HK protesters storm government building on handover anniversary

Hong Kong


Protesters in Hong Kong damaged and breached a part of the government's Legislative Council (LegCo) building on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from British to Chinese rule on Monday, shortly before tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators marched against "excessive interference" by Beijing.

In the morning, a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover took place inside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre instead of the Wan Chai promenade, where it was scheduled to be held, amid a heavy police presence. 

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

During the violence at the LegCo building, protesters smashed the facility's glass doors. Using a metal trolley and iron poles, demonstrators rammed the glass exterior of the building as the police in riot gear and shield stood inside watching, their rifles for rubber bullets ready, the South China Morning Post reported. 

Pepper spray was used on the crowds but undeterred, another group tried to smash another glass door on the other side. Police officers clashed with hundreds of protesters about 30 minutes before the flag-raising ceremony.

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, authorities said. Some are said to have suffered breathing difficulties as a result.

Meanwhile, thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets on the city's handover anniversary. The march began in the Victoria Park later than scheduled after the police urged the leaders of the protest not to come to the Parliament area following the violence earlier in the day.

The authorities negotiated with the coordinator of the Civil Human Rights Front, Jimmy Shan, and allowed protesters to come to Wan Chai but not to Admiralty, where the headquarters of both the government and the legislative council are located.

The protesters are demanding the complete withdrawal of the 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 in June.

Critics of the bill fear it could be used to target opponents of the government in Beijing, and to bring Hong Kong further under China's control.

The 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. 

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."

At the flag ceremony, Carrie Lam 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 Lam's first public appearance since June 18, when she issued a public apology for the crisis unleashed following the contentious extradition bill, which now remains suspended. 

On Sunday, thousands of pro-Beijing protesters rallied in support of the territory's police. The handover on this day in 1997 marked the end of British rule in Hong Kong. IANS