HK grapples with aftermath

Chaotic situation: Protesters leaving the main chamber of the government headquarters in Hong Kong after they stormed into the building on the 22nd anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China. — AFP

Hong Kong: Hong Kong grappled with the aftermath of a night of unprecedented anti-government protests which saw parliament ransacked, as Beijing called for a criminal probe into the unparalleled challenge to its authority.

The semi-autonomous financial hub has been thrown into crisis by weeks of demonstrations over a Bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland, with the issue becoming a lightning rod for resentment towards Beijing.

On Monday – the 22nd anniversary of the city’s handover to China –anger spilt over as groups of mostly young, hardline protesters, breached the legislative council.

They hung the city’s colonial-era flag in the debating chamber, scrawled messages such as “Hong Kong is not China” on walls, and defaced the city’s seal with spray-paint.

Police charged into the building shortly after midnight to retake control.

The events pose an unprecedented challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and yesterday, Beijing wasted no time in asking Hong Kong to investigate the “criminal responsibility of violent offenders” for “serious illegal actions”.

It also slammed Donald Trump for interfering in the city’s affairs, after the US president said that protesters are “looking for democracy” but “some governments don’t want democracy” – an apparent swipe at Beijing.

Hong Kong has been rocked by massive protests over the past three weeks. The rallies – including a huge pro-democracy march on Monday – have been largely peaceful while calling on the city’s Beijing-appointed chief executive Carrie Lam to resign.

But they have failed to win concessions, with Lam refusing to permanently shelve the extradition law or step down, and by Monday some hardline protesters appeared to have reached breaking point, and stormed the legislature.

Lam – whose approval ratings are at a record low – condemned “the extreme use of violence”, describing the vandalism as “heartbreaking and shocking”.

The legislature was closed yesterday, as police collected evidence from the debris-strewn building, while workers swept surrounding areas littered with shattered glass, broken umbrellas and hard hats.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu, who was stopped from entering his office, said police told him the building was “a crime scene”.

Legislative council president Andrew Leung, whose portrait was among those defaced by protesters, said major meetings were now cancelled until October.

“Our security systems, our fire services, our lifts... need to be tested before we can resume any meetings”, the pro-Beijing politician said. — AFP

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