HONG KONG – Police firing tear gas have evicted protesters who stormed and ransacked the parliament in Hong Kong.
Activists had occupied the Legislative Council (LegCo) building for hours after breaking away from a protest on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty to China from Britain.
After midnight (16:00 GMT), hundreds of police secured the building following a warning to protesters to clear it.
It follows weeks of unrest in the city over a controversial extradition law.
Hundreds of thousands took part in the earlier peaceful protest – the latest rally against a proposed law that critics fear could be used to extradite political dissidents to mainland China.
Hong Kong’s embattled political leader Carrie Lam held a press conference at 04:00 local time (20:00 GMT) in which she condemned the “extreme use of violence” of those who broke into the legislature.
How did the day unfold?
Peaceful demonstrations had been planned for Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the handover of sovereignty.
A large-scale march, involving hundreds of thousands of people, took place in the city – while officials from the government raised glasses of champagne at a formal ceremony. The march passed off in a largely peaceful manner.
But at about lunchtime, dozens of demonstrators broke off and made their way to LegCo. They effectively besieged the building, as a large crowd of several hundred watched from a distance, before eventually smashing their way through the glass facade.
Police warned the crowd they would use force and make arrests, but fell back to an interior gate before vacating the building, rather than engage the crowd. Hundreds more flowed in once the police left.
Inside, they defaced the emblem of Hong Kong in the central chamber, raised the old British colonial flag, spray-painted messages across the walls, and shattered furniture.
Then at about midnight outside the building, protesters clad in plastic helmets and brandishing umbrellas retreated from a baton charge by riot police, who quickly overcame their makeshift barriers.
Inside, diehard protesters were pulled forcibly outside by their fellow occupants in an attempt to completely clear the building.
Democratic lawmakers Ted Hui and Roy Kwong stood in front of police asking them to allow demonstrators time to leave the area, the South China Morning Post reported.
Within an hour, the streets around the building were clear of everyone except the media and police. Officers then began searching the rooms of the LegCo building for any possible stragglers. No arrests have yet been reported.
Why didn’t protesters stay?
One pro-democracy legislator told the BBC that young protesters initially said they would stay all night.
“They’re saying that they would beat the police by sheer numbers, and that sounds very scary to me,” Claudia Mo said.
“I was a journalist and I did cover the Tiananmen bloodbath 30 years ago, and that’s exactly what those students said back then in the Chinese capital.”
Her colleague, legislator Fernando Cheung, had been inside with those occupying the building, and said he was glad they all left safely without encountering police.
“If they resisted… I’m afraid there would be bloodshed, or I think the police wouldn’t be hesitant to use force to disperse them,” he said.
He praised those who came back and grabbed those who refused to leave. “They came back and they dragged them out. And we’re actually glad that happened,” he said.
Why is there unrest?
Hong Kong enjoys a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it a level of autonomy. Pro-democracy events are held every year to mark the handover.
This year, however, the annual event follows weeks of protests which have seen millions take to the streets over the planned extradition bill.
The demonstrations forced the government to apologise and suspend the planned law.
However, many protesters said they would not back down until the bill had been completely scrapped.
However, there have also been smaller demonstrations by the territory’s pro-Beijing movement.
On Sunday, thousands of pro-Beijing protesters rallied in support of the Hong Kong police. -BBC