Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam on Friday invoked colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years in a dramatic move intended to quell escalating violence in the Chinese-ruled city.

Lam, speaking at a news conference, said a ban on face masks would take effect on Saturday under the emergency laws that allow authorities to “make any regulations whatsoever” in whatever they deem to be in the public interest.

Many protesters wear masks to hide their identity due to fears employers could face pressure to take action against them.

It was not clear how the government would implement the mask ban in a city where many of its 7.4 million residents wear them every day to protect against infection following the outbreak of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

Four months of anti-government protests have plunged the former British colony into its biggest political crisis since its handover to Beijing in 1997 and have created a serious challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Violence escalated on Tuesday, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when police fired about 1,800 volleys of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets and six live bullets - one of which hit an 18-year-old.

Hong Kong’s government invoked a British colonial-era law on Friday for the first time in more than 50 years as the Chinese-ruled territory grapples with an escalating cycle of violence that poses a direct challenge to President Xi Jinping.

The sweeping emergency laws allow authorities to “make any regulations whatsoever” in the public interest. This could include curfews, censorship of the media, control of harbours, ports and transportation.

The government also banned the use of face masks that many protesters have been wearing to hide their identity.

The last time the government used emergency laws was in 1967 to suppress leftist riots during China’s Cultural Revolution.