Protesters tried to storm Hong Kong’s legislature on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule on Monday, using a metal trolley and poles to smash windows amid anger over planned legislation that would allow extraditions to China.
Around 100 riot police in helmets and carrying batons stood behind the shattered glass as a small group of protesters rammed the windows ahead of a planned rally to mark the former British colony’s 1997 handover.
Tension was high as police held up a red banner warning protesters to stop charging or they would use force.
They had earlier raced toward protesters, beating some with batons as they fell to the ground, and used pepper spray to try to disperse crowds gathered near where officials were preparing a ceremony to mark the handover.
“In the past few years, people have been getting more active, because they found the peaceful way is not working,” said a 24-year-old protester surnamed Chen.
More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger and frustration at Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, posing the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Opponents of the now-suspended 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 and are demanding it be scrapped and Lam step down.
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and a much-cherished independent judiciary.
Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
Police fired pepper spray to disperse some demonstrators, mostly black-clad students wearing hard hats and face masks and carrying umbrellas, while others had cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas.
Thousands were starting to gather in Victoria Park in sweltering temperatures of around 33 (91.4 F) for an annual rally organizers expected to draw large crowds amid anger over the extradition bill.
The protesters once again paralyzed parts of the financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers and wooden planks.