HONG KONG – Protesters on Monday stormed Hong Kong’s legislative building, smashing the building’s glass walls, dismantling fences and gates, and vandalizing the inner chamber.
The demonstrators tore down portraits of legislative leaders and spray-painted pro-democracy slogans on the walls of the main chamber. They also raised a sign that read: “There are no violent rioters, only a violent regime.”
On this, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China, hundreds of thousands tried to keep the protest peaceful, marching through the streets in an echo of two previous marches against an extradition bill that many feel reflects Beijing’s growing control over Hong Kong.
But some protesters had other ideas.
Agnes, Shing and their son Alex stared at a television screen in disbelief as protesters charged the legislative building.
The family had come to Causeway Bay to join a third peaceful march against the extradition bill. They were standing at an electronics shop next to the road among growing crowds before the march began. But its planned ending point seemed to already be in chaos.
“A lot of Hong Kong people are very peaceful. They don’t want to see this kind of violence,” said Agnes, 45, who declined to give their family’s last name for privacy reasons. “We feel very heartbroken to see these teenagers.”
July 1 is Establishment Day in Hong Kong, an official holiday meant for celebrating the region’s handover in 1997 from British to Chinese rule. But it’s also a protest day for civil society and pro-democracy groups, with particular momentum this year from growing public anger against the extradition bill.
Hong Kong’s government has suspended the bill, but protesters are demanding total withdrawal to ensure it isn’t reintroduced. Many also want an independent investigation of both police and protester violence over the last few weeks, and for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to take responsibility for ongoing unrest, or to step down altogether.
Monday’s protesters split into two groups: Hundreds of thousands marched peacefully and the others besieged and then stormed into the legislative building, using metal bars and trolleys to smash its glass walls, pushing aside legislators attempting to de-escalate the situation. They also dismantled a fence around the building and raised a black version of the Hong Kong flag, featuring a bloodied, withering flower at its center.
“If we burn, you burn with us,” read a red banner hung over one side of the legislative building.
Lam held a news conference at 4 a.m. Tuesday condemning the “extreme use of violence and vandalism by protesters who stormed into the legislative council building” while affirming the march as reflective of Hong Kong’s “core values” of peace and order.
“Nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Lam said, adding that the government had responded to anti-extradition bill protests by suspending the bill.
Protesters’ other demands – such as releasing arrested protesters without an investigation – would violate the rule of law, Lam said.
Police Chief Stephen Lo defended the police as having been under siege for nearly eight hours without responding to the protesters.
Secretary for Security John Lee read out potential charges for the arrested protesters including breaking and entering and possession of weapons.
The Civil Human Rights Front and pan-democratic legislators released a joint statement saying legislators had requested to meet with Lam on Monday, only to be rejected.
“We cannot be angrier at her rejection to the request, which proves her ‘willingness to listen’ to be the ugliest political lie. Lam’s arrogance revealed by her public responses since June 9 have only poured fuel to the flame, and lead to the crisis today. Lam is the culprit,” the statement read.
Just after 10 p.m., Hong Kong police announced on Facebook that they were planning to clear the legislative building and would use “appropriate force in the event of obstruction and resistance.”