Hong Kong protesters disperse one day after storming the legislature
One day after angry protesters stormed and vandalized Hong Kong‘s legislature amid anger over a proposed extradition bill, the exterior of the building appeared calm on Tuesday.
Monday marked the 22nd anniversary of the former colony’s handover from Britain to China on July 1, 1997.
About half a million protesters took to the streets on Monday in a mostly peaceful rally from Causeway Bay to Central in downtown Hong Kong. But this year’s protests were marred by anger over a now-suspended bill that would pave the way for suspected criminals to be extradited to mainland China for trial.
A group of protesters turned violent, smashing windows of the city’s government building and leaving its walls covered in graffiti. Some entered the building by force and turned the offices upside down.
Hong Kong police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to disperse the crowds, riling the protesters further.
Still, the majority of the protesters were not violent. They called on the Hong Kong administration to completely retract the controversial extradition bill, and asked its Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down. They also demanded those arrested at a previous rally on June 12 to be released.
Hong Kong protestors confront during police clearance after the Legislative Council building was damaged by demonstrators during a protest on July 02, 2019.
Billy H.C. Kwok | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Every year since the handover in 1997, hundreds and thousands of people would march the streets to demand democracy and autonomy — but Monday’s numbers were estimated to have been about ten times more than last year’s.
Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s former chief secretary, criticized Lam for the way she handled the situation.
“So far, the chief executive, other than a half-hearted apology has not receded to any of the demands,” Chan told CNBC on Tuesday. “Particularly, the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill. “
Chan said the priority right now for Lam, Hong Kong’s top official, should be the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill.
In a televised speech on June 12, Lam angered many when she referred to the mass demonstration against the extradition bill as an “organized riot.” Chan said the Hong Kong leader should retract those comments.
Chan also proposed that Lam should set up an independent commission of inquiry to look into the violence between the police and the protesters that happened on June 12.
The priority right now should be to learn from the situation and prevent any recurrence of “this sort of violent clashes between the police and the protesters and to restore much needed trust between the police and the protesters,” Chan added.
‘Ugliest political lie’
Chan emphasized that the suspension of the bill has not satisfied protesters as they want a full withdrawal.
“If in Carrie’s own words, ‘the bill is all but dead,’ then why are you so insistent on using the term suspension instead of withdrawal?” Chan said. “There’s a huge difference between withdrawal and suspension. Suspension means that at any time, if it suits the government, the bill can be revived and put forward for second reading.”
She added that if Lam doesn’t find a way to compromise on this matter at all, she’ll find it more and more difficult to govern Hong Kong for the rest of the term.
In the meantime, the Pan-democratic legislators, together with rally organizers Civil Human Rights Front, were disappointed when Lam rejected their request to meet on Tuesday morning.
“We cannot be angrier at her rejection to the request, which proves her ‘willingness to listen’ to be the ugliest political lie,” they said in a joint statement. “Lam’s arrogance revealed by her public responses since June 9 have only poured fuel to the flame, and lead to the crisis today.”
However, some experts say pro-Beijing or pro-police protesters also have “a legitimate viewpoint.”
“They have every right to protest in support of the powers that be,” said Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia Project at the Lowy institute.
“There is a significant bloc of Hong Kongers who support the Chinese government and want to see the city integrate into the rest of the nation,” he added. “But, by harassing journalists and others, some of these pro-police protesters have done themselves, and the police, no favors when it comes to public perceptions.”