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Protesters Gather in Central for Fifth Day: Hong Kong Update

Iain Marlow, Natalie Lung and Dominic Lau

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong protesters returned to the central financial district on Friday, the fifth-straight day of rallies in a broader democracy push that’s driven Asia’s premier financial hub toward recession.

The Chinese President Xi Jinping said that bringing the violence to an end is Hong Kong’s “most urgent task,” while a scuffle involving the city’s justice secretary and the second protest-related death in a week heightened tensions. The rare comments by Xi during a visit to Brazil on Thursday came as the U.S. Senate moved to expedite passage of legislation that would support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Earlier, a 70-year-old government contract worker who was struck during a brick-hurling fight between protesters and their opponents died of his injuries. Police classified the death as a murder.

The protests, which have raged for more than five months, flared anew last week after the death of a student who fell near a police operation to clear a demonstration. A campaign to disrupt traffic has led to the shooting of a protester and citywide school cancellations, while Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government has denied reports of a plan to institute an unprecedented curfew in a bid to quell unrest.

Key developments:

City’s No. 2 calls media briefing Protesters return to city’s streetsHong Kong justice minister hurt in LondonXi urges immediate end to violenceGovernment worker dies; 15-year-old still in hospitalSome trains services remain suspended

Here’s the latest (all times local):

City’s No. 2 to brief media (5:06 p.m.)

Hong Kong’s No. 2 official Matthew Cheung called a briefing for 6 p.m. Friday, as the city seeks to break free from the latest wave of protests. The chief secretary will be joined by Civil Service Secretary Joshua Law, Transport Secretary Frank Chan, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Patrick Nip.

Protesters gather in Chater Garden (5 p.m.)

Demonstrators began gathering again in Chater Garden in the city’s central financial district, after dispersing earlier following the arrival of riot cops. Police said they had arrested 58 people since Thursday. They fired 194 rounds of tear gas, 58 rubber bullets and 14 bean bag rounds.

Overwhelming support for inquiry (4:45 p.m.)

Some 80% of Hong Kong adults want the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to examine the use of force by police throughout Hong Kong’s recent unrest, according to a new survey by Hong Kong Public Opinion Program. That’s up from 77% earlier this month.

An inquiry is one of the five demands that protesters have been chanting about in marches throughout the city for months, but the government has so far ruled out any further political concessions.

Hong Kong expects recession (4:30 p.m.)

Hong Kong revised down its estimate for economic growth this year, with the government now forecasting the first annual contraction since the global financial crisis a decade ago. Gross domestic product will contract 1.3% in 2019 from the previous year, the government said Friday as it released final output calculations for the third quarter.

The government said ending the city’s violent unrest is key to an economic recovery.

Police classify death as murder (1:31 p.m.)

Police upgraded their probe into the injury of a 70-year-old government worker to a murder investigation after the man died overnight. The man was struck in the head by an object during a scuffle Wednesday between protesters who had set up road blocks and others who were attempting to clear them.

The man appeared to be filming in the direction of a group of black-clad protesters when one of them “deliberately threw” an object at him, Chan Tin-chu, senior superintendent for criminal investigations in New Territories North, told reporters at a briefing Friday. The victim didn’t participate in the argument or the attempt to clear the road blocks, Chan said.

Protesters start lunchtime rallies (12:40 p.m.)

Groups of protesters begin gathering in the financial district for a lunchtime rally, one of several planned across the city. Many wore masks and carried umbrellas.

Protesters also began assembling in the bustling Causeway Bay shopping district and in Tai Koo, on the eastern side of Hong Kong Island.

Chinese officials condemn attack (12:15 p.m.)

The Chinese government raised strong objections to the U.K. consulate in Hong Kong regarding the attack on the city’s justice secretary in London on Thursday. The Office of the Commissioner of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong also urged the U.K. government and police to punish those responsible for the attack on Teresa Cheng, according to a statement.

Hurt 15-year-old still in hospital (8:56 a.m.)

A 15-year-old boy who suffered a head injury from what local media said may have been a tear gas canister was still in Tuen Mun Hospital, the Hospital Authority said. The agency said the boy’s family asked that details of his condition -- which was originally listed as critical -- not be disclosed.

Six people, ages 17 to 62, had been admitted to various hospitals for treatment for protest-related injuries overnight and this morning as of 7:30 a.m. All are in stable condition. The man shot by police in Sai Wan Ho on Monday is now in stable condition in Eastern Hospital. A man set on fire during an argument with protesters on the same day was still in critical condition at Prince of Wales Hospital.

Group blames government for death (7:32 a.m.)

A group of anonymous protesters that has occasionally spoken for the leaderless movement expressed “deepest condolences” for the death of a 70-year-old government worker Thursday, but blamed the incident on “police brutality” and government intransigence. “The HKSAR Government must concede to the Five Demands, and return to the table of politics to solve conflicts by political means,” the so-called Citizens’ Press Conference said in a statement Friday.

Meanwhile, another protester group at the Chinese University of Hong Kong offered to remove barricades from the Tolo Highway in exchange for a government pledge to follow through with plans for District Council elections on Nov. 24, according to Radio Television Hong Kong. Students had already reopened one lane in each direction, the South China Morning Post said.

Some trains still suspended (5:55 a.m.)

Service between Fo Tan and Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau on the East Rail Line are suspended due to vandalism, railway operator the MTR Corp. said Friday. Trains between Hung Hom and Fo Tan on the same line are running every five minutes. Stations at Mong Kok, Tseung Kwan O, Sai Wan Ho, Tuen Mun and Tung Chung also remain shut.

Justice secretary ‘attacked’ (3:47 a.m.)

Hong Kong Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng condemned what her office said was an attack by a “violent mob” that caused her “serious bodily harm” Thursday while she was on an official visit to London. Cheng fell and hurt her arm after being surrounded by a group of about 30 protesters, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

“The secretary denounces all forms of violence and radicalism depriving others’ legitimate rights in the pretext of pursuing their political ideals, which would never be in the interest of Hong Kong and any civilized society,” Cheng’s office said in a statement.

Agency ‘saddened’ by death (2:21 a.m.)

Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department confirmed that one of its contract workers had died Thursday from a head injury, expressing “profound sadness” over his death. The elderly worker “was suspected to be hit in his head by hard objects hurled by rioters during his lunch break,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it would provide assistance to the victim’s family.

The government vowed to “make every effort to investigate the case to bring offenders to justice.”

U.S. Senate advances bill (12:41 a.m.)

The U.S. Senate is preparing for quick passage of legislation that would support pro-democracy protesters by placing Hong Kong’s special trading status with the U.S. under annual review. The Senate will run the “hotline” on the bill, which is an expedited process to check for last-minute opposition to bringing legislation immediately to a vote, according to Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

The Senate legislation is different than a version passed earlier by the House of Representatives. That means the two bills would have to be reconciled and passed by both chambers before going to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

Xi seeks end to violence (10:25 p.m. Thursday)

Xi, currently on a visit to Brazil, said “continuing radical violent crimes in Hong Kong have seriously trampled on the rule of law and social order, seriously undermined Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, and seriously challenged the bottom line of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” state broadcaster China Central Television reported in a social media post.

“Stopping the violence and restoring order is Hong Kong’s most urgent task at present,” Xi said, reiterating support for Lam. “We will continue to firmly support the chief executive to lead the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in accordance with the law, firmly support the Hong Kong Police in law enforcement, and firmly support the Hong Kong judiciary in punishing violent criminals.”

--With assistance from Erin Roman, Daniel Flatley, Colin Keatinge and Dandan Li.

To contact the reporters on this story: Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net;Natalie Lung in Hong Kong at flung6@bloomberg.net;Dominic Lau in Hong Kong at dlau92@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net

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