Protesters took over the territory's legislative chamber on Monday, smashing reinforced glass and spray painting graffiti onto the walls. Their anger is directed at what many see as China's tightening grip on the region.
Dozens of masked protesters stormed into the main debating chamber after breaching the complex's reinforced glass windows, shouting slogans and spraying the city's coat of arms with black paint. Some protesters smashed pictures and fixed a British colonial-era flag to the main podium.
The protests emerged from anger over an extradition bill introduced by the Chinese government in the former British colony and have spiraled out of control.
A banner inside the chamber read "There are no rioters, only a tyrannous government," according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
The government called for the "extreme violence" to stop immediately, saying it had stopped all work on amendments to the extradition bill. Police said they would clear the area of what they called a "mob," the Hong Kong Free Press said. A government statement said that "the protesters seriously jeopardized the safety of police officers and the general public" and that "such violent acts are unacceptable to society."
Protesters wearing hard hats, masks, with some wrapping their arms in cling film to protect against the possible use of tear gas had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge at the compound's reinforced glass doors until they gave way. Police use tear gas to disperse the protesters, eventually clearing the chamber and the area outside parliament.
The Legislative Council Secretariat said parliament would be closed on Tuesday due to the security situation.
The EU issued a statement urging protesters to "exercise restraint" and "engage in dialogue and consultation." It said the people who stormed the Legislative Council on Monday were not "representative of the vast majority of demonstrators," which it said had been "peaceful."
Demos across the city
There were also demonstrations elsewhere in the city, which coincided with the anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997. Around 190,000 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. Protests and marches are held every year for the anniversary, but this time, they follow on from three weeks of furious protesting at what is perceived as Beijing's tightening grip on the former British colony.
Although Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule, it is still administered separately under the "one country, two systems" arrangement.
In a tweet, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt assured Hong Kong of Britain's "unwavering" support, condemning the violence while at the same time insisting that "HK people MUST preserve right to peaceful protest..."
The extradition bill that sparked the latest protests more than three weeks ago proposes a mechanism that would allow Hong Kongers,as well as foreign nationals to be sent to mainland China for trial there. Critics fear it would erode Hong Kong's rule of law, as Chinese courts are not seen as independent.
ng/rc (AFP, Reuters)