Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters stormed the legislature on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to China on Monday, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti in a direct challenge to China as anger over an extradition bill spiraled out of control.
Some carried road signs, others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding upstairs and downstairs as about 1,000 gathered around the Legislative Council building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district.
Some sat at legislators’ desks, checking their phones, while others scrawled “Withdraw anti-extradition” on walls.
The government called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year.
There was no immediate response from the protesters, although some appeared to retreat as the evening wore on.
A small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave.
The council, the mini-Parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately.
It did not say what would happen if they didn’t, but police did not immediately intervene.
The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement canceling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security considerations.”
Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.
Banners hanging over flyovers at the protest site read: “Free Hong Kong.”
The protesters, some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas, once again paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades, but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.
It was not immediately clear the announcement that it would lapse would ease the tension.
The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
“The kind of deafness that I see in the government this time around despite these protests is really worrying. The complete disregard for the will of the people is what alarms me,” said Steve, a British lawyer who has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years.
“If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong.”
Opponents of the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong‘s much-cherished rule of law.
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.
Beijing denies interfering, but for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march towards mainland control.
China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation. Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong anymore and was opposed to its “gesticulating” about the territory.