Hong Kong subway to close if violence looms

Demonstrations have disrupted the subway for weeks

By Laura He, CNN Business
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Protesters take part in a rally as they march on a street on Aug. 18, 2019, in Hong Kong.

(CNN) - Hong Kong's subway operator says it will crack down on violence at its train stations.

MTR's announcement comes amid heavy criticism of the company from Chinese state media, which has accused it of helping participants of the city's pro-democracy protests. The subway system has also been disrupted by demonstrations over the past several weeks.

The company, which is Hong Kong's sole subway operator as well as a real estate owner, said it will stop train service and immediately close stations "if fights, vandalism or other acts of violence occur."

MTR's Yuen Long station was the site of a silent sit-in Wednesday night by protesters. That area, which is in the northwest part of the city, attracted headlines last month when a group of suspected organized crime group members violently attacked demonstrators there.

Wednesday's sit-in drew the ire of several Chinese state-run media outlets, including the People's Daily, which is the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper. The paper on Thursday criticized MTR for "pampering" the protestors and "escorting them with special trains."

MTR dispatches empty trains directly to stations to pick up passengers "in response to police actions to disperse the crowds" in some areas, the company said in its statement, which was first reported Thursday and provided to CNN Business on Friday by MTR. It said it implements such measures "with the overall interests of passengers in mind."

MTR added that the Yuen Long station was vandalized on Wednesday, and said it "condemns such irresponsible acts and has reported the matter to police."

The subway operator said it will continue to pick up passengers stranded in stations when practical, but also said service may be immediately stopped if there is violence or vandalism.

Later Thursday, the Global Times, another state-run media outlet in China, published an editorial blasting MTR for encouraging protesters.

"Don't be an opportunist and kowtow to radical forces," the newspaper wrote. "MTR, you are giving a smiling face to protesters and a cold shoulder to the police ... The management of MTR should not stray off course."

Companies that operate in Hong Kong have been taking heat from mainland China as protests in the city head toward their 12th consecutive weekend. Two top executives at Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flagship airline, resigned last week as the company became entangled in the city's political crisis.

The Global Times called out MTR and Cathay in its editorial, writing that if companies like those two are "shifting their ground in protecting Hong Kong's core values ... then Hong Kong's foundation as a modern society will not only be ruined, but will possibly collapse."

MTR's stock has suffered in recent weeks. Shares are down about 10% in the last month.

Hong Kong's faltering economy is already suffering from China's slowdown and the US-China trade war, but the protests threaten to make things worse. The government last week announced a stimulus package worth about 19 billion Hong Kong dollars ($2.4 billion) to help safeguard jobs and provide relief to "people's financial burden."

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