Hong Kong police clear protesters from legislature building
Hong Kong has been hit by weeks of protests over a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial.
Hundreds of protesters swarmed into Hong Kong’s legislature, defacing portraits of legislators and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans in the chamber before vacating it as riot police cleared surrounding streets with tear gas and then moved inside.
The three-hour occupation came on the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China, a city holiday, and reflected mounting frustration with Hong Kong’s leader for not responding to protesters’ demands after several weeks of demonstrations.
The protests were sparked by a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China for trial.
Protesters shattered thick windows and pried open steel security gates. Police initially retreated as the protesters entered, avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building.
Demonstrators stood on desks and painted over the territory’s emblem on a wall. The crowd also wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city’s leader and denouncing the extradition legislation.
Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform.
Police then announced they would soon move in. A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that “appropriate force” would be used.
Officers approached shortly after midnight and entered the legislative chambers after protesters had already left. There was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.
The actions prompted organisers of a separate peaceful march against the extradition bill to change the endpoint of their protest from the legislature to a nearby park, after police asked them to call it off or change the route.
Police wanted the march to end earlier in the Wan Chai district, but organisers said that would leave out many people who planned to join the march along the way.
Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks. Organisers estimated the number at 550,000.
The extradition proposal has heightened fears of eroding freedoms in the territory, which Britain returned to China on July 1 1997.
Debate on the measure has been suspended indefinitely. Protesters want the bills formally withdrawn and Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, to resign.
Ms Lam, who has come under withering criticism for trying to push the legislation through, called a rare pre-dawn news conference with security officials at police headquarters.
She noted that two entirely different protests happened on Monday — one a generally orderly march that reflected Hong Kong’s inclusiveness, the other using vandalism and violence.
“This is something we should seriously condemn,” she said.
On Monday, in an address after a flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the handover, Ms Lam said the protests had taught her that she needs to listen better to young people and others.
She insisted her government has good intentions and pledged that future work would be “closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community”.
Security guards pushed pro-democracy legislator Helena Wong out of the room as she shouted at Ms Lam to resign and withdraw the “evil” legislation.
She later told reporters she was voicing the grievances and opinions of the protesters, who could not get into the event.