Young protesters who stormed and vandalised Hong Kong’s legislature faced almost citywide condemnation on Tuesday, as an outraged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor vowed to pursue those who had unleashed the unprecedented chaos “to the end”.
While the city was picking up the pieces amid soul searching over the previous day’s violence and anarchy, Beijing slammed the invasion of the Legislative Council as a blatant attack on the “one country, two systems” policy of governing Hong Kong, and urged Lam’s administration to “restore social order as soon as possible”.
However, opposition politicians and pro-democracy groups supporting the protesters and their campaign to force the complete withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill blamed the city’s leader for driving youngsters to despair.
Lam’s cabinet, the Executive Council, spent most of its weekly meeting on Tuesday discussing the Legco siege, shifting the venue to her official residence from the Chief Executive’s Office at government headquarters.
While the city’s administrative base remained closed for the day, the head of the legislature said lawmakers would not meet again over the remaining two weeks of its current session because the Legco building was still a crime scene under police investigation.
That would effectively bring Legco’s three-month summer recess forward by 14 days.
The protesters had already fled the building after trashing the main chamber when riot police moved in after midnight, clearing pockets of resistance along the way using tear gas.
The difference between Occupy and extradition protests: more Hongkongers now believe the use of violence is justified
That was followed by a 4am press conference at which a grim-faced Lam spoke of her outrage and sadness over the “extreme use of violence and vandalism”.
“This is something that we should seriously condemn because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong,” she said.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing expressed its support for the city’s government and police in bringing those responsible to justice.
“Some extreme radicals have used their opposition to a bill as an excuse to storm the Legco building in an extremely violent manner,” a spokesman said, calling it “a blatant challenge to the bottom line of one country, two systems”.
He stressed the need for Lam’s administration to end the social unrest as soon as possible, while Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong labelled the protesters’ acts as “atrocities” in a separate statement.
Neither agency mentioned Lam by name.
The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce strongly condemned “the violence and damage caused by a small number of extreme protesters”, while the American Chamber of Commerce said it did not condone “violent acts causing physical harm and destruction of property as legitimate means to achieve objectives for the greater good in a lawful society”.
The Law Society also issued a strong condemnation, stating: “Where the line has been crossed, the police should take appropriate action to prevent criminal violence, secure observance of the law and uphold order for the protection of life and property.”
Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes said the protesters’ actions could not be justified as freedom of expression.
The Real Estate Developers Association and the heads of eight university councils were among business, education, professional and religious bodies that joined in the chorus of condemnation.
In an emotional appeal to students and staff, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology president Wei Shyy spoke against the violence and called for the underlying causes, beyond the extradition bill, to be identified and addressed.
“We need to acknowledge that the protesters, many of them youngsters and students, would want to commit such acts even though they are fully aware of the consequences,” he said.
“While there are possible actions to be pursued by the legal system as well as judgment being rendered by the society, we should discuss the root cause to address the challenges we face.”
The chaos in Hong Kong made international news, but Western governments that have been supporting the extradition protests stopped short of condemning the violence.
In Washington, US President Donald Trump said he had spoken briefly with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, earlier about the protests against the unpopular bill, which would have allowed the transfer of suspects to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong does not have an extradition deal.
“I’ve rarely seen a protest like that, it’s very sad to see,” Trump said, while the State Department and the top US diplomat in Hong Kong followed up with calls for calm and restraint on all sides.
Departing consul general Kurt Tong said he found the violence and vandalism “regrettable”.
Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, Chris Patten, deplored the use of violence, warning it would “play into the hands of hardline opponents, whatever the cause” and urged the local government to listen, respond and talk to those who had acted peacefully.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang criticised Western governments for interfering in China’s internal affairs.
“It is double standards for them to say they advocate the rights of peaceful protests … We all know how police in the US and Europe handle violence and enforce the law,” he said.
Among those expressing support for the protesters, Chua Hoi-wai of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service said: “We can’t romanticise what they did, but anyone who loves Hong Kong will be moved by their passion for the city.”
The spotlight was also on police tactics, with many questioning how fully geared riot police had first done little to stop the invasion of Legco and later disappeared when the protesters stormed in, but Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung insisted his officers had been right to retreat and regroup before taking action later.
Reporting by Tony Cheung, Kimmy Chung, Peace Chiu, Gary Cheung, Naomi Ng, Jeffie Lam, Alvin Lum, Sum Lok-kei, Su Xinqi and Ng Kang-chung.