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story.lead_photo.caption Protesters wearing masks stand along a commercial shopping street Friday in Hong Kong.

Protesters say 'Pooh' to ban on masks

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters donned cartoon character masks as they formed human chains across the semi-autonomous Chinese city on Friday night, in defiance of a government ban on face coverings at public assemblies.

Gathering along the city's subway lines, many protest supporters masqueraded as Winnie the Pooh or Guy Fawkes while holding up their phone lights and chanting slogans calling for a "revolution of our times."

Chinese internet users have joked that Chinese President Xi Jinping resembles the talking bear, leading the country's censors to scrub online references to the character. Fawkes masks have come to represent anti-government protests around the world.

The peaceful event comes ahead of a mass rally organizers are planning Sunday to press their demands. Police refused to authorize the march, citing risks to public safety and order, but protesters have previously ignored such rejections.

Hong Kong's leader has said the ban on masks, which have become a hallmark of the protests, is aimed at deterring radical behavior. Offenders can be punished by up to a year in prison.

But the protesters say they wear them out of fear of retribution and concern that their identities will be shared with China's massive state security apparatus.

Also Friday, Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific said passenger traffic to mainland China last month plummeted 23.2 % from a year ago, in the latest sign of the protests' impact on the city's tourism industry.

Japan won't join U.S. tanker protection

TOKYO -- Japan's government said Friday that it has decided not to join a U.S. coalition to protect commercial vessels in the Middle East but is preparing to send its own force to ensure the safe shipment of oil to Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan will keep cooperating closely with Washington even if it won't join the initiative the U.S. says is aimed at protecting commercial tankers from alleged Iranian attacks.

Japan's energy needs rely heavily on oil imports. It has kept friendly ties with Iran and is reluctant to join such a force. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tried to help ease tension between Washington and Tehran.

U.S.-Iranian relations have deteriorated since President Donald Trump last year pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The tensions have included seizures of oil tankers at sea.

Suga said Japan plans to deploy warships initially to the Gulf of Oman, the Northern Arabian Sea and nearby waters, but did not include the Strait of Hormuz. In June, a Japanese-operated tanker was attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which Washington said Iran was responsible.

Worker dies in attack at refugee shelter

BERLIN -- Austrian police said Friday that a 32-year-old social worker has died days after suffering serious stab wounds during an attack at a refugee shelter.

Upper Austria police said that a 33-year-old Afghan asylum seeker is now being investigated on suspicion of two counts of murder.

The suspect, whose name wasn't released, attacked the social worker with a knife Monday during a dispute over a job at the shelter in Wullowitz, near the Czech border. Several asylum seekers went to the social worker's aid and two suffered serious injuries.

After fleeing, the suspect is accused of killing a 63-year-old farmer and stealing his car before being arrested in the nearby city of Linz.

Authorities have said the suspect arrived in Austria in 2015 and an appeal against the rejection of his asylum request is pending.

Accident prompts strike for rail security

PARIS -- A wildcat strike Friday severely disrupted train travel around France, as railway workers demand better security after a recent accident.

Traffic was particularly tangled in southern France and western France, around Lyon and in the Paris region, according to SNCF, France's national rail authority.

Paris suburb trains, including the RER B line to Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport, were also severely disrupted, the SNCF said.

The national rail authority advised travelers to postpone their trips or use other means of transport. Many French families had made plans to travel Friday as two-week school holidays were starting.

The General Confederation of Labor union called for the walkout after a truck-train collision in eastern France Wednesday left 11 injured. Union official Laurent Brun tweeted that the accident was "the final straw" after a string of other incidents, and that train drivers don't want to die on the job or have "passenger deaths on our conscience."

The action comes amid a season of strikes and protests over President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul France's complex retirement benefits and other policies.

-- Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports

Photo by AP/BOB EDME
Travelers wait during a wildcat strike Friday for trains to arrive at the Saint-Jean-de-Luz station in southwestern France.

A Section on 10/19/2019

Print Headline: Accident prompts strike for rail security

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