Hong Kong police clear protesters occupying legislature after day of unprecedented violence and chaos
- Unparalleled assault on Legislative Council ends without bloodshed
- City’s leader Carrie Lam to hold press conference at 4am along with her No 2, Matthew Cheung, the security minister and police chief
A government in retreat, protesters out in force on the streets and violent clashes between police and radical activists who stormed the legislature and took over the chamber for the first time in history – Hong Kong was a city under siege on Monday as it marked the 22nd anniversary of its return to Chinese rule.
The day was marred by an assault on the Legislative Council building in Admiralty, unprecedented in size and intensity, as hundreds of protesters demanding the complete withdrawal of the government’s now-suspended extradition bill attacked the glass front with makeshift battering rams.
Police stood by inside the building throughout the day, fully equipped with riot gear, while the crowd went on the rampage outside, and were nowhere to be seen when the protesters finally forced their way inside at night and vandalised the chamber.
It was after midnight when hundreds of riot police left their headquarters in Wan Chai to swoop into action and converge upon the legislature from multiple directions.
By that time, the last of the diehard protesters remaining in the chamber had left the building to join hundreds waiting outside in the public demonstration area, from where they regrouped on Harcourt Road, Tim Mei Avenue and Lung Wui Road around the complex.
Police advanced, clearing roadblocks and responding with tear gas as retreating protesters threw bricks, eggs and umbrellas at them.
By 1am, it was all but over and police had taken back the entire area around the legislature, after driving off scattered pockets of protesters.
In a statement issued at 2.30am, the government said the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would hold a press conference at 4am at police headquarters. She would be joined by her No 2, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu and Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung.
“Today, some protesters confronted police from morning until night. They charged police cordon lines and disrupted public order, causing a serious impact on public safety,” the government said in a statement earlier condemning the protesters’ action.
“Some radical protesters stormed the Legislative Council Complex with extreme violence. These protesters seriously jeopardised the safety of police officers and members of the public. Such violent acts are unacceptable to society.”
Earlier in the morning, while riot police battled hundreds of protesters near the venue with batons and pepper spray, the government, in an unprecedented retreat, moved its main celebration indoors at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, from where attending dignitaries watched a live broadcast of the flag-raising ceremony outside at Golden Bauhinia Square.
The city’s embattled leader broke with tradition to talk about self-reflection over her mishandling of the bill – which continues to trigger mass protests – rather than the usual tribute to Hong Kong’s development in the national context.
The violence, perpetrated by mostly masked youths wearing helmets, was on a scale that stunned the city.
Thirteen police officers were taken to hospital after they were splashed with an unidentified liquid, believed to be drain cleaner, during clashes around the city’s legislative and administrative centre.
Injured officers experienced difficulty in breathing and complained of itchy and swollen skin, while the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau launched an investigation into what police said was an extremely serious offence.
As hundreds of thousands marched peacefully on the streets in the afternoon under the broader umbrella of the annual July 1 mass rally, when Hongkongers traditionally come out in force to air their grievances against the government, the more radical faction besieging the Legco building continued their assault for hours with virtually no authorities to challenge them.
They used a cage trolley and metal poles to repeatedly ram the glass front, swearing at and manhandling a handful of opposition lawmakers who had supported their protests so far but were trying to stop the violence.
Their appeals for calm were ignored, and pan-democrat legislator Leung Yiu-chung, 66, was physically tackled and flung to the ground as he tried to stand between them and the building front.
The protesters smashed open the glass door at a side entrance and were pepper-sprayed through the breach by officers inside, who had to put on heavy-duty masks at one stage as an unknown powder flung at them set off acrid fumes. It was later identified as lime.
Others dismantled the metal fencing separating the public demonstration area outside Legco from the road, stripping away and carrying off the long poles that stood as barriers.
The utter chaos prompted the Legco Secretariat to issue a red alert for the first time, evacuating the building of all non-essential staff.
At 9pm, hundreds of protesters swarmed into the legislature, vandalising the premises and tearing down portraits of the city’s political leaders.
They broke into the main chamber, spraying slogans on the walls, covering Hong Kong’s official emblem with black paint and draping a British colonial flag over the Legco president’s podium.
“These extremely radical and violent elements seriously undermined social order and peace,” 42 pro-establishment lawmakers said earlier in a joint statement.
“They did this deliberately, disrupted public order and challenged the rule of law. It is not what they call acts to show they love and cherish Hong Kong.”
However, in an emergency joint statement, opposition lawmakers and the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised the mass rally, slammed the chief executive for rejecting the demands of the protesters which had “pushed youngsters towards desperation”.
They also revealed Lam had turned down their request for a dialogue to seek solutions in ending the political crisis on Monday.
“We cannot be angrier at her rejection of the request, which proves her ‘willingness to listen’ to be the ugliest political lie,” they said.
“Lam’s arrogance revealed by her public responses since June 9 have only poured fuel on the flames, and led to the crisis today. Lam is the culprit.”
The rampage at Legco also prompted police to request the front to consider postponing the main march altogether, ending it at Southorn Playground in Wan Chai, or changing it to a gathering at Victoria Park instead.
The front dismissed all three options, but decided to finish the march at Chater Road in Central rather than take it to government headquarters as originally planned.
Police, meanwhile, were busy searching vehicles well into the early hours of Tuesday. At about 2am, near Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Swimming Pool in Sai Ying Pun, about 60 uniformed and plain-clothes officers intercepted and searched at least eight cars and goods vans.
Some of the vehicles carried bottled water and safety helmets. A van was unloaded and it contents placed on the ground. Lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, who was monitoring police action at the site, said one driver was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon.
Reporting by Tony Cheung, Jeffie Lam, Phila Siu, Su Xinqi, Alvin Lum, Sum Lok-kei, Peace Chiu, Victor Ting, Shirley Zhao, Rachel Cheung, Kanis Leung and Karen Zhang