Asia

Hong Kong police warn protesters to clear Parliament or expect ‘appropriate force’

HONG KONG (AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong police gave an ultimatum to protesters who seized the city’s Parliament late on Monday (July 1), warning that they would soon move to clear the building and would use “appropriate force”.

Hundreds of protesters had stormed the legislature on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 British handover to China, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti in a direct challenge to China as anger over an extradition Bill spiralled out of control.

About a thousand gathered around the Legislative Council building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district, some carrying road signs, while others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding. Inside the building, some sat at legislators’ desks, and others scrawled “anti-extradition” on the chamber walls.

“In a short time police will go to the LegCo area to clear it. If met with obstruction or resistance, police will use appropriate force,” a police spokesman said in a video posted on the force’s Facebook page. 

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

The government called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition Bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year. 

“Some radical protesters stormed the Legislative Council Complex with extreme violence,” a government spokesman said in a statement. “These protesters seriously jeopardised the safety of police officers and members of the public. Such violent acts are unacceptable to society.”

In response, protest organiser Civil Human Rights Front urged Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to respond to five demands: withdraw the extradition Bill, investigate the police’s use of rubber bullets on protesters at a June 12 rally, retract all references to that day’s protest as a “riot”, release those arrested, and step down.

Tensions had hit a flashpoint on June 12, the day when the highly contentious extradition Bill was to be read a second time, as tens of thousands of protesters dressed in black surrounded the government headquarters in Admiralty, paralysing traffic in the area and cutting off access to the Legislative Council.

But as the evening wore on, protesters – some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas – appeared to retreat. 

Earlier in the day, a small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave. 

The council, the mini-Parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately. 

The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement cancelling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security consideration”, while all guided tours to the Legislative Council complex were suspended until further notice.

Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.

Banners hanging over flyovers at the protest site read:“Free Hong Kong.”

Lam had suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades, but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it. 

The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. 

“The kind of deafness that I see in the government this time around despite these protests is really worrying. The complete disregard for the will of the people is what alarms me,” said Steve, a British lawyer who has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years. “If this Bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong.” 

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