Hong Kong Protesters Storm Legislative Council On Anniversary Of Handover To China

Updated at 9:15 a.m. ET

Protesters charged Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building Monday, shattering glass doors and tearing down a metal wall that is part of its façade. Monday’s action, fueled by outrage at Beijing’s attempts to put a new extradition law in place, coincides with the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese control.

“Tonight, the streets are boiling over with anger” both at Hong Kong’s government and the central leadership in Beijing, NPR’s Julie McCarthy reports.

Thousands of protesters hit the streets for the latest in a string of huge protests, nearly all of them wearing black clothes. Many marched peacefully or gathered in public parks. Many demonstrators wore yellow hard hats and face masks — protections against possible reprisals.

Some of the protesters targeted the building in Hong Kong’s main government complex, overturning barriers and trying to ram their way through glass doors — which shattered and splintered but remained largely intact. Protesters then began attacking the dozens of tall, thin metal bars that make up a fence on the building’s exterior wall.

Riot police stood just inside the building, holding weapons and promising to arrest anyone who entered, the South China Morning Post reports. They deployed pepper spray, according to witnesses.

The attack on the building prompted the Legislative Council’s leadership to issue a red warning, ordering anyone in the government complex to withdraw immediately. Even before protesters arrived, the complex was largely empty as Hong Kong observes a holiday to mark the handover anniversary.

The demonstrations effectively drowned out a celebration marking the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. That event centered on a flag-raising ceremony — but the civic unrest forced officials to take the rare step of moving most of the celebration indoors, where leaders and VIPs watched as the flag was raised on TV, as the Morning Post reports.

In an earlier clash, police had redirected protesters who tried to march toward the celebration venue, according to The Associated Press.

Weeks of massive protests had already forced Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to apologize and suspend the extradition bill — which would allow Hong Kong people accused of certain crimes to be tried in mainland Chinese courts. But activists say that’s not enough. Lacking faith in Beijing-backed Lam, they renewed calls for direct democracy in Hong Kong.

As Lam spoke on Monday, she repeated her admission that she had not handled the legislation well. She devoted nearly all of her speech to discussing ways in which she would try to improve, saying her government wants to restore public confidence.

“After this incident, I will learn the lesson and ensure that the Government’s future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community,” Lam said. “The first and most basic step to take is to change the Government’s style of governance to make it more open and accommodating.”

The extradition controversy has also fed concerns among Hong Kongers that their civil liberties are being eroded to the same conditions that exist in mainland China.

“China has no freedom. And even Hong Kong now has no freedom,” a 72-year-old protest supporter named Mrs. Luo told NPR’s McCarthy. “They have lengthened their arms to Hong Kong.”

Another protester spoke to Adrian Ma of member station WBUR. Megan Lee, 17, said she had not previously been politically minded — though the dispute over the extradition bill has changed that.

“There’s more anger that builds up inside of me around these issues,” Lee said. “And if I have a chance to express it, I feel like now is a chance to take that.”

Ma reports that the young protester “says she wants to speak up now, because she’s not sure she’ll have the right to in the future.”

As night fell, thousands of protesters kept marching in Hong Kong, holding their cellphones in the air and using the phone screens to light up the streets.

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