Police used force early Tuesday to clear thousands of protesters in and around Hong Kong’s legislative building after some broke in and occupied it Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the semiautonomous city’s return to Chinese rule.
Mostly young protesters on Monday smashed their way through metal barricades and glass doors surrounding the Legislative Council building. As they wrote graffiti on walls, tore down portraits of pro-Beijing officials and emptied rooms of chairs and desks, they pushed weeks of tensions and mass demonstrations here to a new level.
More than 500,000 demonstrators marched peacefully across the city Monday and forced major thoroughfares to shut down.
The scenes of defiance were the latest indication that anger here, sparked by plans to allow extraditions to China but now incorporating broader concerns about Hong Kong’s autonomy and Beijing’s influence, will not be easily quelled.
Later Monday night, police said the building had been “violently attacked” and “illegally entered.” In a tweet, they warned that they would conduct a sweep with “reasonable force” and urged people to leave the area.
But after weeks of spiraling tensions in the territory, Monday’s protests took on a different flavor. In the face of an increasingly assertive Beijing, protesters viewed the occasion as their final chance for a massive stand against a government they believe is not working in their interests.
“We are exhausted,” said a 22-year-old protester who did not want to give his name for fear of retribution from authorities. “But today’s march is special. We think it will be the last one that people will come out [to] on a large scale. We have to show our disappointment and anger.”
An hour into the planned afternoon march, police sent out a warning, discouraging people from joining the procession.
More than 80 people were injured in a clash between police and protesters in mid-June, drawing the ire of many in Hong Kong who turned up at a large rally days later to denounce what they consider police brutality against students.
Police appeared initially restrained on Monday by contrast.
In mainland China, there was no mention of Monday’s protests on social media. State media played up news of Sunday’s pro-police rally and highlighted official celebrations of the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return.
On several prior occasions, protesters surrounded and blocked off the police headquarters, threw eggs at the building and spray-painted surveillance cameras.
Lam, speaking Monday, said Hong Kong is “backed by the motherland and open to the world” and has benefited from the “one country, two systems” framework.
“I and the [Hong Kong] government will double our efforts to restore people’s confidence and get Hong Kong off to a new start,” she added.
The 22-year-old protester, however, scoffed at Lam’s comments, dismissing her as a pawn of Beijing.