Hong Kong, 1 July 2019 (dpa/MIA) – After the occupation of the Hong Kong parliament by demonstrators, police confirmed late on Monday that they had cleared the building.
Officers armed with shields, truncheons, and rubber bullets searched the premises and the parliament building, although Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post reported that the occupiers had already left the building by that point.
Police also began to drive protesters from surrounding streets using pepper spray.
A group of demonstrators had previously stormed the city’s parliament, the Legislative Council. Hundreds occupied the building in the evening after destroying the glass front and parts of a fence.
Hong Kong protesters broke into the city’s legislature late Monday as part of a massive anti-government protest after hours of battering doors and glass panels with metal poles and other items.
Wearing hard hats, goggles and face masks, protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from police pepper spray as well as to disguise their identity from security cameras as they poured into the building.
Protesters tore down portraits of Hong Kong government officials and broke security cameras while others roamed the hallways accompanied by media camera crews.
Hundreds made their way into the main legislative chamber, where slogans and banners were raised protesting the government and its “tyrannical” actions which include a controversial legislative bill that would have allowed for the extradition of criminals to China.
Anger at the bill has united Hong Kong in a way not seen since 2014’s democracy protests as many fear the bill would mean a loss of civil rights.
Elsewhere on Monday night, a parallel protest came to a close as 550,000 Hong Kongers joined a march organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, the group said in a statement, with thousands of remaining participants gathering in major roads near the legislature.
A government spokeswoman said 43 protesters and police had been admitted to hospital by the evening.
The violent scenes marked the end of a tumultuous day for Hong Kong, that began in violent clashes with police ahead of an early morning flag-raising ceremony to mark the city’s 22nd anniversary of reunification with China.
“I was so scared,” protester Michelle Ng told dpa of her experience near the back of the flag-raising protest line, where protesters were hit with batons and pepper spray. “You heard ‘boom, boom’ and you never know what is happening, and that was really scary.”
Ng was decked out in goggles with plastic wrap on her arms and a towel on her neck to protect her from pepper spray and tear gas.
Protesters like Ng fear China’s legal system but also believe the extradition bill encroaches on the former British colony’s autonomy from China, promised until 2047.
“What’s quite surprising is the day has come so early. We can foresee that we will change in Hong Kong but … it is too early to make Hong Kong into China,” Ng said.
The scenes have become almost regular in Hong Kong, which has been roiled by protests for much of the past month. In response to earlier protests held this month, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the extradition bill.
She also issued two public apologies, but this has failed to assuage protesters, who want her to step down and order an independent enquiry into police brutality at previous protests.
Many protesters also turned out to demonstrate against a heavy-handed police response to a June 12 demonstration, which included pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets.
The recent wave of protests have been largely leaderless, in contrast to a 2014 pro-democracy movement which had with clearly identified figureheads like students Joshua Wong and Nathan Law.
“Five years ago we had maybe a [leader] who decided what to do – we had guidance somehow, but this time we don’t have any guidance,” protester Sheryl Hong told dpa.
“Everyone does their own job and has their own mindset which is very different than in previous years,” she added.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the protesters are “brave people,” risking further anger from Beijing.
Hunt, one of two candidates to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May, tweeted that Britain’s “support for Hong Kong and its freedoms is UNWAVERING on this anniversary day.”
“No violence is acceptable but HK people MUST preserve right to peaceful protest exercised within the law, as hundreds of thousands of brave people showed today,” he wrote.