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Hong Kong protest: Riot police fire tear gas on crowd hours after group breaches parliament

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from UK to Chinese rule.

Updated Jul 1st 2019, 5:24 PM

HK Anniversary Day in Hong Kong, China - 01 Jul 2019 Police in riot gear seen earlier today in Hong Kong. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

TV IMAGES HAVE shown Hong Kong police firing tear gas at protesters outside the region’s parliament.

Police had earlier said protesters who had seized the building would face “appropriate force” if they did not disperse. 

Just after midnight local time, riot police began to fire tear gas towards a large group of protestors who have been gathering outside the Legislature, attempting to move them from the site.

Footage from the scene shows the officers holding up signs warning that tear gas would be used, before they launched the canisters at the crowd. The majority of protestors seen in the footage are wearing face masks, with some wearing gas masks. 

Breach of the Legislature

Hong Kong Protests The protester's banner reads No thug, only tyranny. Source: AP/PA Images

Anti-government protesters had earlier reached the inside of the parliament’s main debating chamber, daubing its walls with graffiti and fixing a British colonial-era flag to the main podium.

Dozens of masked protesters stormed into the chambers after successfully breaching the complex’s reinforced glass windows, shouting slogans and spraying the city’s coat of arms with black paint.

A black and white banner hoisted in the chamber read in Chinese: “Bow to protect rule of law. Oppose extradition.”

The protesters had earlier smashed windows at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and forced their way inside by ramming a metal cart through the glass doors, with police responding with pepper spray.

Riot police were also seen inside the building, which has been at the centre of protests in the past three weeks, driven by demands for the withdrawal of a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong’s government slammed protesters for storming the city’s parliament, accusing demonstrators of deploying “extreme violence”.

“Radical protesters stormed the Legislative Council Complex with extreme violence,” the statement read.

The European Union urged anti-government protesters in Hong Kong to use restraint and avoid escalation.

“It is all the more important to exercise restraint, avoiding escalatory responses, and to engage in dialogue and consultation to find a way forward,” the EU’s diplomatic arm said.

Tensions rose once more in the city this morning after small groups of mainly young, masked protesters seized three key thoroughfares, deploying metal and plastic barriers to block the way.

Riot police with helmets and shields faced off against protesters in the Admiralty and Wanchai districts of the city.

Shortly before a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover, police swooped on protesters who had blockaded one street. At least one woman was seen bleeding from a head wound after the clashes as police made multiple arrests.

Some protesters hurled eggs at police, who later said 13 officers were also sent to hospital after being doused in an “unknown liquid”.

The rallies reflect growing fears that China is stamping down on the city’s freedoms and culture with the help of the finance hub’s pro-Beijing leaders.

Benny, a 20-year-old student who gave only one name, said protesters had been prodded into action by the obduracy of the city’s pro-Beijing appointed leadership.  

“This isn’t what we want, the government forced us to express (our views) this way,” he said. 

One country, two systems

Although Hong Kong was 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 liberties unseen on the autocratic mainland, but many residents fear Beijing is already reneging on that deal.

Pro-democracy activists have organised a march every handover anniversary, calling for greater democratic freedoms — such as the right to elect the city’s leader.

They have mustered large crowds in recent years – including a two-month occupation in 2014 – but have failed to win any concessions from Beijing.

This year’s rally is framed by the unprecedented anti-government protests of the past three weeks that have drawn millions, with the public angry over police using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear crowds.

The spark for the current wave of protests was an attempt by chief executive Carrie Lam to pass the Beijing-backed extradition law, which she has now postponed following the public backlash.

The demonstrations have since morphed into a wider movement against Lam’s administration and Beijing. 

Lam – who has kept out of the public eye since her climbdown and has record low approval ratings – attended a flag-raising ceremony early today, marking the moment the city returned to Chinese ownership 22 years ago. 

But she and other dignitaries observed from inside due to “inclement weather” – the first time in the ceremony’s history.

Her speech stuck to the conciliatory tone she has used in recent weeks.

“What happened in recent months has caused conflicts and disputes between the government and residents,” Lam said. “It has made me fully understand that as a politician, I need to be aware and accurately grasp the feelings of the people.”

She then raised a champagne toast alongside cabinet officials and two of her predecessors.

© – AFP 2019

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