Police move to retake HK LegCo seized by protesters

Riot police clashing with protesters as they moved to retake the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong early this morning. Hundreds of protesters had stormed the building yesterday on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from British rule
Riot police clashing with protesters as they moved to retake the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong early this morning. Hundreds of protesters had stormed the building yesterday on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from British rule to the Chinese.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

While thousands of demonstrators join peaceful march, protest at building turns ugly

Protesters last night broke into and trashed Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) building, escalating tensions in a city wracked by weeks of protests over a controversial extradition Bill.

After midnight, while clashes continued in the streets outside, riot police firing tear gas appeared to have cleared out protesters and retaken the building. At least 50 people were reportedly taken to hospital.

It was still not clear whether any of those who stormed the LegCo building had intended to occupy it nor what - if anything - sparked the violence.

The authorities had been bracing themselves for a fresh wave of demonstrations yesterday, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule. And while thousands had joined a peaceful march in the day two streets away from the LegCo, the protests at the building itself descended into chaos as night fell.

Armed with a metal cart, steel poles, scissors and umbrellas, hundreds of protesters rammed through glass walls, lifted a metal shutter and broke into the building. Amid spurts of cheers and clapping, they then tore the place apart, tearing a screen from the ceiling, breaking a giant display screen and spraying graffiti on the walls. Portraits were also ripped from the wall and thrown onto the floor.

Riot police stationed inside the LegCo building responded with pepper spray, but that failed to stop protesters breaking through. Earlier warnings and even a banner from police saying "stop charging or we use force" failed to deter those trying to break in.

When lawmakers came to try and urge protesters not to break into the LegCo, a protester simply replied: "LegCo is dead."

 
 
 

The government and protesters blamed each other for the ugly scenes.

In a statement issued last evening, the Hong Kong government said it "strongly condemns and deeply regrets the extremely violent acts committed by some protesters" who stormed the LegCo complex in the afternoon.

A government spokesman said Hong Kong is a society that respects the rule of law and has never tolerated violence.

But the pro-democracy Civic Party, which backs the protests, blamed the government for the violence and called on it to heed protesters' demands.

These are for the full withdrawal of the extradition Bill, which will allow suspects to be sent to the mainland if passed; the release of all those arrested; a probe into alleged police brutality on June 12; and Chief Executive Carrie Lam's resignation.

Mr James To, a LegCo member from the Democratic Party, similarly said someone in the government must be held accountable for the political turmoil.

There were signs early on that the day's events would not be as peaceful as the two mass protests that preceded it.

In the wee hours of the morning, hundreds of black-clad protesters gathered at Tamar Park in Admiralty where the Chinese national flag and the Hong Kong flag are flown on flagpoles.

They replaced the Chinese flag with a black version, while the official Hong Kong flag was lowered to half-mast.

Later in the morning, there were reports of clashes between protesters and police in Wanchai, near the Convention and Exhibition Centre where the flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the British handover was to take place.

 
 

Thirteen officers were sent to hospital after protesters threw a liquid at them.

Mrs Lam and senior government officials were made to witness the flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the handover on screens inside the Convention and Exhibition Centre as a safety precaution.

In her speech at the ceremony, Mrs Lam promised to listen to views from the ground and to change her governance style.

Protesters rejected the promises. A 14-year-old student protester Lulu Chen said: "Has she (Mrs Lam) responded to any of our demands? We have been demonstrating peacefully, but do you know how disappointing it is to have a record rally turnout... and yet the government refuses to reply?"

Referring to the storming of LegCo, she added: "We are not rioters. We just don't want to sit and wait for doomsday, so we have resorted to this."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2019, with the headline 'Police move to retake HK LegCo seized by protesters'. Print Edition | Subscribe