Israel warns citizens to steer clear of Hong Kong protests
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Israel warns citizens to steer clear of Hong Kong protests

Ministry tells travelers to be aware of the territory’s new ban on face coverings, which has sparked renewed anti-China protests

Protestors face police tear gas in Hong Kong, October 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Protestors face police tear gas in Hong Kong, October 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Israel on Sunday issued an advisory for its citizens traveling to Hong Kong amid growing political unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

“Israelis should be alert and avoid protest areas,” a statement from the Israeli consulate in Hong Kong and Macau said.

In a separate statement, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem urged citizens to listen to the instructions of local law enforcement; pay attention to the news and stay updated on possible flight changes and to avoid crowds and conflict areas.

Hong Kong has been battered by 18 consecutive weekends of unrest, fanned by widespread public anger over Chinese rule and the police response to protests.

The Foreign Ministry specifically alerted Israelis to the new ban on facial coverings that the city’s leader invoked using colonial-era emergency powers.

In August, the Foreign Ministry also warned Israelis in Hong Kong to stay away from protests.

Israel has a consulate in Hong Kong, which it opened in the 1980s when the territory was still under British administration, and a sizable business community there.

In 2016, Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Gregory So said some 64,000 Israelis had visited Hong Kong the year before.

Israeli leaders have not commented on the protests and crackdown, which has sparked widespread condemnation. Jerusalem has in recent years sought to expand business ties with China and is likely wary of crossing Beijing.

Hong Kong police advance down a road during clashes with protesters in the Wanchai district in Hong Kong on October 6, 2019. (Mohd Rasfan/AFP)

The anti-government rallies were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, which fueled fears of an erosion of liberties promised under the 50-year “one country, two systems” model China agreed to ahead of the 1997 handover by Britain.

After Beijing and local leaders took a hard stance, the demonstrations snowballed into a wider movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The worst clashes to date erupted last week as China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule, with a teenager shot and wounded by police as he attacked an officer.

On Friday, chief executive Carrie Lam announced the face mask ban, sparking renewed protests in which a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded when a plainclothes police officer, who was surrounded by a mob of protesters throwing petrol bombs, fired his sidearm.

But the ban did little to halt the chaos or stop huge crowds of masked protesters from hitting the streets in defiance as opponents decried the move as a slide towards authoritarianism.

Lam, who has record low approval ratings, defended her use of the emergency powers and warned she would make more measures if the unrest did not abate.

The law, last used by the British during riots in 1967, allows her to bypass parliament and make “any regulations whatsoever” during a time of public danger.

But opponents say the law has sparked a constitutional crisis and undermined Hong Kong’s reputation as a finance hub built on rule of law and an independent judiciary.

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