security.
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