China’s military garrison in Hong Kong has warned protesters that they broke the law when they took to the streets on Sunday, defying the government’s ban on face masks.
A flag was raised about 7.15pm local time on top of the barracks of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon Tong.
“You are breaching the law and could be prosecuted,” it said, while a speaker blasted the message: “You will bear your own consequences.”
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets for two major protests, one on the island and another on the Kowloon Peninsula.
Many wore the masks that were banned as of midnight on Friday, hours after embattled leader Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers, hoping to curb months of unrest.
"These extreme radicals have rampant arrogance and behave vilely," China's liaison office in Hong Kong said on Sunday, denouncing Friday's destruction of one of its buildings by "extremist militants".
"We strongly condemn this and support the SAR [special autonomous region] government and the police to severely punish illegal violent elements in accordance with the law."
The army’s garrison in Hong Kong has largely remained silent throughout months of protests.
Even its routine daily rotation of military personnel has been scheduled for after midnight since the protests began to avoid being misinterpreted.
Sunday’s warnings were the first direct interaction the army has had with protesters.
“Are you seeing how many people are wearing masks?” one protester said, pointing to the people next to her whose faces were almost all covered.
“Do they really think this ban will do anything other than upset people more?”
Like many other days in the Hong Kong protests, a peaceful march gradually turned violent as police, protesters and pro-Beijing groups ran into each other.
Police made arrests across the city, firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
A taxi driver was pulled out of his car and severely beaten by protesters in Sham Shui Po, who accused him of trying to run them over.
At nearby Mong Kong metro station, near Kowloon Bay, protesters smashed windows and caused a flood in a third consecutive day.
Hong Kong's protests have plunged the city into its biggest political crisis in decades.