Chief Executive Carrie Lam has condemned Monday evening’s occupation of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council by protesters as an “extreme use of violence.” A group of anti-government demonstrators smashed their way into the legislature after the annual mass pro-democracy march.
“We have seen two entirely different scenes… The march was peaceful and generally orderly,” she said at a 4am press conference on Tuesday. “The second scene… is the extreme use of violence.”
“I am extremely angered and saddened, and must strongly condemn these actions.” She added that the government would pursue the offenders seriously.
Anti-extradition bill protesters had stormed LegCo’s rear entrance and briefly occupied its main chamber after an hours-long standoff with police over the course of Monday. Masked protesters vandalised its interior, spray-painted anti-government graffiti on the walls and unfurled a colonial flag in the main chamber.
They departed before midnight, when riot police deployed tear gas to clear the surrounding roads.
Meanwhile, the end point of the annual July 1 pro-democracy march from Victoria Park was redirected to Central’s Chater Road. Organisers said 550,000 people attended, though police put the figure at 190,000.
Lam’s press conference was held at short notice at Wanchai’s police headquarters, alongside Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, Secretary for Security John Lee, and police chief Stephen Lo. Prior to Tuesday morning, she had not made any appearances before the press since June 18.
Earlier on Monday evening, pro-democracy legislators had criticised Lam in a statement for her refusal to meet with them to resolve the events at the legislature.
Lam dismissed the criticism at her press conference: “With this level of violence… I’m sure the public will understand that going to the scene for dialogue is of no help.”
Meanwhile, police chief Lo said that protesters initially occupied LegCo without resistance from police owing to a “temporary retreat” so officers could regroup and later take back the complex. He attributed the decision to the indoor environment, the strategies allegedly used by the protesters, and the presence of some 30,000 July 1 marchers in the vicinity.
“Due to the environment… we were unable to use some of the force that we would use on open ground,” he said.
He added that protesters turned off the lights at LegCo by interfering with the power supply, and threw items into the building that emitted white smoke. He said this meant that any use of force by the police would have risked a stampede.
“We confirmed that there were no staff inside LegCo before we retreated,” he said, adding that police had defended the complex from 1pm to 9pm.
Secretary for Security John Lee said that protesters may be charged with offences such as forcible entry and possession of offensive weapon, as well as violations of the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance.
HKFP toured the legislature during its brief occupation by protesters, shortly before police deployed tear gas outside and demonstrators vacated.
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— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) July 1, 2019
Monday’s events followed weeks of protests against the extradition bill, which would allow the chief executive to approve fugitive transfer requests with little judicial oversight to jurisdictions where there are no such agreements – most notably, mainland China.
The bill was suspended on June 15, but not axed. Meanwhile, the protests have morphed into a wider public display of discontent over alleged police brutality against protesters, among calls for democracy and for Lam to resign.
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