Hong Kong's Chief Executive condemned the violence perpetrated by groups of protesters who thrashed shops and subway stations on Friday, admitting that the population is scared. "These violent actions by rioters created a very dark night for Hong Kong and left society semi-paralyzed today," Carrie Lam said in a video message Saturday.
The official further stated that "everyone is very worried and even scared."
Earlier today, Hong Kong's Security Secretary John Lee warned that the population's failure to condemn violence is encouraging protest groups.
"What is fueling the violence is the population's support for these acts," the official said, thus dismissing accusations that the ban on the use of masks in illegal demonstrations - announced by Lam on Friday and already in force - "added fuel to the fire."
"Everyone should go out on the street and say: no, society will not accept violence," he said.
According to The Associated Press, two activists filed an appeal on Friday afternoon against the ban, claiming that the measure will instill fear and undermine freedom of assembly, but a court denied the request.
Hong Kong's entire mass transit rail system - which boasts four million trips every day - has been suspended for the first time since the beginning of the anti-government protests four months ago, in the worst crisis since the transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.
The subway and network operator has announced that services will be suspended today, public radio network RTHK reported.
The night was marked by arson attacks, looting, aggressions, roadblocks, clashes with police, the trashing of subway stations, and attacks against shops with connections to China. Police resorted to tear gas grenades to disperse protesters.
With the so-called 'anti-mask law' - last used during the 1967 riots - the Hong Kong Government aims to 'end violence and restore order'. The ban applies to illegal demonstrations and violent protesters only.
Although Carrie Lam has argued that the measure is justified by the fact that "Hong Kong's public safety is widely endangered," the official insisted that a state of emergency has not been declared.
At the root of the protests that have swept the Special Administrative Region since early June is a controversial proposal for amendments to the extradition law, which has already been formally withdrawn by the Hong Kong Government.
Protesters now demand that the Government meet four other demands: amnesty for arrested protesters; retracting the classification of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police violence; and, finally, Carrie Lam's resignation followed by universal suffrage elections both for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council (the local parliament).