Tensions ease as HK protesters clear out after 16-hour stand-off

Officers clearing the barricades outside the police headquarters early yesterday morning. The protesters had set up the barricades secured with cable ties to cut off access to the complex. Some security and police personnel cleaning and covering up t
Some security and police personnel cleaning and covering up the graffiti on the walls of the Hong Kong Police Headquarters (above) yesterday. The protesters had also pelted eggs at the building and at police officers on a balcony, hitting a Hong Kong Police crest and leaving broken eggs among the debris. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
Officers clearing the barricades outside the police headquarters early yesterday morning. The protesters had set up the barricades secured with cable ties to cut off access to the complex. Some security and police personnel cleaning and covering up t
Some security and police personnel cleaning and covering up the graffiti on the walls of the Hong Kong Police Headquarters yesterday. The protesters had also pelted eggs at the building and at police officers on a balcony, hitting a Hong Kong Police crest (above) and leaving broken eggs among the debris. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
Officers clearing the barricades outside the police headquarters early yesterday morning. The protesters had set up the barricades secured with cable ties to cut off access to the complex. Some security and police personnel cleaning and covering up t
Some security and police personnel cleaning and covering up the graffiti on the walls of the Hong Kong Police Headquarters yesterday. The protesters had also pelted eggs at the building and at police officers on a balcony, hitting a Hong Kong Police crest and leaving broken eggs among the debris (above). ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
Officers clearing the barricades outside the police headquarters early yesterday morning. The protesters had set up the barricades secured with cable ties to cut off access to the complex. Some security and police personnel cleaning and covering up t
Officers clearing the barricades outside the police headquarters early yesterday morning. The protesters had set up the barricades secured with cable ties to cut off access to the complex. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Former office-holders call for action to overcome current crisis

Calm descended on Hong Kong after 16 hours of protests during which thousands lay siege to the police headquarters in Wan Chai, while former Hong Kong office-holders added their voices to the issues at stake.

In an open letter, former chief secretary Anson Chan yesterday called on Chief Executive Carrie Lam to categorically withdraw a controversial extradition Bill, establish an independent commission of inquiry to look into the June 12 protest, and look into offering a blanket amnesty for anyone involved in potentially criminal acts that day.

She wrote that Mrs Lam should stop "juggling with semantics" and withdraw the Bill as refusal to do so invited suspicion and fuelled anger.

Former transport and housing secretary Anthony Cheung also said yesterday that Hong Kong is facing its most serious governance crisis since the handover and the government needs to "reflect on those (political system) defects in order to take Hong Kong forward".

Their comments came after hundreds of protesters, dressed in black and armed with face masks, first gathered at the government central offices in Admiralty yesterday morning before marching down the road to the police headquarters, to demonstrate their unhappiness with police behaviour during the protests.

They blocked Harcourt Road and the entrances to the police complex in Wan Chai along Arsenal Street and Gloucester Road.

The police said they had shown "the greatest tolerance to the protesters", but "their means of expressing views have become illegal, irrational and unreasonable". "Police will stringently follow up on these illegal activities."

Besides disrupting traffic, the protesters severely affected their work and emergency services to the public, said the police in a statement yesterday. Officers were unable to attend to 60 calls to its hotline because of the siege.

In addition, four male and nine female members of the staff, including a pregnant woman, needed medical attention but met with "considerable delay" in getting to hospital because of the blockade.

The number of protesters swelled later in the day to thousands. Chanting "Police, disgrace", they demanded Police Commissioner Stephen Lo meet them, to no avail.

 
 
 
 

They threw eggs at the building and at officers on a balcony, splashed oil on them, and covered closed-circuit television cameras with adhesive tape. Eventually they dispersed in the early morning.

Officers were seen yesterday morning cleaning up the debris and metal barricades that had been secured with cable ties to cut off access to the complex, where some 100 of the staff were trapped. Others covered up graffiti on the walls.

The police said they had shown "the greatest tolerance to the protesters", but "their means of expressing views have become illegal, irrational and unreasonable".

"Police will stringently follow up on these illegal activities," the statement said without giving details.

Protesters had called for the escalation on Friday, after the government failed to meet their demands by a given deadline.

They are demanding that the now-suspended extradition Bill be completely withdrawn, police behaviour on June 12 be looked into by an independent commission, the labelling of the protest as a "riot" be retracted, and the unconditional release of those arrested during the protest.

The divisive Bill, mooted in February, would allow fugitives to be sent to jurisdictions Hong Kong does not have agreements with, including mainland China. Many opposed the Bill, saying people could be targeted without receiving a fair trial or human rights protection.

Tensions peaked on June 12 when the Bill was to be tabled for a second reading, with protesters surrounding the government complex to prevent lawmakers from getting inside.

Violent clashes saw protesters throwing bricks and metal poles at police officers, who retaliated with rubber bullets and tear gas, leaving more than 80 people injured. The police arrested 32 but eight were later released unconditionally.

Mrs Lam, who has publicly apologised twice for her handling of the situation, had said that the proposed changes, initiated by her and not Beijing, were in line with international norms meant to prevent the city from becoming a haven for fugitives.

She had pointed out that the proposed amendments were watered down twice and that the government, after listening to public feedback, had put in place additional safeguards.

Still, many did not accept these explanations and took to the streets to show their anger.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 23, 2019, with the headline 'Tensions ease as HK protesters clear out after 16-hour stand-off'. Print Edition | Subscribe