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More weekend protests planned in Hong Kong

US raises travel warning; HK companies voice concern about impact of demonstrations on business activity

Chinese police officers taking part in a drill on Tuesday in Shenzhen in China's southern Guangdong province, across the border from Hong Kong. Police are warning activists to protest peacefully and have said they had detained three more people, raising the number arrested to nearly 600 since protests began in June

Hong Kong

MORE protests are planned in several districts across Hong Kong this weekend, starting on Friday, with demonstrators also planning a three-day rally at the city's international airport.

Police warned activists to protest peacefully and said they had detained three more people, raising the number arrested to nearly 600 since protests began in June, the youngest aged 13.

The United States has raised its travel warning for Hong Kong, urging increased caution by visitors to the Chinese territory in the face of what it described as civil unrest after months of sometimes violent street protests.

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The protests in the Asian financial hub began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law and have evolved into a direct challenge to the city's government and calls for full democracy.

"The protests and confrontations have spilled over into neighbourhoods other than those where the police have permitted marches or rallies," said the advisory, posted on the website of the US State Department on Wednesday.

"These demonstrations, which can take place with little or no notice, are likely to continue," it added. The advisory was raised to level two on a four-point scale.

The US warning comes after countries including Australia, Britain, Ireland, Singapore and Japan issued heightened travel warnings for Hong Kong.

The protests pose a grave popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Mr Xi is also grappling with a debilitating trade war with the United States and a slowing economy.

China's Foreign Ministry lodged stern representations with the United States, urging US officials to stop sending wrong signals to the "violent separatists" in Hong Kong.

Conglomerate Swire Pacific became the latest major Hong Kong company to voice concern about the impact of protests in the city on business activity, saying that they are having direct and indirect impact on demand on a number of its businesses.

The comments by Swire, whose business spans retail to property to airlines, come after similar concerns raised by Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd and Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels on Wednesday. Swire owns 45 per cent of Cathay Pacific, Refinitiv data shows.

"The protests in Hong Kong have had some effect on retail sales at our malls, particularly at Pacific Place. If the protests continue, sales are likely to continue to be affected," Michelle Low, Swire Pacific finance director said in the interim results statement on Thursday, referring to its high-end shopping mall in Admiralty, a financial district where many of the mass protests took place.

"Trading conditions for our hotels are expected to be stable in the second half of 2019, except that occupancy in Hong Kong has been affected somewhat by the protests; and this is likely to continue if the situation persists." Swire added that the global trade tensions were also causing uncertainty.

Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said on Thursday that the drop in inbound tourists accelerated in the past few weeks, with the first week of August declining 31 per cent from a year ago, compared to just a single digit percentage drop in mid-July.

He said that the logistics and retail sectors together employ over one million people in Hong Kong, and it could hurt the city's employment if the sectors continue to be under pressure.

Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong told Reuters that the number of tours from mainland China has fallen 40 per cent to about 140 tours per day in the first week of August, from about 230 tours a day in the same period last year.

He also expressed concern that the number of business visitors would reduce as some business meetings and conferences were seen scaling back the size or being cancelled. "Many related workers may need to take no-pay leave, and their income will be affected," he added.

Also on Thursday, MTR Corp Ltd and Giordano International Ltd said in their interim results statement that the current social unrest could weigh on the their business.

"This time, it is like a perfect storm," Wharf Real Estate Investment chairman Stephen Ng said on Tuesday, as Hong Kong faces both internal and external pressure, including a weakening global economy and US-China trade tensions, at the same time. He is not optimistic about the retail and hotel industry in the second half, he added.

Three masked activists, who did not give their names, held a news conference on Thursday, their second this week and broadcast on domestic television channels, to criticise what they called arbitrary arrests and police use of tear gas.

"The continuation of such attempts at spreading fear and suppressing the freedom of press will eventually backfire on the government itself," one activist told the Citizens' Press Conference, a platform that protesters are using to voice concerns over the situation in Hong Kong. "The ultimate victim of these tactics will be the police force's crumbling public image," said the activist, who spoke in English.

The comments came after plainclothes police arrested a student leader from Baptist University, Keith Fong, on the grounds that laser pointers that he bought were offensive weapons. REUTERS