Protesters smashed into Hong Kong's legislature building ahead of a pro-democracy rally that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands. Tensions are running high over a controversial bill to allow extraditions to China.
Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong's legislature on Monday, in demonstrations coinciding with the anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.
Clutching umbrellas, a group of black-clad demonstrators used a metal cart to break through the glass doors of the Legislative Council building. Police responded by firing pepper spray and beating some people with batons, but were unable to keep all of them outside the building.
At the same time, tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists marched through downtown Hong Kong against what they said were the city's eroding freedoms. They also demanded the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city's embattled pro-Chinese leader.
The anniversary protests come in the wake of huge demonstrations that drew more than a million people to the streets against a bill that sought to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
Clashes with police
Monday's pro-democracy march started in the afternoon at Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island and is set to end at government offices near the heart of the financial center.
The anniversary is considered a public holiday, so financial markets and most businesses are closed.
Earlier on Monday morning, small groups of masked protesters, most of them young, took control of three of the cities main streets, deploying metal and plastic barriers to block the way. Clashes with riot police were reported in the Admiralty and Wanchai districts of the city.
At least 31 protesters and police had been admitted to hospital by the early afternoon, a government spokeswoman said.
Lam makes public appearance
The morning disturbances occurred shortly before a government flag-raising ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover.
The event was officiated by Carrie Lam, who had not been seen in public in more than 10 days. She gave a speech that struck a conciliatory tone.
"What happened in recent months has caused conflicts and disputes between the government and residents," Lam said.
"It has made me fully understand that as a politician, I need to be aware and accurately grasp the feelings of the people," she said.
The July 1 anniversary has been marred by deepening dissatisfaction among many residents about what many see as increasing meddling by China in Hong Kong and the erosion of freedoms.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China under the "one country, two systems" rule. The formula allows for freedom of protest and lets the autonomous region have an independent judiciary, neither of which is accepted in China.
rs, jcg/aw (AFP, Reuters, AP)