In a move that will only further infuriate the hundreds of thousands of angry local protestors, Hong Kong’s defiant chief executive Carrie Lam condemned protesters who occupied and ransacked the city’s legislative chamber on Monday in an escalation of demonstrations against the China-appointed government, prompting police to fire tear gas to clear the area.
Speaking to reporters at 4 am local time (4 pm ET) on Tuesday, Lam criticized the "use of extreme violence and vandalism by protesters who stormed into the Legislative Council building. This is something that we should seriously condemn because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong", she said according to Bloomberg.
"This is something that we should seriously condemn" - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam hopes "society will return to normal as soon as possible" following day of violent protests at Hong Kong's parliament https://t.co/0dMGEUDXMn pic.twitter.com/iTLCETVIC0— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) July 1, 2019
Demonstrators flooded into the Legislative Council after riot police retreated just before 9 p.m. local time on Monday. Protesters - many of whom were wearing yellow hard hats (in contrast to the French yellow jackets), face masks and black shirts - moved into the building, pulling down portraits, spray-painting slogans and draping a Union Jack-emblazoned colonial flag across the legislative president’s desk.
The protest disbursed after midnight, when riot police fired tear gas to scatter the thousands of protesters that camped outside the legislative chamber, along with a host of journalists. Within the hour, television images showed police removing gas masks, dismantling makeshift roadblocks and reclaiming the legislature after protesters vacated.
The date of today's protests was not a coincidence: as Bloomberg notes, the defacement of the only democratically elected legislature under Beijing control came on the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule.
Ironically, after an annual flag-raising ceremony that also marked the start of her third year in office, Lam promised to win back the public’s trust by governing in a more inclusive way, which at first blush contrasts with her condemnation of an activity that saw the participation of a substantial portion of the city's population.
Defiant throughout, in her morning news conference, Lam denied that her government hasn’t responded to the people’s demands, pointing to a mid-June announcement that the extradition bill would be suspended. But some protesters have vowed to fight until she withdraws the bill completely and resigns.
“This is simply very unfortunate situation that we cannot find a way to make the government respond,” Fernando Cheung, vice chairman of the pro-democracy Labour Party, told reporters while protesters wrecked the chambers. He described the police’s decision to withdraw as a trap to discredit the opposition, saying “this is exactly what the government wants."
Separately, Lam declined a request for an emergency meeting with pro-democracy legislators, according to the Civil Human Rights Front and democratic lawmakers. The chief executive asked lawmakers to help persuade protesters to leave the legislature, RTHK reported, citing Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan.
Meanwhile, apart from the protesters who stormed the legislature, thousands of people on Monday marched peacefully in the afternoon from centrally located Victoria Park through the city’s financial core in opposition to Lam’s administration.
Pauline Wong, 49, marched from the park with her husband. Like thousands of others, they were undeterred by events at the legislature. “It is obvious there are two streams of protesters,” she said before the protesters breached the chamber. “One is trying to put things in action, but we will remain peaceful.”
“It’s a long-term thing,” Felix Tam, 40, who works in sales, said Monday after joining the peaceful march with his wife and 6-year-old son. “If we give in today, the government will not listen to Hong Kong people in the future.”
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Update (1205ET): A line of police vehicles with lights flashing moved toward the legislature as midnight approached.
SCMP reports that hundreds of police officers move in from different directions, from Arsenal Street, Queensway, and Fenwick Pier Street.
Protesters start throwing eggs, bricks and umbrellas as they clash with police. Police raise a black flag and announce they will fire tear gas.
The tear gas soon followed.
Everyone has now left the Legco chamber but Reuters reports that police and protesters are in running street battles near the heart of the financial district.
In a statement, the European Union said those who had forced their way into the legislature weren’t representative of the majority of demonstrators and urged restraint.
“In the wake of these latest incidents, it is all the more important to exercise restraint, avoiding escalatory responses, and to engage in dialogue and consultation to find a way forward,” the body said.
Protesters have made clear how they feel...
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Update (1150ET): Protesters have entirely taken over Hong Kong's Legislature building.
Pro-democracy legislators demand an urgent meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam in order to resolve the standoff, Civic Party Leader Alvin Yeung tells reporters.
“This is the right moment for her to take actions, to have an urgent meeting with the democrats immediately in order to solve this political crisis, in order to avoid any bloodshed,” Yeung says
Lam has declined to meet.
Perhaps most notably, someone has pinned the old British colonial Hong Kong flag to the Legislature's podium.
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Update (0920ET): The situation in Hong Kong is rapidly escalating as SCMP reports that protesters have stormed into the Legislative Council, after hours of besieging the building, smashing glass doors and removing metal bars in a day of violence marking the 22nd anniversary of the city’s return to China.
Police officers stationed at the side entrance have retreated.
Their actions were in stark contrast to peaceful rally of hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers dressed mostly in black who took part in the annual July 1 march, starting out from Victoria Park.
The big question is how long will authorities allow this to happen before the military is brought in to make a bad situation considerably worse?
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Just when local (Chinese-beholden) authorities thought it was safe to continue their totalitarian shift to the motherland, the citizens of Hong Kong are rising up once again.
Reuters reports that Hong Kong protesters stormed the Legislative Council on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to Chinese rule on Monday amid widespread anger over planned laws that would allow extraditions to China, plunging the city deeper into chaos.
“In the past few years, people have been getting more active, because they found the peaceful way is not working,” said a 24-year-old protester surnamed Chen.
A small group, mostly students wearing hard hats and masks, used a metal trolley, poles and pieces of scaffolding to hack through reinforced glass and charge at the government compound near the heart of the financial center.
Riot police in helmets and carrying batons fired pepper spray in response in a standoff that was lasting into the sweltering heat of the evening.
Tens of thousands marched in temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F) from Victoria Park in an annual rally that organizers hoped would get a boost from the anger over the extradition bill.
A tired-looking Lam appeared in public for the first time in nearly two weeks, flanked by her husband and former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.
“The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” she said.
“This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiment accurately.”
In a statement, a government spokesman has criticised demonstrators for storming "the Legislative Council with extremely violent methods, and destroying the glass door of the Legislative Council with offensive weapons such as an iron cart and iron poles”.
The statement said:
“The government strongly condemns it and expresses deep regret.
“Hong Kong is a society of the rule of law, and violence has never been accepted by society. Demonstrators who use violence must stop immediately, and the police will take appropriate law enforcement actions to ensure social order and public safety.”
More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger.