Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong’s parliament late Monday as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, ransacking the building and daubing its walls with graffiti as the city plunged into unprecedented depths of political chaos.
The financial hub has been rocked by three weeks of record-breaking demonstrations against a hugely unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
Tens of thousands of democracy activists staged another peaceful march on Monday afternoon, calling for the city’s pro-Beijing leader to step down and reverse what they see as years of sliding freedoms.
But that rally was overshadowed by small groups of mainly young, masked protesters who managed to breach the legislature after clashes with riot police, ending two weeks of relative calm.
Once inside they tore down portraits of the city’s leaders, hoisted a British colonial era flag in the main chamber and sprayed the city crest with black paint.
“There are no violent protesters, just tyranny,” one banner that was hoisted above the podium read.
Riot police appeared to have abandoned the building, which had been on lockdown.
Anti-government demonstrators breached the complex after hours of attempting to smash into the building, using a metal cart as a battering ram and wielding steel poles to prize open gaps in the reinforced windows.
Many of those protesting said they felt compelled to take the action because the city’s pro-Beijing leaders had ignored public sentiment following marches against the loathed extradition law.
“We have marched, staged sit-ins… but the government has remained unmoved,” Joey, a 26-year-old protester, told AFP as he walked over shattered glass inside the building. “We have to show the government that we won’t just sit here and do nothing.”
A protester surnamed Cheung, 24, added: “We know that this is breaking the law, but we have no choice”.