Combative protesters tried to break into the Hong Kong legislature on Monday as a crowd of thousands were marching in that direction on the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China.

With a crowd of a hundred or so people around them, a small group of people repeatedly rammed a cargo cart and poles into a glass panel as police responded with pepper spray.

After they managed to get the cart wedged into the damaged panel, police grabbed the cart away from them. They also posted a sign saying to the protesters: stop charging before we use force.

More than 100 riot police raced towards protesters, beating some with batons as they fell to the ground.

The unexpected disruption delayed the march, but the crowd of thousands began moving out of Victoria Park around 0600 GMT (2 pm local time) even as police asked the marchers to change their route or cancel the march.

Riot police were also seen inside the building, which has been at the centre of protests in the past three weeks, driven by demands for the withdrawal of a bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

Protesters pushed barriers and dumpsters into the streets early Monday morning in an apparent bid to block access to a symbolically important ceremony marking the anniversary of the return of the former British colony to China.

Police in riot gear faced them in loose formation about 20 metres (60 feet) down the road, using pepper spray to try to disperse crowds gathered near where officials were preparing a ceremony to mark the 1997 handover. The area around Golden Bauhinia Square, where the ceremony takes place, has been shut down since Saturday.

Senior Hong Kong officials, including leader Carrie Lam, and representatives of mainland China are due to attend the annual flag-raising on the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997.

Both the combative protesters and the marchers oppose a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial.

The proposal has awakened broader fears that China is eroding the freedoms and rights that Hong Kong was guaranteed for 50 years after the handover under a “one country, two systems” framework.

Protesters, who have staged a series of demonstrations since mid-June, are demanding that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign over the extradition bill.

Lam has come under withering criticism for trying to push through the legislation.

She said a series of protests and marches that have attracted hundreds of thousands of students and other participants in recent weeks have taught her that she needs to listen better to the youth and people in general.

“This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiments accurately,” she said in a five-minute speech to the gathering in the city’s cavernous convention centre.

The annual march starting in the afternoon was expected to be larger than usual after two marches in June against the legislation drew more than a million people, according to organiser estimates.

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