Hong Kong: Protesters breach government building on handover anniversary

By BBC News,

Protesters have forced their way into Hong Kong’s legislature, after besieging the building for hours.

Dozens of demonstrators broke through the glass of the Legislative Council (LegCo) building, while a large crowd observed the unrest from outside.

Hundreds crowded the building’s lobby, spray-painting messages on the walls and waving to the crowd outside from upstairs windows.

The unrest is a breakaway part of a peaceful protest involving thousands.

Earlier, police held signs warning they would use force if protesters charged the glass exterior walls. They later warned that anyone who breached an internal metal gate would be arrested.

But on each occasion, they decided not to move against the crowd – which was armed with plastic helmets, makeshift cardboard shields and umbrellas – apparently falling back instead.

Police had, however, used pepper spray and batons to contain crowds during earlier clashes.

Pro-democracy demonstrators had taken to the streets on the anniversary of the city’s handover from UK to Chinese rule.

This is the latest in a series of protests against a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

The government has agreed to suspend it indefinitely, but rallies continue amid calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been part of China since 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it a level of autonomy. Pro-democracy events are held every year to mark the handover.

The LegCo building was put on red alert for the first ever time on Monday – meaning people should evacuate the building and area.

But by 21:00 (13:00 GMT), the watching crowd had grown rather than dispersed, and hundreds of protesters streamed through the broken glass into the building proper.

What happened on Monday?
In the morning, a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover took place inside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, amid a heavy police presence.

Demonstrators blocked several roads nearby early using items like metal and plastic barriers.

Police officers equipped with shields, batons and pepper spray clashed with hundreds of protesters about 30 minutes before the ceremony.

At least one woman was seen bleeding from a head wound after the clashes, AFP news agency says.

A police statement condemned “illegal acts” by protesters who, it said, had taken iron poles and guard rails from nearby building sites.

Thirteen police officers were taken to hospital after protesters threw an “unknown liquid” at them, police said. Some are reported to have suffered breathing difficulties as a result.

Thousands joined a mostly peaceful pro-democracy march on Monday afternoon.

At about lunchtime, a breakaway group of protesters moved to LegCo where the government meets. The small group began ramming the glass doors with a metal trolley, succeeding in smashing in the door, before largely dispersing.

On Monday evening, some then returned to LegCo and began pulling off external fencing and entered the building.

Protesters were than contained by a heavy-duty internal gate, where police were standing ready to respond. But after they eventually prised the gate open, police fell back further inside the building.

One man, identifying himself as G, told the BBC at the scene that protesters were expecting violence.

“The movement is now beyond the bill. It’s about the autonomy of Hong Kong,” he said.

“I do worry about the potential public backlash. Everything we do has a risk and this is one of the risks that people here are willing to take.”

The government condemned what it labelled “extremely violent” acts, adding police would “take appropriate enforcement action to protect public order and safety”.

Speaking at the earlier flag ceremony, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam had pledged to spend more time listening to the public so that the government’s future work would be “more responsive” to its “aspirations, sentiments and opinions”.

It was Ms Lam’s first public appearance since 18 June, when she issued an apology for her handling of the extradition law.

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