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China 'strongly condemns' HK legislature protests, violence

Protesters stormed and ransacked the Legislative Council building on Monday night, smashing doors and walls

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Protesters shining smartphone lights and holding placards during the annual pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong on Monday. Following the mayhem that night, police have cleared the roads near the financial centre, paving the way for business to return to normal.

Beijing

CHINA on Tuesday condemned violent protests in Hong Kong as an "undisguised challenge" to the formula under which the city is ruled, hours after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who stormed and trashed the legislature.

A representative of China's Hong Kong affairs office denounced the demonstrators, who are furious about proposed legislation allowing extraditions to China, and said Beijing supports holding criminals responsible, state media said.

"Seriously violating the law, the act tramples the rule of law in Hong Kong, undermines social order and the fundamental interests of Hong Kong, and is an undisguised challenge to the bottom line of 'one country, two systems', Xinhua news agency quoted a Hong Kong affairs office spokesman as saying. "We strongly condemn this act."

Britain warned China there would be serious consequences if the Sino-British declaration on Hong Kong was not honoured, saying Britain stood behind the people in the former British colony.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary. Monday was the 22nd anniversary of the handover.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK signed an internationally binding legal agreement in 1984 that enshrines the "one country, two systems rule". He said it enshrines the basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and "we stand four square behind that agreement, four square behind the people of Hong Kong".

"There will be serious consequences if that internationally binding legal agreement were not to be honoured," he told BBC TV.

Beijing denies interfering, but for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march towards mainland control.

Mr Hunt said that any repression would exacerbate people's concerns.

"We in the UK condemn violence on all sides, and many people who strongly support the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong will have been deeply dismayed by the scenes they saw on TV last night," he said.

"But we urge the authorities not to use what happened as a pretext for repression, but rather to understand the root causes of what happened, which is a deep-seated concern by people in Hong Kong that their basic freedoms are under attack."

Debris including umbrellas, hard hats and water bottles was among the few signs left of the mayhem that had engulfed parts of the city on Monday and overnight after protesters stormed and ransacked the Legislative Council, or mini-parliament.

Police cleared roads near the heart of the financial centre, paving the way for business to return to normal.

However, government offices, where protesters smashed computers and spray-painted "anti-extradition" and slurs against the police and government on chamber walls, were closed.

The government's executive council meeting was due to be held in Government House, officials said, while the legislature would remain closed for the next two weeks.

As images of demonstrators pounding at the glass walls of Hong Kong's Legislative Council were beamed live to the world, with the notable exception of mainland China, police inside suddenly withdrew, allowing protesters to break in and ransack the place.

The tactic mystified former Hong Kong police officers as they watched coverage of hundreds of protesters, mostly students in hard hats and masks, roaming the plush, multi-storey complex, vandalising furniture and daubing graffiti over the walls. The demonstrators broke computers, spray-painted slurs against police on chamber walls and used road signs, scaffolding and metal poles to trash fittings. "What were they thinking when they decided to let them into the Legislative Council?" asked Chris Pedder, a retired 22-year veteran of the Hong Kong police who now works as a counter-terrorism and security consultant. "I can't think of any tactical reason for doing this. It is just staggering."

Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Martin Lee said he believed the authorities had allowed Monday's protest to take place. "When the protesters entered, the police just suddenly dispersed. Have you ever seen this in any country in any city where an important building, like the Legislative Council building, was attacked and the police were actually present and they didn't think to stop it to begin with?" he told BBC radio.

Hong Kong police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung explained at a press conference early on Tuesday that his officers inside the building had been under assault for eight hours before they were withdrawn at about 9 pm. By that time, about 30,000 protesters were gathered outside, he said.

Mr Lo added that some protesters had thrown a toxic powder on some of his officers and others had attempted to interfere with the electrical system. Without lights, it would have been difficult and dangerous for his officers to use normal forceful measures in such a confined space.

"That is why we left to reconsider our plans," he said. REUTERS