HONG KONG (AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong police have taken control of the Legislative Council building and driven anti-government protesters away in the early hours of Tuesday morning (July 2).
The police arrived by bus and ran into position as about a thousand gathered around the building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district.
Police fired several rounds of tear gas as protesters held up umbrellas to protect themselves or fled.
Plumes of smoke billowed across major thoroughfares and in between some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.
Protesters had carried road signs, others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding, as they barged into the council building.
Some sat at legislators’ desks, checking their phones, while others scrawled “anti-extradition” on chamber walls.
Other graffiti called for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to step down, while pictures of some lawmakers were defaced.
“HK Is Not China” was painted in black on a white pillar.
Police had warned they were prepared to use “appropriate force” unless the protesters dispersed from the area.
“In a short time police will go to the LegCo area to clear it. If met with obstruction or resistance, police will use appropriate force,” a police spokesman said in a video posted on the force’s Facebook page.
Hong Kong's government slammed protesters for storming the city's Parliament, accusing demonstrators of deploying "extreme violence".
It called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition Bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year.
“Some radical protesters stormed the Legislative Council Complex with extreme violence,” a government spokesman said in a statement.
“These protesters seriously jeopardised the safety of police officers and members of the public. Such violent acts are unacceptable to society.”
Protest organiser Civil Human Rights Front in a statement urged Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to respond to five demands: withdraw the extradition Bill, investigate the police’s use of rubber bullets on protesters at a June 12 rally, retract all references to that day's protest as a “riot”, release those arrested, and step down.
Tensions hit a flashpoint on June 12, the day when the highly contentious extradition Bill was to be read a second time, as tens of thousands of protesters dressed in black surrounded the government headquarters in Admiralty, paralysing traffic in the area and cutting off access to the Legislative Council.
Earlier in the day, a small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave.
The council, the mini-Parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately.
The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement cancelling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security consideration”, while all guided tours to the Legislative Council complex were suspended until further notice.
Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.
Riot police had also used pepper spray and batons to push back protesters who tried to disrupt the annual flag-raising ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Wan Chai that marks Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China.
The government said during Monday's clashes some demonstrators had attacked police lines and thrown an unidentified powder at police officers. A police spokesman later said in a statement that an inspection by the Fire Services Department found that the powder was confirmed to be slightly toxic and could cause skin irritation with prolonged contact.
Lam had suspended the Bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades, but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.
The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Opponents of the extradition Bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to
Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law.
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.