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Hong Kong: Police And Protesters Clash On Handover Anniversary

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Protesters in Hong Kong have damaged and breached part of the government’s Legislative Council (LegCo) building.

Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets on the anniversary of the city’s handover from UK to Chinese rule.

In earlier clashes, police used pepper spray and batons to contain crowds.

This is the latest in a series of protests against a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.

The government has agreed to suspend it indefinitely, but rallies continue amid calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been part of China since 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal that guarantees it a level of autonomy. Pro-democracy events are held every year to mark the handover.

The LegCo building was put on red alert for the first ever time on Monday – meaning people should evacuate the building and area.

In the morning, a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover took place inside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, amid a heavy police presence.

Demonstrators blocked several roads nearby early using items like metal and plastic barriers.

Police officers equipped with shields, batons and pepper spray clashed with hundreds of protesters about 30 minutes before the ceremony.

At least one woman was seen bleeding from a head wound after the clashes, AFP news agency says.

A police statement condemned “illegal acts” by protesters who, it said, had taken iron poles and guard rails from nearby building sites.

Thirteen police officers were taken to hospital after protesters threw an “unknown liquid” at them, the force later said.

Some are said to have suffered breathing difficulties as a result.

Thousands joined a mostly peaceful pro-democracy march on Monday afternoon.

At about lunchtime, a breakaway group of protesters moved to LegCo where the government meets.

The small group began ramming the glass doors with a metal trolley, succeeding in smashing in the door, before largely dispersing.

On Monday evening, some then returned to LegCo and began pulling off external fencing and appeared to start entering part of the building.

The South China Morning Post reports that protesters were trying, and failing to open a heavy-duty internal gate inside – where police were standing ready to respond.

One man, identifying himself as G, told the BBC at the scene that protesters were expecting violence.

“The movement is now beyond the bill. It’s about the autonomy of Hong Kong,” he said.

“I do worry about the potential public backlash.

Everything we do has a risk and this is one of the risks that people here are willing to take.”

The government condemned the latest violence, saying police would “take appropriate enforcement action to protect public order and safety”.

Speaking at the earlier flag ceremony, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam had pledged to spend more time listening to the public so that the government’s future work would be “more responsive” to its “aspirations, sentiments and opinions”.

It was Ms Lam’s first public appearance since 18 June, when she issued an apology for her handling of the extradition law.

Hong Kong has a history of peaceful protests and for the most part these demonstrations were calm, barring these clashes with police.

The overwhelming sense I got after speaking to many here is that there is a real anger amongst young people and frustration with how Hong Kong is being run.

They want protesters detained released, the bill withdrawn and Carrie Lam to resign.

Away from the anger I also saw remarkable scenes of co-operation.

One by one people passed umbrellas, helmets and cling film to each other as they stood firm against the police who had brought pepper spray and batons to fight back.

As evening fell, the crowds swelled – as the protesters were joined by families with young children who had joined the pro-democracy march that takes place every year to mark the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China.

But this year it’s taken on a special significance – a chance to show the government here that they won’t give up their city without a fight.

Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” system allows it freedoms not seen in mainland China, including judicial independence.

The extradition bill raised concerns for that status.

Critics of the bill feared it could be used to target opponents of the government in Beijing, and to bring Hong Kong further under China’s control.

On 12 June police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds marching against the bill – the worst violence in the city in decades.

Eventually, the demonstrations forced the government to apologise and suspend the planned extradition law.

However, many protesters said they would not back down until the bill had been completely scrapped.

Many are still angry about the level of force used by police on 12 June, and have called for an investigation.

“The Hong Kong police’s well-documented use of excessive force against peaceful protesters urgently demands a fully independent investigation,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

However, there have also been smaller demonstrations by the territory’s pro-Beijing movement.

On Sunday, thousands of pro-Beijing protesters rallied in support of the Hong Kong police.

One pro-Beijing protester told AFP police were just trying to “maintain order”, calling the anti-extradition protesters “senseless”.

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