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Saturday 24 August 2019

Hong Kong protesters take over legislative chamber on handover anniversary

Damage was done to the building 22 years after the former British colony was returned to China.

Protesters put a Hong Kong colonial flag and deface the Hong Kong logo at the legislative chamber (Vincent Yu/AP)
Protesters put a Hong Kong colonial flag and deface the Hong Kong logo at the legislative chamber (Vincent Yu/AP)

By Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press

A group of protesters in Hong Kong has taken over the legislative chamber, spray painting slogans on the wall and over the territory’s emblem.

Some stood on the desks of politicians while others climbed up to leave their messages on the soaring wooden wall.

Police appear to have retreated to avoid a confrontation, giving the protesters the run of the building.

They smashed and tore down portraits of legislative leaders after prying open metal gates to gain access.

Police later announced they planned to clear the legislative building.

Police said in an announcement on Facebook that they would clear the area in a short period of time, and warned they would use appropriate force if they encounter resistance.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of others marched through the city to demand expanded democracy on the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China.

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Protesters deface the Hong Kong logo (Vincent Yu/AP)

The protesters say the Hong Kong government is not responding to their demands for a full withdrawal of contentious extradition legislation and the resignation of city leader Carrie Lam.

Frustration among protesters in Hong Kong earlier boiled over, with one group attacking the legislative building and tens of thousands of others marching through the city to demand expanded democracy on the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China.

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A protester with protective gear gathers with others outside the Legislative Council (Vincent Yu/AP)

Black-clad protesters wearing hard hats and face masks smashed a large hole through the bottom of a floor-to-ceiling window at the legislature in the early afternoon of Monday.

They repeatedly rammed a cargo cart and large poles into the glass while police with riot shields lined up inside to prevent anyone from entering.

Officers grabbed the cart after it became wedged in the broken glass and repelled the protesters with pepper spray.

Five hours later, protesters smashed more windows and dismantled a towering metal grate protecting a section of the building, which was ordered closed and workers sent home.

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Protesters take part in a rally in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

The actions prompted march organisers to change the endpoint of their protest from the legislature to a nearby park, after police asked them to either 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.

Hong Kong has been wracked by weeks of protests over a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial.

The proposed legislation, on which debate has been suspended indefinitely, increased fears of eroding freedoms in the territory, which Britain returned to China on July 1 1997.

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A protester pays tribute at a makeshift memorial for a man who fell to his death weeks ago after hanging a protest banner against an extradition bill in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

Protesters want the bills formally withdrawn and Ms Lam to resign.

Ms Lam, who has come under withering criticism for trying to push the legislation through, pledged to be more responsive to public sentiment but has not responded directly to protesters’ demands.

In an address after a flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the handover, Ms Lam said the protests and two marches that attracted hundreds of thousands of participants have taught her that she needs to listen better to youth and people in general.

“This has made me fully realise that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiments accurately,” she told the gathering in the city’s cavernous convention centre.

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Protesters hold placards (Kin Cheung/AP)

She insisted her government has good intentions, but said “I will learn the lesson and ensure that the government’s future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community.”

Security guards pushed pro-democracy lawmaker 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.

The extradition bill controversy has given fresh momentum to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition movement, awakening broader concerns that China is chipping away at the rights guaranteed to Hong Kong for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” framework.

The two marches in June drew more than a million people, according to organiser estimates.

Jimmy Sham, a leader of the pro-democracy group that organised the march, told the crowd that Ms Lam had not responded to their demands because she is not democratically elected.

The leader of Hong Kong is chosen by a committee dominated by pro-China elites.

“We know that Carrie Lam can be so arrogant,” Mr Sham said, rallying the crowd under a blazing sun before the start of the march at Victoria Park.

“She is protected by our flawed system.”

The protesters are also demanding an independent inquiry into police actions during a June 12 protest, when officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration that blocked the legislature on the day that debate on the bill had been scheduled to resume.

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A protester holds up a placard (Vincent Yu/AP)

The police say the use of force was justified, but since then have largely adopted softer tactics, even as protesters besieged police headquarters in recent days, pelting it with eggs and spray-painting slogans on its outer walls.

The area around Golden Bauhinia Square, where the flag-raising ceremony took place, was blocked off from Saturday to prevent protesters from gathering to disrupt it.

Before the morning ceremony, protesters trying to force their way to the square were driven back by officers with plastic shields and batons, the retreating protesters pointing open umbrellas to ward off pepper spray.

“We are horrified, this is our obligation to do this, we are protecting our home,” said Jack, a 26-year-old office worker who would only give his first name.

“I don’t know why the government is harming us.

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A beam of sunlight is cast on protesters as they march on a street (Dake Kang/Drone/AP)

“It’s harming the rule of law, the rule of law is the last firewall between us and the Chinese Communist Party.”

The extradition legislation has drawn opposition from the legal profession, commercial groups and foreign nations, reflecting Hong Kong’s status as an international business centre with a strong independent judiciary and high degree of transparency.

During a brief visit to Mongolia on Monday, US national security adviser John Bolton said Washington expects “China like every other country to adhere to its international obligations” regarding Hong Kong.

China rejects all such statements as foreign interference.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing that “Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs, and no foreign country has the right to intervene.”

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