Rival Hong Kong politicians scuffled yesterday over the leadership of a key committee which could pave the way for a debate on a controversial China national anthem bill.
In chaotic scenes, pro-democracy legislators charged at security guards surrounding pro-establishment politician Chan Kin-Por, who had taken the chairman's seat.
Guards hauled several legislators out of the chamber, some kicking and shouting. Some tried leaping over the guards from benchtops to take back the chairman's seat, only to be forced back.
The pro-democracy faction chanted "foul play" and held a placard reading: "CCP (Chinese Communist Party) tramples HK legislature."
"It's an illegal meeting. I hope you can leave immediately," opposition legislator Ted Hui shouted at Mr Chan.
But as the protests continued, Mr Chan called a vote, which ended with pro-Beijing member Starry Lee being elected as chairman.
"They can take away the rules of procedures today but I am sure the Hong Kong people won't forget today," said Democratic representative Dennis Kwok.
Eddie Chu, who was among those carried out, said: "If Hong Kong was a democracy, we would not need to start scuffles like this.
"Unfortunately we are forced into this situation. I can foresee more fights within the chamber and outside."
The house committee's role is to scrutinise bills before a second reading in the legislative council. It has built up a backlog after failing to elect a chairperson since last year.
That backlog includes a bill that would criminalise abuse of China's national anthem. It is expected to be given a second reading on May 27.
Protesters have been calling on social media for city-wide demonstrations on that day.
Social distancing for the pandemic has put a brake on protests since January, but demonstrations are expected to resume as the outbreak comes under control.
The arrest of 15 activists in April, including politicians, a publishing tycoon and senior barristers, thrust the protest movement back into the spotlight and drew condemnation across the world.
China's Hong Kong affairs office warned this month that the city would never be calm unless "black-clad violent protesters" were all removed, describing them as a "political virus" that seeks independence from Beijing.