Hong Kong: Police and protesters clash on handover anniversary

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

The protests and clashes are expected to continue throughout the day

Police in Hong Kong have clashed with protesters marking the anniversary of its handover from UK to Chinese rule.

On Monday morning, police used pepper spray and batons to contain demonstrators outside a venue hosting the annual flag-raising ceremony.

Huge protests have taken place in recent weeks over an extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

The government has agreed to suspend it indefinitely, but the rallies continue.

Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is facing ongoing calls for her resignation.

Pro-democracy event are held every year to mark the handover, but large crowds are expected to attend the march and rally later on Monday.

Protesters are demanding a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, the revoking of the term “riot” to describe large protests on 12 June, the release of all detained activists, and investigations into allegations of police violence.

What happened earlier on Monday?

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

Authorities said demonstrators began blocking several roads near the venue early on Sunday morning, using items like metal and plastic barriers to block the way.

Outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre, police officers equipped with shields and batons clashed with hundreds of protesters around 30 minutes before the ceremony, reported local outlet SCMP.

Police also used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

News agency AFP said at least one woman was seen bleeding from a head wound after clashes with police.

A police statement condemned “illegal acts” by protesters, who it said had taken iron poles and guard rails from nearby building sites. It warned demonstrators not to throw bricks or charge police cordon lines.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Police used pepper spray and batons against protesters

The force later said 13 police officers had been taken to hospital after protesters threw an “unknown liquid” at them on Monday morning. Some were said to have suffered breathing difficulties as a result.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Carrie Lam has faced calls for her resignation

Speaking at the flag ceremony, in her first public appearance since 18 June, Ms Lam said she realised she needed to spend more time listening.

“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,” she said.

Why have people been protesting?

Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been part of China since 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle, which allows it freedoms not seen on the mainland, 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.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Protesters, pictured on 1 July, are braced for another day of pepper spray

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 also still angered over the use of police violence in the 12 June protests and have called for an investigation into this.

“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.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionMrs Lam said she personally had to shoulder much of the blame for the row

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

On Sunday, thousands of pro-Beijing protesters rallied in support of the territory’s police.

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