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Former Hong Kong governor fears people will die as protest violence escalates

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Protest-scarred Hong Kong has struggled to recover after scores of people were arrested in violent clashes overnight and as the last British governor of the Chinese-ruled city warned that people could be killed.

“Before long, unless we are very, very lucky, people are going to get killed, people are going to be shot,” former British governor Chris Patten told Sky News on Monday.

Watch the video above.

“The idea that with public order policing you send police forces out with live ammunition is preposterous.”

After four months of massive and sometimes violent protests, two protesters have been shot, one in the chest and one in the leg.

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‘Before long, unless we are very, very lucky, people are going to get killed.’

Authorities said the shootings were not intentional but occurred during skirmishes between police and protesters.

Tear gas, petrol bombs

Many protesters, police and journalists have been injured in clashes, with police using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, some of whom throw bricks and petrol bombs.

Police use teargas to disperse protesters in Hong Kong.
Police use teargas to disperse protesters in Hong Kong. Credit: Ap

A journalist working with Hong Kong’s public broadcaster was recovering in the hospital on Monday after being hit by a petrol bomb on Sunday night.

On Monday, Hong Kong’s metro rail system was only partially functioning, with many stations torched in protests, and many shops and Chinese banks extensively damaged.

China’s warning

The Sunday night protests, the second night of violence since the imposition of colonial-era emergency laws on Friday, resulted in scores of protesters being arrested and the first warning from Chinese military personnel stationed in the territory.

Tens of thousands of protesters, many families with children, marched peacefully through the centre of Hong Kong on Sunday, wearing face masks in defiance of the emergency powers that threaten them with a maximum of one year in prison for hiding their faces.

Police detain a protester in Hong Kong on Sunday.
Police detain a protester in Hong Kong on Sunday. Credit: Ap

However, police fired tear gas and used baton charges in an attempt to disperse protesters across the Asian financial hub, and the rallies deteriorated into running clashes as night fell.

Face mask ban

Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, has said the face mask ban was necessary to end the violence by militant activists.

But the move has been criticised by human rights groups and the United Nations, and has sparked more violent protests.

“She would have to be crazy to be making these decisions on her own without being pressured into them. The face mask business, absolutely madness,” said Patten, who handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

“I fear for the future, unless Carrie Lam actually intervenes and understands the importance of dialogue.”

People protest a government ban on face masks in Kowloon on Sunday.
People protest a government ban on face masks in Kowloon on Sunday. Credit: Getty

The protests have plunged the former British colony into its worst political crisis in decades and pose the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

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‘I fear for the future, unless Carrie Lam actually intervenes and understands the importance of dialogue.’

The Hong Kong government said early on Monday, a public holiday in the city, that “public safety has been jeopardised and the public order of the whole city is being pushed to the verge of a very dangerous situation”.

Pro-democracy movement

What started as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has grown into a pro-democracy movement against what is seen as Beijing’s increasing grip on the city, which protesters say undermines the “one country, two systems” status promised when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

A pro-China protester was attacked by rioters.
A pro-China protester was attacked by rioters. Credit: 7NEWS

China dismisses such accusations, saying foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, have fanned anti-China sentiment.

Further protests are planned on Monday evening.

Train stations vandalised

Hong Kong’s rail operator, MTR Corp, said on Monday that because of “serious vandalism,” most of the stations in the network were temporarily closed.

MTR’s announcement followed an unprecedented shutdown on Saturday and minimal operations on Sunday, which largely paralysed much of the city.

The entire network, which typically carries about five million passengers a day, will shut at 6pm (9pm AEDT), more than four hours earlier than usual, to allow for repairs, it said.

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