Hong Kong has fallen into recession, hit by five months of anti-government protests that erupted in flames at the weekend, and is unlikely to achieve any growth this year, the city’s Financial Secretary said.
Black-clad and masked demonstrators set fire to shops and hurled petrol bombs at police on Sunday following a now-familiar pattern, with police responding with tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
TV footage showed protesters, who streamed into the Kowloon hotel and shopping artery of Nathan Road on Sunday, setting fire to street barricades and squirting petrol from plastic bottles on to fires at subway entrances amid running battles with police.
At one station, activists rolled a flaming metal barrel down a long staircase towards police below.
"The blow (from the protests) to our economy is comprehensive," Paul Chan said in a blog post, adding that a preliminary estimate for third-quarter GDP on Thursday would show two successive quarters of contraction – the technical definition of a recession.
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He also said it would be "extremely difficult" to achieve the government’s pre-protest forecast of 0-1 per cent annual economic growth.
The rallying cry of Sunday’s protests was to fight perceived police brutality and defend Muslims and journalists. Police last weekend fired water cannon at a group of people standing outside a mosque and journalists have been wounded in clashes.
The programming staff union of public broadcaster RTHK said on Monday it had called on police to identify officers who "attacked and ripped the face mask" off one of its journalists on Sunday. It said she was wearing a reflective vest clearly identifying herself as a journalist.
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Pictures circulating online suggested she was wearing a gas mask, to protect against tear gas and pepper spray. Ordinary face masks were banned this month under a resurrected colonial-era emergency law.
Tourists numbers have plummeted, with visitor numbers down nearly 50 percent in October, a decline Mr Chan called an "emergency".
Retail operators, from prime shopping malls to family-run businesses, have been forced to close for multiple days over the past few months.
While authorities have announced measures to support local small and medium seized enterprises, Mr Chan said the measures could only "slightly reduce the pressure".
"Let citizens return to normal life, let industry and commerce operate normally, and create more space for rational dialogue," he wrote.