Protesters broke into Hong Kong’s legislative building on the anniversary of the territory’s handover from the UK to China, in the latest sign of the simmering anger over the government’s handling of a controversial extradition bill.
Demonstrators smashed windows and one lawmaker was injured as riot police were gathered inside the legislature. The violence occurred as thousands of Hong Kongers marched peacefully nearby as part of the annual commemoration.
Earlier in the day, police fired pepper spray at demonstrators — some of whom were throwing bricks dug out of the pavement — at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of the handover.
Hong Kong has been hit by weeks of protests over a proposed extradition law that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to stand trial for the first time. Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive who championed the bill, suspended it almost two weeks ago after millions of demonstrators closed down major roads in the Asian financial centre in a series of rallies.
The protests have plunged Hong Kong’s government into its deepest political crisis since the handover, with much of the anger directed at Ms Lam. Some have called her response inadequate and demanded the complete withdrawal of the legislation as well as her resignation.
“The government did not respond to peaceful protests so maybe we need to change tactics,” said Tiger, 26, who advocated a more aggressive approach.
Ms Lam said in a conciliatory speech at the flag-raising ceremony — which was moved indoors at the last minute and for the first time had no public seating — that the government would be more open and receptive to how it engages with the public.
“The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” Ms Lam said, in her first public appearance since she apologised for her handling of the extradition law.
“This has made me fully realise that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiments accurately.”
The violent scenes at the legislature were in marked contrast to a peaceful rally that saw Hong Kongers march through nearby streets as part of the annual July 1 protest to demand full democratic reforms in a city where the chief executive is elected by 1,200 mostly pro-Beijing lawmakers.
Derek Yuen, a 50-year-old accountant who was at the rally with his wife, said he hoped the protests could bring small changes but said the overall situation was “depressing.”
“Things have changed in the past few years. We just hope to uphold the values we believe in,” Mr Yuen said, referring to the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong. He added he hoped more people would vote in upcoming local government elections so there would be greater representation to oppose the government.
The commemorative protests came a day after tens of thousands gathered at a park near the territory’s parliament in support of Hong Kong’s police, where one person was arrested after assaulting two journalists.
“Why have our young people become so bad? It’s really heartbreaking,” said Raymond Chan, a 60-year-old retired civil servant, at Sunday’s rally. “I have come out to represent the silent majority, support the police and the government and to restore calmness and justice so that Hong Kong will not be messed up by a small group of people.”
Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, released a statement on Sunday saying that the protests made it necessary to reaffirm the British government’s commitment to the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“It is a legally-binding treaty and remains as valid today as it did when it was signed and ratified over 30 years ago,” said Mr Hunt.