Hong Kong police move to forcibly clear thousands of protesters occupying the area around and inside legislative building

Hong Kong police began forcibly removing protesters who occupied the territory’s legislature Monday in an unprecedented act of civil disobedience. Here’s what we know: 

●Police started to clear thousands of protesters just after midnight on Tuesday, using riot shields, canisters of tear gas and other force. 
●Protesters had earlier removed metal fencing, smashed glass doors at the Legislative Council building and occupied the complex, spray painting graffiti and removing portraits of pro-Beijing officials. 
●The official commemoration of the handover featuring both Hong Kong and Chinese central government officials was moved indoors, officially due to “inclement weather.” 
●Police warned people not to join the march over fears of a “safety threat,” but tens of thousands showed up in a procession that again shut down roads. 
●Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam promised her government would be “more open and accommodating.” 

HONG KONG — Police began using force early Tuesday to clear thousands of protesters in and around Hong Kong’s legislature after some broke into the complex and occupied it Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the semiautonomous territory’s return to Chinese rule. 

The escalation has brought Hong Kong into unprecedented and uncertain territory, and represents the biggest test of Beijing’s grip over the global financial hub and the status under which it operates. 

Protesters on Monday smashed their way through metal barricades surrounding Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. As they wrote graffiti on walls, tore down portraits of pro-Beijing officials and emptied rooms of chairs and desks, the mostly young protesters escalated weeks of tensions and massive demonstrations here to a tense new level. 

The demonstrators occupying the complex penned a declaration that included a call for overthrowing the “puppet Legislative Council and the Government,” and they vowed to stay. But just after midnight Tuesday, police equippped with riot shields and tear gas began ejecting protesters from the complex. 
More than 500,000 demonstrators, meanwhile, peacefully marched across the city Monday and forced major thoroughfares to shut down. 
The scenes of defiance were the latest indication that anger here, sparked by plans to allow extraditions to China but now incorporating broader concerns about Hong Kong’s autonomy and Beijing’s influence, will not be easily quelled. 

The protesters smashed shutters, broke windows and ripped down metal fencing around the Legislative Council, eventually forcing their way into the building where riot police tried to push them back with tear gas. Protesters repeatedly tried to slam against metal shutters and pry them open. 

At some point during the night, police seemed to vacate their posts. By 9:30 p.m., dozens of demonstrators wearing yellow hard hats and carrying umbrellas had entered the building and were roaming the complex. They spray-painted wood-paneled walls with graffiti cursing the Hong Kong government and tore down posters of pro-Beijing officials. Outside, protesters cheered as more windows and doors were smashed open. 

Later Monday night, police said the building was “violently attacked” and “illegally entered.” In a tweet, they warned that they would conduct a sweep with “reasonable force” and urged people to leave the area. 

The Hong Kong government in a statement also condemned the “violent acts,” which it said was the work of “radical protesters.” 
Protesters inside the building, however, vowed to come back even if they were cleared out. 

“Unless universal suffrage and a just election system are in place, we shall never stand down,” they said in a statement. 
Monday’s chaotic demonstrations came on a day when the territory’s return to Beijing is officially celebrated. 
Before dawn, riot police and hundreds of protesters gathered on roads leading to a square where the Hong Kong and Chinese flags were set to be raised. The ceremony, which was attended by Hong Kong leaders and dignitaries including chief executive Carrie Lam, was moved indoors as crowds of protesters gathered.

 Officials said the event, which has never been held indoors, was moved because of “inclement weather.” 

As helicopters carrying the flags flew over, protesters on the streets below  waved middle fingers  at them. Earlier in the morning, protesters had replaced a Chinese flag with a black flag featuring a  withered Bauhinia flower  , a riff on the  Hong Kong flag  . That flag was still flying on Monday night. 
Hospitals and police have not confirmed the number of injuries from the clashes. Police said in a statement that protesters earlier Monday had pelted officers with objects containing an “unknown liquid,” which made their skin swollen and itchy. Thirteen officers were treated at hospital and discharged. 
July 1, the anniversary of the 1997 handover of sovereignty, has  always been marked by marches  featuring hundreds of thousands of people who want to uphold Hong Kong’s unique status, democratic characteristics and relative freedoms compared with mainland China. 

But after weeks of unprecedented tensions in the territory, Monday’s protests took on a different flavor. In the face of an increasingly assertive Beijing, protesters saw the occasion as their final chance for a massive stand against a government they believe is not working in their interests. 

“We are exhausted,” said a 22-year-old protester who did not want to give his name for fear of retribution from authorities. “But today’s march is special. We think it will be the last one that people will come out [to] on a large scale. We have to show our disappointment and anger.” 

An hour into the planned afternoon march, police sent out a warning, discouraging people from joining the procession. 
“Police absolutely respect people’s freedom of assembly, procession and expression of opinion in a peaceful and orderly manner,” the statement said. “However, Police’s risk assessment indicates that there is a serious safety threat”. 

Yet, demonstrators turned up in the tens of thousands, filling Hong Kong’s main roads with a swell of shuffling people once again. Some in the march — the elderly, parents with children — broke off to join the young protesters gathered on Harcourt Road, the main city thoroughfare that they have taken over several times over the past month. 

They carried signs that read: “We Shall Never Surrender” and “Hong Kong is Resilient.” 

 [  Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is facing the wrath of her people. Beijing may be even angrier.  ]  

Lam has postponed the extradition plans, but demonstrators have continued to return to the streets in rallies like Monday’s — the revival of a pro-democracy movement that is now advocating for a freer Hong Kong, for Lam to step down and for police to be investigated for their handling of the street protests, among other demands. 

Protests were once again marked by a high degree of organization, with multiple first aid stations, human chains to pass supplies between the masses of people and hand symbols to indicate that police had started mobilizing or using pepper spray. Demonstrators urged each other and members of the public not to take photos of the crowd to ensure their anonymity. 

As protesters attempted for hours to storm the legislative building, human chains passed supplies including umbrellas, gloves, helmets and protective masks to assist their efforts. 

More than 80 people were injured in a clash between police and protesters in mid-June, drawing the ire of many in Hong Kong who turned up at a large rally days later to denounce what they consider police brutality against young students. 

Police appeared restrained on Monday by contrast. 
Inside a convention center where the anniversary ceremony was held in the morning, Lam, flanked by Hong Kong and Chinese officials, raised a glass of champagne to mark the occasion.

 At a reception that followed, she said she had reflected on the disputes and that she understands “the need to grasp public sentiments accurately.” 

“After this incident, I will learn the lessons and ensure that the government’s future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community,” she said. Work to make Hong Kong’s governance “more open and accommodating” will start immediately, she added. 

She has not indicated that she would step down or fully withdraw the extradition plans. Analysts and some in her government say she  has angered Beijing  by misjudging the widespread and vociferous opposition to the extradition bill. 

Others, however, also have marched to back the police. On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators showed up in support of the Hong Kong police and expressed appreciation for their efforts in managing the civil disobedience in recent weeks. 

In mainland China, there was no mention of Monday’s protests on social media. State media played up news of Sunday’s pro-police rally and highlighted official celebrations of the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return. 

On several prior occasions, protesters  surrounded and blocked off the police headquarters  , threw eggs at the building and spray-painted surveillance cameras. The pro-police protesters tore down memorials and posters that had been put up over the past weeks, calling for Hong Kong’s freedom and an end to police violence.
Pro-democracy protesters believe that Hong Kong’s relative autonomy, which is guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” framework, is at stake. Many here want Hong Kong to be able to pick its own leader and to abolish the current system in which chief executives such as Lam are selected by a committee, out of a small pool of candidates handpicked by Beijing. 

Lam, speaking Monday, said Hong Kong is “backed by the motherland and open to the world” and has benefited from the “one country, two systems” framework. 

“I and the [Hong Kong] government will double our efforts to restore people’s confidence and get Hong Kong off to a new start,” she added. 

The 22-year-old protester, however, scoffed at Lam’s comments, dismissing her as a pawn of Beijing. 

“She has not responded to us, or learned how to engage with us,” he said. 

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