Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday condemned the “extremely violent” storming of the city’s parliament, after thousands of protesters ransacked the assembly in an unprecedented display of defiance on the anniversary of the territory’s handover to China.
At a press conference in the early hours, Lam called Monday’s events “heartbreaking and shocking” and said she hoped society would “return to normal as soon as possible,” while acknowledging that thousands had marched peacefully in the city before the unrest.
Masked protesters - mostly young and many wearing yellow hard hats - broke into the legislature after hours of clashes with police.
They ransacked the building, daubing its walls with anti-government graffiti, in an unparalleled challenge to city authorities and Beijing.
Speaking beside Lam, police chief Stephen Lo said: “Protesters’ violent acts have far exceeded the bottom line of peaceful expressions of demands.”
He added that police officers “had no choice” but to retreat from the legislature and allow protesters to briefly occupy it.
The financial hub has been rocked by three weeks of huge demonstrations sparked by an unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland, but on Monday, that anger reached levels unseen for years.
Lam, Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed chief executive, has faced calls to step down. She has postponed any vote on the extradition bill for now, but resisted calls to permanently shelve it.
US urges all sides in Hong Kong to avoid violence
The United States on Monday urged all sides in Hong Kong to avoid violence after protesters ransacked the territory’s parliament.
“We urge all sides to refrain from violence,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
“Hong Kong’s success is predicated on its rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” she said.