HONG KONG, Jul 2, 2019, SCMP. Hong Kong’s embattled government emerged early on Tuesday morning, condemning the violent takeover of the city’s legislature by mostly young protesters, and vowing to go after those who trashed the building and fled before riot police moved in. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said at a 4am press conference that she was angry and saddened by the violence and chaos. “I am very outraged and distressed and I strongly condemn it,” she said, reported the South China Morning Post.
Lam said she had reflected on the unprecedented events on the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule and was willing to communicate with all sectors including the city’s youth.
“We have seen two entirely different public scenes. One is a regular march on July 1. Regardless of the number of participants in the march, the march was peaceful and generally orderly. This fully reflects the inclusiveness of Hong Kong society, and the core values we attach to peace and order,” Lam said at police headquarters.
“The second scene, which really saddens and shocks a lot of people, is the extreme use of violence and vandalism by protesters who stormed into the Legislative Council building. This is something that we should seriously condemn, because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
She said the government would “pursue the law-breaking behaviour to the end”.
A grim-faced Lam, who was joined by her No 2, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu and Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung, said she hoped the community at large agreed the violent acts should be condemned and that society would return to normal as soon as possible.
For several hours on Monday, the Legislative Council building in Admiralty witnessed an assault unprecedented in size and intensity, as hundreds of mostly young protesters demanding the complete withdrawal of the government’s now-suspended extradition bill attacked the glass front with makeshift battering rams.
Riot police stood by inside the building throughout the day while the crowd went on the rampage outside, and were nowhere to be seen when the protesters finally forced their way inside at night and vandalised the chamber.
Lam said it was not true that the government had not responded to the demands of those protesting against the bill, which would have allowed the transfer of suspects to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong did not have an extradition agreement, including mainland China.
“We have not responded to every demand because of good reasons,” she said.
“The bill will expire, or the bill will die, in July 2020 when the current Legco term expires. That is a very positive response to the demands we have heard.”
Lee said the protesters who stormed the building had broken several laws, including forcible entry under the Public Order Ordinance, possession of offensive weapons and possession of instruments fit for unlawful purposes under the Crimes Ordinance and the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance for unauthorised entry.
The violence, perpetrated by mostly masked youths wearing helmets, was on a scale that stunned the city. Thirteen police officers were taken to hospital after they were splashed with an unidentified liquid, believed to be drain cleaner, during clashes around the city’s legislative and administrative centre.
“Over the past few days we’ve seen that there are a number of people who are violence-prone in society and will use harmful fluids or toxic powder to attack others” Lee said.
“If these people blend into any public events, they will pose huge risks.”
Lo rejected the notion that police had withdrawn from the legislature too easily, to play games for public support and set a trap for protesters.
He said police had “no choice” but to retreat temporarily and rearrange their strategy. He stressed that his officers had been defending the building for nearly eight hours and repeatedly criticised the “violent tactics to try and intrude into Legco”.
He mentioned several incidents that prompted police to retreat before taking back the trashed building shortly before 1am.
Lo said there were many protesters outside the main entrance and they were using violent tactics to smash the inner door. Also, the local environment made it difficult to use the force that could be used on open ground.
“And thirdly, we found there were protesters playing with the electricity box and that some of the lights had gone out. Fearing a total blackout, I was afraid there would be people stamping on people or maybe there would be a wrong move on either side,” he said.
“And last but not least, during charges, they threw some white smoke, and already in the afternoon there was a toxic powder attack on my officers so without knowing if this was another toxic powder attack, we had no other choice but to temporarily retreat from Legco.”
The shocking scenes at the legislature came as hundreds of thousands marched peacefully on the streets in the afternoon under the broader umbrella of the annual July 1 mass rally, when Hongkongers traditionally come out in force to air their grievances against the government.