A tense calm descended on Hong Kong early on Tuesday, hours after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had stormed the legislature in chaotic scenes to protest against an extradition bill in a direct challenge to Beijing.
Debris including umbrellas, hard hats and water bottles were the few signs left of the mayhem that had engulfed parts of the Chinese-ruled city overnight after protesters stormed and ransacked the legislature.
Police cleared roads near the heart of the financial centre, paving the way for business to return to normal following extraordinary violence on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 return to Chinese rule.
However, the former British colony’s government offices, where protesters smashed computers and spray-painted “anti-extradition” and slurs against the police and government on chamber walls, were closed on Tuesday.
The government’s executive council meeting was due to be held in Government House, officials said.
PROTESTORS STORM HONG KONG LEGISLATURE
Hundreds of protesters swarmed into Hong Kong’s legislature Monday night, defacing portraits of lawmakers and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans in the chamber before vacating it as riot police cleared surrounding streets with tear gas and then moved inside.
Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 1, 2019
The three-hour occupation, which ended early Tuesday, came on the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China, a city holiday.
Demonstrators stood on lawmakers’ desks and painted over the territory’s emblem on a wall. The crowd also wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city’s leader and denouncing the extradition legislation. Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform.
Police then announced that they would soon move in. A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that “appropriate force” would be used. Officers approached shortly after midnight and entered the legislative chambers after protesters had already left. There was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.
HKFP toured the legislature during its brief occupation by protesters, shortly before police deployed tear gas outside and demonstrators vacated. In full: https://t.co/kmLJLFCnSX pic.twitter.com/fXzvkzDK8f
Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) July 1, 2019
Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks. Organizers estimated the number at 550,000.
WHY PEOPLE ARE PROTESTING
Millions of people have taken to the streets in the past few weeks to protest against the now-suspended extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
Lawyers and rights groups say China’s justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention. China has been angered by Western criticism of the bill.
Do You Hear the People Sing? Video from CHRF of tonight’s anti-extradition bill protest in central Hong Kong. pic.twitter.com/oEaqBnxusB
Timothy McLaughlin (@TMclaughlin3) June 26, 2019
The bill triggered a backlash against Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, taking in the business, diplomatic and legal communities that fear corrosion of the legal autonomy of Hong Kong and the difficulty of guaranteeing a fair trial in China.
Lam, Hong Kong’s self-styled Iron Lady, has created a fresh crisis for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is already grappling with a trade war with Washington, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.
CARRIE LAM CONDEMNS PROTEST
Lam, who has come under withering criticism for trying to push the legislation through, called a rare pre-dawn news conference with security officials at police headquarters. She noted that two different protests happened Monday – one a generally orderly march that reflected Hong Kong’s inclusiveness, the other using vandalism and violence.
“This is something we should seriously condemn,” she said.
Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 2, 2019
She disputed protesters’ complaints that officials had not responded to them, saying the government explained that by suspending the bill with no timetable or plan to revisit it, the legislation would die at the end of the current legislative session in July 2020.
For the other demands, she said releasing arrested protesters without an investigation would not uphold the rule of law.
CHINA’S TIGHTENING GRIP
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.
However, many fear Beijing’s tightening grip over the city.
Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march towards mainland control.
The self-ruled island of Taiwan, which is overwhelmingly opposed to a “one country, two systems” formula for itself, has voiced support for Hong Kong.
“On the 22nd anniversary of #HongKong’s handover, citizens are seething with anger & frustration,” Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu said on his Twitter account late on Monday.
“It’s clear the CCP regime’s ‘one country, two systems’ is nothing but a lie. I urge the global community to support the people’s struggle for freedom & fully democratic elections,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Mainland China’s entirely state-controlled media made no mention of Monday’s protests. The main evening news broadcast carried video of the flag-raising ceremony, along with parts of Lam’s address and shots of Hong Kong residents praising displays put on by the People’s Liberation Army garrison in the territory.
Chinese media outlets have barely reported on the protests since they began last month, other than to blame foreign forces for stirring up unrest.
However, a state newspaper in China called for “zero tolerance” after the violence in Hong Kong overnight.
“Out of blind arrogance and rage, protesters showed a complete disregard for law and order,” the Global Times, published by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Tuesday.
Lam suspended the extradition bill on June 15 in a dramatic climbdown, saying she had heard the people “loud and clear”, but stopped short of meeting the protesters’ demands to scrap it and for her to step down.
Beijing-backed Lam called a news conference at 4 am (1.30 am IST) to condemn what were some of the most violent protests to rock the city in decades.
She is now clinging to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Xi since he came to power in 2012.
The extradition bill, which would have covered Hong Kong’s seven million residents as well as foreign and Chinese nationals, was seen by many as a threat to the city’s much-cherished rule of law.
EXTRADITION BILL SPURS MOVEMENT FOR DEMOCRACY
The extradition bill controversy has given fresh momentum to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition movement, awakening broader concerns that China is chipping away at the rights guaranteed to Hong Kong for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” framework. The two marches in June drew more than a million people, according to organizer estimates.
WATCH: @CBSNews was inside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. See what we saw here. We followed angry protestors who stormed the building. We were told police were coming to take it back. HK’s pan-Democrat’s have called on the city’s leader Carrie Lam to resign. #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/FTnJsLno1T
Ramy Inocencio (@RamyInocencio) July 1, 2019
“We know that Carrie Lam can be so arrogant,” Jimmy Sham, a pro-democracy activist said, rallying the crowd under a blazing sun before the start of the march at Victoria Park. “She is protected by our flawed system.”
(Inputs from Associated Press and Reuters)
Source – India Today