Hong Kong police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters
HONG KONG: Riot police dressed in black fired tear gas and protesters with cane charges in Hong Kong early Tuesday to disperse the protesters who broke into parliament in a day of unprecedented political violence and chaos as the territory marked its transfer from China.
The financial center has been shaken by three weeks of record demonstrations against a highly unpopular bill that would allow extradition to the Chinese mainland.
Late on Monday, young and masked demonstrators wearing helmets managed to enter the legislature after clashes with riot police, which put an end to two weeks of relative calm.
They sacked the building, covered its walls with anti-government graffiti and provoked a police warning of an impending crackdown.
Just after midnight, officers moved from several directions, scattering protesters with tear gas and baton charges, sending plumes of smoke drifting into the heart of the financial center as protesters fled scattered, leaving umbrellas open in the streets of the city.
Earlier in the day, large crowds of peaceful democracy activists organized a march, asking the city's pro-Beijing leader to renounce and reverse what they see as years of progressive freedoms.
But the atmosphere deteriorated as Monday progressed and an unconditional group of protesters stormed the parliament after hours of siege.
Once inside, they demolished the portraits of the city leaders, raised a British colonial era flag in the main chamber and sprayed the crest of the city with black paint.
There are no violent protesters, only tyranny, said a banner that was on the podium.
Hong Kong is not China, read another.
Many protesters said they felt compelled to take action because the city's pro-Beijing leaders had ignored public sentiment after marches against the hated extradition law.
We've marched, organized sitting ... but the government has not moved, Joey, a 26-year-old protester, told AFP as he walked on broken glass inside the building.
We have to show the government that we will not sit here and do nothing.
A protester surnamed Cheung, 24, added: We know that this is breaking the law, but we have no other choice.
The last three weeks of demonstrations are the most acute expression of fears about the Chinese influence in the territory in decades.
The protesters accuse Beijing of ending the freedoms and culture of the city with the help of unelected leaders of the financial center.
But the increasingly harsh tactics of some protesters have alienated some, with a large concentration in support of the police that will take place on Sunday.
Although Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as one country, two systems.
The city enjoys rights and freedoms that are not seen in the autocratic territory, but many residents fear that Beijing is already breaching that agreement.
The activists have organized a march on each anniversary of delivery, calling for greater democratic freedoms, such as the right to elect the city's leader.
They have gathered large crowds in recent years, including a two-month occupation in parts of the city center in 2014, but they have not secured any concessions from Beijing.
This year's demonstration is framed by unprecedented anti-government protests that have attracted millions, with the public angry about the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by the police.
The spark of the current wave of protests was an attempt by chief executive Carrie Lam to pass the extradition law backed by Beijing, which he has now postponed following public reaction.
But she has resisted calls to set aside the law or permanently resign.
As a result, the demonstrations have transformed into a broader movement against his administration and Beijing.
Lam, who stayed out of the public eye since his ascent and has a low approval rating, attended a flag-raising ceremony early Monday, marking the time the city returned to Chinese property 22 years ago.
His speech remained in the conciliatory tone that has been used in recent weeks and says he acknowledged that the conflict had erupted.
It has made me understand that, as a politician, I must be aware of and accurately understand people's feelings.
Police said 13 officers were sent to the hospital early Monday after an unknown liquid took them out of the protesters, while the government issued a statement condemning protesters for using extreme violence.
But activists have vowed to maintain their campaign of civil disobedience.
Whatever happens, we will not be discouraged, added Jason Chan, a 22-year-old accountant. Resistance is not a matter of a day or a week, it is long term.