Riot Police Fire Tear Gas to Clear Protesters in Hong Kong

Natalie Lung, Kari Lindberg and Fion Li
Riot Police Fire Tear Gas to Clear Protesters in Hong Kong

(Bloomberg) -- Riot police fired tear gas at protesters who flooded Hong Kong’s legislative building Monday evening after smashing their way through entrances in a dramatic escalation of efforts to force the government to withdraw controversial extradition legislation.

Demonstrators entered the Legislative Council after riot police ended an hours-long standoff and retreated, and most fled by the early hours of Tuesday morning. The protest, marring an otherwise peaceful march, came as embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam pledged to be more inclusive in a bid to quiet unrest.

Here are the latest developments (all times local):

Most Protesters Flee (1:10 a.m.)

Most protesters had fled the tear gas fired by riot police advancing on the legislature. Journalists filmed and shot photos inside the building’s chamber as police surveyed the premises. Outside, officers marched on Harcourt Road, a main thoroughfare through Hong Kong’s financial hub that was blocked for hours amid a tense standoff with the demonstrators.

Tear Gas (12:12 a.m.)

Scores of riot police carrying shields fired rounds of tear gas as they moved in on protesters outside the legislature, the smoke billowing in the air as people fled, shouting. Pro-democracy lawmaker Jeremy Tam told police no protesters were left inside the building.

Police Move In (11:40 p.m.)

A line of police vehicles with lights flashing moved toward the legislature as midnight approached. In a statement, the European Union said those who had forced their way into the legislature weren’t representative of the majority of demonstrators and urged restraint. “In the wake of these latest incidents, 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 body said.

One anonymous, mask-clad protester also said police should show restraint, saying some of the crowd inside the building was planning to leave before midnight.

One pro-Beijing lawmaker took the protesters inside the Legislative Council to task. “This is not a protest, this is vandalism,” Alan Hoo, vice-chairman of the Liberal Party, said on CNN.

Democratic Party Speaks (10:15 p.m.)

The opposition Democratic Party urged Lam to meet with the crowds who had entered the legislature, “to have a dialogue with the protesters at the scene as soon as possible, to resolve a crisis that could lead to serious injuries and even death.”

Fernando Cheung, vice chairman of the Labour Party and a member of the Legislative Council, said the breaking and entering would play into the government’s past categorization of the protesters as rioters. “You see the anger, the desperation these young people are experiencing. That’s why they want to take anything they think is radical enough, escalating enough to make the government respond,” he told journalists in the chamber. “This is really unfortunate... this is exactly what the government wants.”

Separately, police said 190,000 people had taken part in the day’s peaceful march, significantly lower than the 550,000 estimated earlier by protest organizer the Civil Human Rights Front. Organizers have typically given higher turnout numbers than the police over a month of protests.

Protesters Enter Chamber (9:40 p.m.)

Demonstrators in hard hats yelled and chanted as they finally entered and then poured into the building’s legislative chamber. One protester sprayed dark paint over the bauhinia -- the emblem of post-colonial Hong Kong -- hanging at the front of the chamber, as people shouted their approval. One person also attempted to cover it with the flag that flew over Hong Kong during the final decades of British rule. One protester tore up a copy of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Smashing Legislature Presidents’ Photos (9:30 p.m.)

Protesters vandalized parts of the building after entering, trying to break into the chamber where lawmakers usually gather. They ripped down and smashed portraits of Legislative Council President Andrew Leung and former President Rita Fan, and dismantled closed-circuit cameras inside the building.

Crowding Inside (9:20 p.m.)

The protesters, clad mostly in black and some carrying makeshift shields and umbrellas -- which they’ve used in the past to protect against pepper spray fired by police -- explored the building now that they were inside, climbing stairs and chanting. They scrawled graffiti in the lobby in Chinese: “Release the righteous people,” a reference to people arrested after protests in June, whose release has become a major demand of the protesters.

Protesters Enter Legislature (9:00 p.m.)

Demonstrators wearing hard hats poured into the Legislative Council building, entering the building’s lobby through an entryway they had smashed earlier in the day.

Main Protest March Ongoing (8:20 p.m.)

The thousands-strong march was still ongoing in the evening, through the Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Admiralty areas in the heart of the city. Major roads were closed and packed with protesters holding up their phones to create a sea of light, and police maintained a minimal presence. A volunteer with the opposition pan-Democrats said the marchers could be expected to disperse peacefully at midnight, when the gathering’s police permit expired.

Government Condemns ‘Violent Acts’ (6:57 p.m.)

The Hong Kong government said in a statement it “strongly condemns and deeply regrets the extremely violent acts committed by some protesters” who breached entrances to the legislative complex Monday. “The police will take appropriate enforcement action to protect public order and safety,” the government said.

Red Security Alert (6:26 p.m.)

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council issued a red security alert, local Now TV reported, as protesters wearing hard hats crowded outside, some pulling metal slats off the building’s gate. “Yes, there is violence. But we’re forced to do so. Are we just going to lie down and let them beat us up?” said Kate Leung, 41, a high school English teacher who was peacefully marching with crowds in the adjacent Wan Chai area.

Protesters Breach Entrance Way (5:30 p.m.)

After a long standoff with police near one Legislative Council entrance, some protesters began probing other sides of the building, eventually breaking through the main public entrance way. Several people wearing helmets and protective vests, including numerous journalists, entered through the broken panels. Metal gates and riot police still stood between the protesters and the building’s interior.

Smaller Crowds (4:45 p.m.)

While neither organizers nor police had released crowd estimates as 4:45 p.m., the annual July 1 march marking Hong Kong’s return to China appeared smaller than the historic demonstrations seen at the height of the extradition bill uproar last month. There had been no reports of train stations backing up or crowds spilling out of designated protest routes, as happened last month when hundreds of thousands of people turned out. The annual Civil Human Rights Front event, which has drawn as many as 400,000 people in past years, will test whether activists can keep up the momentum.

Crowds Grow at Legislature (4:20 p.m.)

The crowds outside the Legislative Council swelled into the thousands marching from Victoria Park passed through the surrounding Admiralty area. Many participants broke off from the larger demonstration by upscale Pacific Place mall, making their way toward the legislature. On the main route, shouts of “Carrie Lam step down” and “Hong Kong people add oil” wafted throughout the long stream of marchers.

March Arrives Downtown (4:02 p.m.)

Thousands of protesters began arriving down after a slow march through Causeway Bay. As they walked, opposition Democratic Party gave out stickers calling for Lam to step down and some pro-democracy groups appealed to the crowds for donations they would use to campaign for the opposition in district council elections this fall. Some protesters carried babies and pushed the elderly in wheelchairs. Prominent activist Joshua Wong led chants: “Hongkongers add oil! Withdraw evil law! Carrie Lam step down!”

Pauline Wong, a 49-year-old NGO worker, marched with her husband. Like thousands of others, they were undeterred by events at the legislature. “It is obvious there are two streams of protesters,” she said. “One is trying to put things in action, but we will remain peaceful.”

Hong Kong police warned of a “serious” safety threat in Admiralty and Wan Chai and advised members of the public to exercise caution in deciding whether to join the march.

Patten Speaks (3:50 p.m.)

Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, told BBC Radio 4 that the violent approach being used by demonstrators at the Legislative Council was “ill-advised.”

“I think that’s very very unwise, it plays into the hands of the hardliners, and it’s possible that it will detract from another peaceful march this afternoon which is a serious expression of Hong Kong’s concerns,” he said. Still, he said the government may have lowered tensions by engaging critics: “If you never actually have a dialog with people, then inevitably it helps to legitimize those do things in a more violent way.”

Uneasy Standoff (3:20 p.m.)

Protesters hadn’t pushed forward into the legislature after smashing down a glass door with a loaded metal cart, as police in riot gear clustered just inside. A few kilometers away, Felix Tam, 40, who works in sales, joined crowds numbering in the tens of thousands in marching from Victoria Park with his wife and his 6-year-old son. He said clashes at the legislature and earlier in the day hadn’t deterred him from marching.

“It’s a long term thing. If we give in today, the government will not listen to Hong Kong people in the future. It’s not even 25 years and our Hong Kong is already a changed Hong Kong,” he said, referencing the length of Chinese control over the city.

Protesters Breach Door (3:05 p.m.)

Protesters outside the Legislative Council complex ceased charging after breaching a glass door leading into the building. Police in riot gear clustered inside holding a sign warning demonstrators stop charging or they would use force, with broadcaster Now TV reporting that some police had donned gas masks.

March Starts (2:55 p.m.)

A large march called by protest organizer the Civil Human Rights Front began, with protesters beginning their procession from centrally located Victoria Park toward the more violent demonstrations downtown. CHRF said its march would now end in the Central neighborhood, after the previous end point of Admiralty was deemed unsafe.

Ready to March (2:27 p.m.)

Hong Kong Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said the Admiralty area -- where previous demonstrations this month have concluded -- might not be safe enough to be the end point of this afternoon’s march. Hundreds of people waited on Victoria Park’s lawn, after getting the go-ahead from CHRF. Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong, alongside other opposition legislators, attempted to persuade protesters not to storm the Legislative Council, the South China Morning Post reported. The CHRF led crowds in chanting “We have the right to protest! We don’t need police permission!”

Protesters Ram Glass (2:19 p.m.)

Protesters tried to break into Hong Kong’s legislature, banging into its glass walls with a metal cart as police clustered inside, as a new round of demonstrations in the city center threatened to turn violent. The standoff came as thousands of people gathered in nearby Victoria Park for a larger planned march to be led by the Civil Human Rights Front -- the group that twice last month turned out historic crowds demanding Lam’s resignation.

Lam Promises Changes (8 a.m.)

Earlier in the morning, Lam made her first public appearance in more than a week, speaking at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return. “What happened in recent months has caused dilemmas and divides between the government and citizens,” Lam said. “It has made me understand that as a politician, I must remind myself I have to accurately get the pulse of the society. I have learned that even with good intentions, I have to be open and inclusive.”

Protesters, Police Clash (4 a.m.)

Riot police used pepper spray and batons to push back protesters who tried to disrupt the annual flag-wearing -- some wearing helmets and surgical masks to disguise their appearance -- at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Wan Chai.

--With assistance from Sophie Kamaruddin, Stuart Biggs and Dominic Lau.

To contact the reporters on this story: Natalie Lung in Hong Kong at flung6@bloomberg.net;Kari Lindberg in Hong Kong at klindberg13@bloomberg.net;Fion Li in Hong Kong at fli59@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Karen Leigh

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