Thousands attended Kong’s annual July 1 democracy march on Monday, as a standoff unfolded outside the city’s legislature following early morning clashes between protesters and police.
Just before 3pm, crowds wearing black and white poured out of Victoria Park chanting “free Hong Kong” and “democracy now.”
Protesters called for the controversial extradition law to be scrapped, for political prisoners to be released and for democratic reform to be restarted. They also demanded the characterisation of the June 12 anti-extradition law protest as a “riot” be retracted, and for the police to be investigated for apparent misconduct after using crowd control weapons. They also chanted for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down.
Meanwhile, anti-extradition law demonstrators in Admiralty attempted to break into the legislature using trollies and metal bars.
Around a dozen protesters have entered the legislature through the broken door, but are barred from accessing other parts of the building by a metal gate
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From within the building, police wearing riot gear and gas masks unfurled a warning banner in response, saying force may be used to disperse them. Some were able to enter at the rear but metal shutters prevented them from entering any of the rooms.
Police urged the pro-democracy rally’s organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front, to either postpone their demonstration, end it in Wan Chai, or hold it only in Victoria Park.
“Police are disappointed that the organiser did not put people’s safety as top priority,” a spokesperson said at a press conference.
The pro-democracy coalition, however, said it was unable to reach a consensus with the police regarding the endpoint.
The organisers therefore rerouted protesters to Chater Road, Central. As the area was not an agreed part of the police “no objection” letter, the Front encouraged protesters to leave the rally early, if they wished.
The annual march has been held since 2003 and calls for democratic freedoms to be preserved under the One Country Two Systems principle, implemented after the city’s 1997 Handover to China.
The rally came as hundreds of masked protesters blocked roads around the Legislative Council using makeshift barricades.
Several were injured after clashes broke out on Monday morning, as pepper spray and batons were used by police to keep crowds away from the Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day ceremonies in Wan Chai.
Police said that 13 officers had been sent to hospital for treatment after an unknown substance was thrown over them.
In an evening press release, the government “strongly condemned” protesters who charged the legislative building using trolleys and metal bars, calling the actions “extremely violent.”
The political crisis over the government’s reviled extradition bill has deepened over months of mass protests, some of which have ended in violence as police used rubber bullets and batons against crowds advancing forwards.
The bill, which would enable the chief executive and courts to approve fugitive transfer requests to jurisdictions including China, was suspended on June 15 but not axed.
The protests have since morphed into a wider public display of discontent over dwindling freedoms, alleged police brutality, and calls for democracy.
Ex-lawmaker Edward Yiu told HKFP that he did not think the protests outside the city’s legislature influenced the turnout for the democracy rally, as the public were still angry over the suspended extradition bill.
In response to Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s pledge to listen to Hongkongers, Yiu said: “Of course, she is only paying lip service to Hong Kong people. The reason is very simple. It’s because there’s no democracy in Hong Kong and she only listens to her bosses in Beijing. That is why we need to come out and fight for democratic values.”
Social worker Jackie Chen and Lun Chi-wai told HKFP that they went to the legislature on Sunday to offer emotional support to protesters and tell police not to use force: “Social workers can’t stop protesters. All we can do is to tell the police not to use excessive force when arresting them,” Chen said. “We can see that the force used by police was excessive. We need to remind the police to maintain their basic standards.”
Chen said many young people were finding things to do out of desperation, such as building barricades or trying to break into the legislature: “They have tried many kinds of protests… but there were no results. They really want to achieve something, but there are no methods.”
At Monday’s annual flag-raising ceremony to mark 22 years since the city’s transfer of sovereignty, Lam pledged to listen more to the public.
“I am also fully aware that while we have good intentions, we still need to be open and accommodating,” she added. “While the government has to ensure administrative efficiency, it still needs to listen patiently.”
More to follow.
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