Hong Kong police clear protesters from legislature building

Hong Kong police clear protesters from legislature building

Latest: Hundreds of protesters swarmed into the Hong Kong legislature’s main building, tearing down portraits and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans in the main chamber as frustration over a lack of response to opposition demands boiled over.

Police carrying riot shields and firing tear gas moved in shortly after midnight to clear surrounding streets and then moved into the already vacated legislative chamber.

A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that “appropriate force” would be used in the clearance operation, but there was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.

Protesters in the legislative  chamber (Kin Cheung/AP)
Protesters in the legislative chamber (Kin Cheung/AP)

The sharp escalation in tactics came on the 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 protesters had smashed windows and pried open steel security gates to gain entrance to the building.

Police in riot gear retreated as the protesters entered, avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building.

The activists stood on legislators’ desks in the main legislative chamber, painted over the territory’s emblem high on a wall and wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city’s leader and denouncing now-suspended extradition legislation that sparked the protests.

A protester walks by a defaced Hong Kong emblem  (Vincent Yu/AP)
A protester walks by a defaced Hong Kong emblem (Vincent Yu/AP)

Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform.

The actions prompted organisers of a peaceful march against the extradition bill to change the end point 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.

Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks. Organisers estimated the number at 550,000.

Protesters in the meeting hall of the Legislative Council  (Kin Cheung/AP)
Protesters in the meeting hall of the Legislative Council (Kin Cheung/AP)

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.

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.

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, 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, she said the protests and two earlier marches that attracted hundreds of thousands of participants have taught her that she needs to listen better to youth and people in general.

- Press Association

Hong Kong police clear protesters from legislature building

Protesters take over Hong Kong legislature’s chamber on anniversary of handover

Update 6.10pm: Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong swarmed into the legislature’s main building, tearing down portraits of legislative leaders and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans on the walls of the main chamber as frustration over a lack of response from the administration to opposition demands boiled over.

Police carrying riot shields and firing tear gas moved in shortly after midnight to clear surrounding streets but appeared to have paused outside the legislative building.

A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that “appropriate force” would be used in the clearance operation, but there was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.

The flashing blue and red lights of dozens of police vans and buses lit up the abandoned streets leading to the legislature.

The sharp escalation in tactics came on the 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 protesters whacked away at thick glass windows until they shattered and broke and pried open steel security gates and propped them open with barricades to get inside.

Police in riot gear retreated as the protesters entered about 9pm, avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building.

They stood on politicians’ desks in the main legislative chamber, painted over the territory’s emblem high up on a wooden wall and wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city’s leader and denouncing now-suspended extradition legislation that sparked the protests.

Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform.

Police announced about 10.30pm that they would clear the area, asking protesters to leave.

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 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.

Protesters discuss at the legislative chamber after breaking in (Vincent Yu/AP)
Protesters discuss at the legislative chamber after breaking in (Vincent Yu/AP)

Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks.

Organisers estimated the number at 550,000.

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.

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, pledged to be more responsive to public sentiment but has not responded directly to protesters’ demands.

A defaced Hong Kong emblem (Kin Cheung/AP)
A defaced Hong Kong emblem (Kin Cheung/AP)

In an address after a flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the handover, Ms Lam said the protests and two earlier 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.

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 politician 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.

Mainland China’s entirely state-controlled media made no mention of Monday’s protests.

The main evening news broadcast carried video of the flag-raising ceremony, along with parts of Ms Lam’s address and shots of Hong Kong residents praising displays put on by the People’s Liberation Army garrison in the territory.

Chinese media outlets have barely reported on the protests since they began last month, other than to blame foreign forces for stirring up unrest.

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.

A protester with protective gear gathers with others outside the legislative council (Vincent Yu/AP)
A protester with protective gear gathers with others outside the legislative council (Vincent Yu/AP)

Jimmy Sham, a leader of the pro-democracy group that organised Monday’s 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,” Ms 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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

“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.

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

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.”

- Press Association

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