(Reuters) – Hong Kong has loosened guidelines on the use of force by police as it struggles to stamp out anti-government protests that have rocked the Asian financial hub for nearly four months, according to documents seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The city is also expected to ban face masks under a colonial-era emergency law that has not been used in half a century, media reported.
The loosening of restrictions on the use of force came into effect shortly before some of the most violent turmoil seen in the protests on Tuesday, with police firing about 1,400 rounds of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets and six live rounds, as protesters threw petrol bombs and wielded sticks.
More than 100 people were wounded, including a teenaged secondary school student who was shot in the chest and wounded. It was the first time a demonstrator had been shot by live fire.
In the documents seen by Reuters, the police manual changed some guidelines on how officers could act when considering force. It also removed a line that stated officers should be accountable for their actions.
Media also reported on changes to the police procedure manual with effect from Sept. 30, ahead of protests on China’s National Day on Tuesday.
Police declined to comment when asked if amendments had been made.
“The guidelines on the use of force involve details of operation. It may affect the normal and effective operation of the police force and work of police on crime prevention if details are made public,” police said in a statement to Reuters.
Police in the former British colony have long been admired for their professionalism compared with some forces elsewhere in Asia.
But the public has become increasingly hostile towards the police over past weeks amid accusations of heavy-handed tactics. Police say they have shown restraint.
The unrest, which began over opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, shows no sign of letting up.
Protesters, fired up over the shooting of the young man this week, are planning more demonstrations at shopping malls across 11 districts on Thursday night and throughout the weekend.