Protesters, some wearing masks, helmets and symbolic eye covers, gather during the "No White Terror No Chinazi" rally in Chater Garden, Hong Kong, China September 6 2019. REUTERS/ ANUSHREE FADNAVIS
Protesters, some wearing masks, helmets and symbolic eye covers, gather during the "No White Terror No Chinazi" rally in Chater Garden, Hong Kong, China September 6 2019. REUTERS/ ANUSHREE FADNAVIS

Hong Kong — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Friday measures announced this week to help restore order in the Chinese-ruled city were a first step as thousands gathered outside a subway station in renewed protest after months of sometimes violent unrest.

The crowds are expected to swell into the night, as the Asian financial hub braces for weekend demonstrations aiming to disrupt transport links to the airport after Lam's withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill failed to appease some activists.

The airport announced that only passengers with tickets would be allowed to use the Airport Express train service on Saturday, boarding in downtown Hong Kong. The train would not stop en route, on the Kowloon peninsula. Bus services could also be hit, it said.

The measures are aimed at avoiding the chaos of last weekend, when protesters blocked airport approach roads, threw debris on the train track and trashed the MTR subway station in the nearby new town of Tung Chung in running clashes with police.

“The four actions are aimed at putting one step forward in helping Hong Kong to get out of the dilemma,” Lam told reporters during a trip to China's southern region of Guangxi. “We can't stop the violence immediately.”

On Wednesday, Lam withdrew a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by its ruling Communist Party, and announced three other measures to help ease the crisis, including a dialogue with the people.

On Friday, global credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings downgraded Hong Kong's long-term foreign currency issuer default rating to “AA” from “AA+”.

Fitch said it expects that public discontent is likely to persist despite the concessions to certain protester demands.

Demonstrations, sometimes violent, have gripped the former British colony for three months, at times paralysing parts of the city amid running street battles between protesters and police whose violence has drawn international attention.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of Hong Kong with Chinese premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, saying a peaceful solution was needed.

“I stressed that the rights and freedoms for [Hong Kong] citizens have to be granted,” Merkel said.

Li told a news conference with Merkel “the Chinese government unswervingly safeguards ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong people’”.

Several activists and pro-democracy groups say they will not give up on their demands, with rallies planned on Friday evening at sites across the city such as subway stations and near government headquarters.

Authorities also say the turmoil has weighed on the economy, which faces its first recession in a decade. There is evidence some funds are being moved to rival financial centres, such as Singapore.

Reuters