Hong Kong protesters clash with police on anniversary of Chinese rule

Hong Kong protesters clash with police on anniversary of Chinese rule

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HONG KONG — Dressed in black and shielding themselves with umbrellas, protesters on Monday smashed the glass walls of Hong Kong’s legislative building and stormed inside.

Meanwhile, a much larger group of thousands of demonstrators marched through the city to mark the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule.

The annual procession is usually a general demand for democracy and human rights. But this year’s carries much sharper resonance, coming after around a month of mass protests against a proposed law that would allow suspected criminals to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China.

Critics worry that it would represent another step away from the rights and freedoms the city was supposed to retain after leaving U.K. rule in 1997, and toward China’s political and legal system, which rights groups say is rife with abuses.

It’s this law that sparked the clashes Monday. Clad in masks and hard hats, and wearing black, a group of demonstrators tried to advance down closed streets toward a venue where a flag-raising ceremony was taking place marking Hong Kong’s handover.

They attempted to use a large metal cart and other objects to smash the glass walls of the city’s Legislative Council building.

Shielded by dozens of others wielding umbrellas — which became a symbol for Hong Kong protests in 2014 — they later ripped down at least one of these panes and dozens flooded inside. Elsewhere, protesters tore off the metal bars of a gate leading into the building.

The secretariat of the Legislative Council, more commonly known as LegCo, issued a “red alert” for all staff inside to evacuate immediately.

Police attempted to push back the demonstrators using riot shields and pepper spray.

Monday’s scuffles between protesters and police happened ahead of a far larger annual demonstration that commemorates the July 1 anniversary each year. It caps more than a month of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong, the largest of which saw some 2 million of the city’s 7 million residents flood the streets.

A protester rests against a road divider outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong.Vivek Prakash / AFP – Getty Images

“All these protests and gatherings, I’ve participated in all of it,” said one student, Lindsey, 21, who declined to give their last name for fear of prosecution by authorities. Like many Hong Kongers, she fears her rights risk being curbed by the central government in Beijing.

“It’s tiring, but this is the only thing we can do,” she said. “If we don’t come out, we never know if we will have the chance again in the future.”

The demonstrations this past month were sparked by the Hong Kong government trying to rush through legislation that would allow suspected criminals to be extradited from the city to mainland China.

Officials said this was necessary to stop Hong Kong becoming a haven for fugitives. But the protesters worried it risked them being subjected to China’s legal system, which rights groups say is rife with abuses.

In the end, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive and leader, apologized and said the bill was indefinitely suspended. However, many demonstrators are unsatisfied, calling for the proposed law to be scraped altogether, and for Lam to resign.

Veta Chan reported from Hong Kong, and Alexander Smith reported from London.

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