HONG KONG – Hong Kong police used tear gas to eject demonstrators who on Monday breached the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) amid mass protests against interference by Beijing on what was the 22nd anniversary of the transfer of the sovereignty of the city to China by the United Kingdom.
Hundreds of protesters stormed the Council and proceeded to occupy it for several hours.
Police announced a sweep of the building prompting demonstrators to start abandoning the parliament.
“The LegCo Building was violently attacked and forced to enter illegally. The police severely condemned the violent attack. The police will conduct sweeping in a short period of time and will take reasonable force. The police also appeal unrelated protesters to leave the vicinity,” Hong Kong police said in a statement.
The police launched the raid at midnight local time (1400 GMT) using teargas to dissipate the protest.
Earlier in the day around 10,000 pro-democracy protesters surrounded the complex and some smashed in the windows with steel bars they had removed from the exterior of the building, Efe witnessed.
After four hours of battering reinforced glass and metal security gates, groups of protesters, many wearing black clothes, gas masks and hard hats, managed to storm the building itself cheered on by the crowds gathered in Tamar Park, where the LegCo and the local government headquarters are located.
Footage streamed live from the scene on social media showed protesters inside the main parliamentary chamber, where some individuals daubed messages on the walls and on lawmakers’ seats using spray paint.
One protester covered the Regional Emblem of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China with black paint. The symbol, which sits above the LegCo president’s chair, has been used since the transfer of sovereignty on July 1, 1997.
Many of those straying from the official march organized by the Civil Human Rights Front to instead go to the LegCo wore gas masks – police have on numerous occasions used tear gas in a bid to disperse crowds.
CHRF in a statement said it had been unable to come to an agreement with police about the protests at LegCo and urged protests to take precautions.
“We hereby urge protesters to not possible legal implications. And please always take care of your own safety,” it said.
The protest had originally been scheduled to head down to Admiralty, the area where the local government and parliament are seated, but was changed after negotiations between city authorities and CHRF coordinator Jimmy Sham.
The protesters are demanding the complete withdrawal of a contentious extradition bill, the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, and the release of all those detained in clashes with the police last month.
Critics of the extradition bill say the measure would allow China to target dissidents and human rights activists in Hong Kong.
At the main march, demonstrators were mostly dressed in black and holding banners reading “No China extradition. Carrie Lam resignation” or “Hong Kong stand up” as well as others condemning police violence during past protests.
Lam presided over the brief official ceremony, making it her first appearance since her public apology on June 18 for the crisis unleashed following the contentious extradition bill, which now remains suspended but not scrapped.
Once Lam began her six-minute speech, pro-democracy legislator Helena Wong began rebuking her and asking her to resign, leading security guards to remove her from the site.
Referring to the mass protests against the extradition bill, Lam said in her speech that “after this incident, I will learn the lesson and ensure that the government’s future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community.”
“The first and most basic step to take is to change the government’s style of governance to make it more open and accommodating. We also need to reform the way we listen to public views,” she said.
“I am also fully aware that while we have good intentions, we still need to be open and accommodating. While the government has to ensure administrative efficiency, it still needs to listen patiently,” Lam added.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of citizens clashed with the local police, forcing the event commemorating the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China to be held for the first time inside the Convention and Exhibition Center instead of the Wan Chai promenade, where it was scheduled to be held.
The government said the change in venue was due to bad weather.
As people watched the ceremony through a live broadcast from inside the HKCEC, police refused access to the protesters and allegedly used force to prevent them from entering the compound.
A short distance away, in the central Admiralty area, nearly 1,000 protesters, wearing raincoats and yellow helmets, blocked a large avenue. Police dispersed them using batons and tear gas.