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Asia’s biggest Halloween party is in Hong Kong, where people are being arrested for wearing masks

Lan Kwai Fong is a zoo on Halloween.

LKF, as it’s known locally, is the one of the most popular places to go out in Hong Kong. It’s home to a host of bars, clubs and restaurants that are usually packed on weekends. On Fridays and Saturdays, the road is closed to traffic and revelers regularly spill out onto the street, drinking and talking into the early hours of the morning.

But October 31 is something else.

Thousands of visitors, locals and expatriates line up to enter the district, many wearing elaborate Halloween outfits and masks. It’s gotten so hectic in recent years that police are deployed ahead of time for crowd control.

“Halloween in LKF has always been known for its crazy street party,” said Gemma, a waitress and bar promoter, who asked to be identified by only her first name.

“But I feel like it is going to be a different vibe this year.”

Earlier this month, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam used colonial-era emergency powers to ban masks at some public gatherings in an attempt to temper months of anti-government protests.

It’s not clear if — and how — the ban will be enforced during a holiday that encourages people to disguise their faces.

And there are concerns chaos could ensue if protesters go ahead with their plans to march to LKF, making it potentially very difficult to tell the difference between protesters and partygoers.

Competing protests

Protests are now a regular occurrence on weekends in Hong Kong, and more unrest is likely to be seen on Halloween as the date marks two months since a particularly violent clash in Kowloon’s Prince Edward subway station.

Graphic video footage from that incident showed police swinging batons in the station, landing some blows on individuals already lying on the ground. Police said the subway clearance operation was a response to citizen reports of disruption and vandalism. Dozens were arrested.

Some protesters are planning to gather near the Prince Edward subway station to mark the anniversary, which may limit the number of people who are planning to go to LKF.

Others plan to march from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Lan Kwai Fong in Central. Organizers appear to be taking advantage of the holiday in a potential bid to get around the mask ban. They’re recommending that participants wear a mask and red clothes and are encouraging them to trick-or-treat along the way.

They’ve also appeared to float some costume ideas.

Posters for the so-called “Masquerade Halloween” show images of some of the protest movement’s main adversaries — Lam, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng — alongside potential costumes.

Xi is featured next to an image of Winnie the Pooh, continuing a longstanding, unflattering comparison of the two. The insult has not been welcomed by Chinese authorities and censors in Beijing have attempted to banish it from cyberspace in mainland China.

How will the mask ban work?

Hong Kong authorities have not responded to CNN’s request to explain how the mask ban will work on Halloween.

According to information posted on the Hong Kong Security Bureau’s website, the mask ban only applies to unauthorized gatherings, but allows police to ask anyone in public to remove facial coverings to identify themselves.

Lam, the city’s leader, said the measures were meant to quell the protests and hold rioters accountable for their actions, but the demonstrations that followed her announcement have been some of the most violent and destructive yet.

Protesters have also regularly defied the anti-mask law, and dozens have been arrested for doing so.

Gemma, the bar promoter and waitress, said she thinks the mask ban and the confusion surrounding it may deter people from coming out.

“I keep asking around to find out what that means for Halloween and I’m getting mixed answers,” she said.

LKF’s organizers are scaling things back this year, putting up fewer decorations and hiring more security because of the potential for protests, according to Allan Zeman, the chairman and founder of Lan Kwai Fong Group, which developed the district.

“We have a lot more security this year, we have a team of security there this year because I’m more concerned about the kids … and really making it safe for them,” Zeman said.

In a statement Tuesday, police said they were concerned that marchers planned to go from Victoria Park to Central, where LKF is located.

“There is a possibility of extensive road blockage … breaching public peace and public order. Members of the public should avoid travelling to the concerned area when public disorder occurs,” the statement read.

Police would not tell CNN if they were increasing the number of officers on duty in LKF on Halloween. Hong Kong police said in a statement that the authorities would “deploy appropriate manpower in accordance with the actual situation to maintain public order and public safety.”

Sandeep, a bar owner in nearby Central who has worked in the industry for seven years, worried that the confusion over potential policing on Halloween could affect his bottom line. He asked CNN not to publish his surname nor the name of his bar, because of how sensitive it is to talk about the protests.

He said the protests have already affected his business — last weekend, the crowd size was about 30% smaller than the same time last year. “Big events, weekends we depend on business. One bad weekend affects the business a lot,” Sandeep said.

“The last quarter of the year is meant to be the busiest time of the year with events, festive celebrations,” Sandeep said. “That helps make up for the slower quarters, but if this quarter isn’t good then I fear bonus and layoffs will happen.”

Hong Kong has now entered a technical recession due to the protests, and the hospitality industry has been heavily impacted. Local bars and restaurants are suffering because fewer tourists are coming in and fewer Hong Kongers are going out.

Since the protests began, those not participating often choose to stay home on weekends, so they don’t accidentally get caught in the middle of an unexpected clash. Often people are forced to stay in when neighborhoods become the site of protests and police operations.

“It’s been a very tense time in Hong Kong and I know a lot of bars are really on their last legs due to drop in sales,” Gemma said.

This Halloween people will likely wear masks and go out to protest. But it’s unclear how many will wear masks and go out to party.

“This year is not a night that we’re going to be counting how much money we can make on Halloween,” Zeman said. “I’ll be really happy when it’s over, just to get through it.”

Article Topic Follows: National & World

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