Organisers have said 550,000 attended the annual July 1 democracy march, as protesters storm Hong Kong’s legislature after breaking into its rear entrance.

The largely peaceful march on Monday was organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of 50 pro-democracy groups, who said that over half a million people attended. Police put the turnout figure at 190,000.

July 1 2019 Monday democracy march
Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

The event saw thousands pour into major thoroughfares in central Hong Kong on the 22nd anniversary of the city’s 1997 Handover. Many attendees held up signs calling for democracy and the withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill, which was suspended on June 15 but not axed.

Other protest demands included for political prisoners to be released; for the characterisation of the June 12 anti-extradition protest as a “riot” to be retracted; for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign, and for the police to be investigated for apparent misconduct after using crowd control weapons.

The government said in a statement on Monday evening that it respects the public’s right to peaceful freedom of assembly: “The government clearly understands that members of the public have concerns and doubts about the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and has put a stop to the legislative amendment exercise. The bill will lapse after the current term of the Legislative Council ends in July next year,” a spokesperson added.

However, a separate demonstration at the rear of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Complex escalated as masked protesters broke into the facility after upturning metal gates, spray-painting its interior and defacing portraits of current and former LegCo presidents. Police appeared to retreat to areas deeper within the building as protesters entered.

July 1 2019 Monday democracy march
Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

The complex was evacuated at around 6pm after a red alert was issued for the first time in history.

The government condemned the unrest as “extremely violent,” saying it has never tolerated such actions: “Protesters who resort to violence must stop their acts immediately. The police will take appropriate enforcement action to protect public order and safety,” a spokesperson said.

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