Hong Kong extradition bill: City in shock as small group of protesters take over Legco on July 1 and police retreat

Protesters storm Legislative Council and trash the building as police leave the venue

Susan Ramsay |

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Protestor storm the Legislative Council Chamber in Tamar during a protest against the extradition bill on the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China.

Hong Kong yesterday was shocked and divided by the events of the night before. For hours, protesters had hammered at Legco; first, they smashed their way through glass, then they unscrewed metal slats and began to bang on the steel door to loosen it from its runners.

Behind that door, police had been waiting, just as long as the protesters had been clamouring to get into the building. Hours, in the stifling heat.

The protesters wedged the door open, then there was smoke, and the police stepped back. Then they were gone, and journalists were left staring at each other from either side of the divide.

Hong Kong extradition law: Legco to remain closed for two weeks due to damage from storming by Hong Kong protesters on July 1

Once protesters realised this, they began streaming into Legco, writing graffiti on the walls and carrying out other petty acts. Soon, they discovered the police were really not coming back and they had the building to themselves. So they forced their way into the heart of Hong Kong’s governance, the Legislative Council chamber.

Their anger had been fuelled by attempts over the past few weeks to get Chief Executive Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor to withdraw the contentious extradition bill. The new law would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to, among other places, the mainland, to face trial. Mass protests had seen hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers take to the streets and skirmishes with police on July 12 when police were accused of using excessive force.

The bill had been suspended, Lam had apologised, but it wasn’t good enough. The protesters tried to hang an old Hong Kong flag over the new shield, but when that failed, they spray painted over the symbol of new Hong Kong and hung the old flag from the podium.

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Then the police announced they would be returning to clear Legco. After demonstrators outside fled in the face of tear gas and large numbers of police, those inside were determined to stay. A tense stand-off ensued, while protesters debated the merits of staying or leaving. Most of them left, with a few deciding to remain.

Then, just before police arrived, some of the protesters ran into the building to bustle those who had decided to remain there.

Destruction as protesters storm the Legislative Council Chamber in Tamar during a protest against the extradition bill on the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China. 
Photo: Antony Dickson/SCMP

After inspecting the Legco building for about an hour yesterday morning, Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said it would be impossible for the council to hold any meetings in the building.

Leung also declined to comment on the police’s decision to leave the building on Monday evening, when protesters were trying to break in. “We left the decision of operations to police,” he said.

A furious Lam vowed to go after protesters who trashed the building.

A video released by police at 10.21pm showed the Chief Superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch Tse Chun-chung announcing that the building had been attacked and police would soon carry out a clearing operation. Netizens were quick to spot though, that in the video, Tse’s watch showed the time to be a few minutes past five in the morning.