Police fire tear gas, rubber bullets at Hong Kong ‘riot situation’

A Hong Kong demonstrator douses tear gas canisters with water after police fire on the crowd on June 12. Photo courtesy of Justin Chin/Bloomberg.

Hong Kong protesters take shelter underneath umbrellas on June 12. Photo courtesy of Justin Chin/Bloomberg.

Protesters run from fired tear gas at them at the Hong Kong Legislative Council building on June 12. Photo courtesy of Paul Yeung/Bloomberg

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HONG KONG (June 12): Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam urged a return to order at the close of a day that saw police use tear gas to stop protesters from storming the legislative chamber where lawmakers intended to take up a bill allowing extraditions to China.

The Legislative Council delayed its debate on the proposal after thousands of demonstrators — most clad in black or white — swarmed the government complex in central Hong Kong, eventually prompting scuffles with police at the chamber doors. The protesters called for Lam to withdraw the bill, which they argue would blow up the legal wall intended to keep the former British colony’s justice system separate from China’s.

Here are the latest developments (all times local):

Lam Urges Order (8:35 p.m.)
In a brief video statement, the city’s leader urged a return to order. “I hope society will return to order quickly and no one gets hurts in riots again. I urge everyone who loves this place to stay away from violence,” she said, sounding resolute. “I believe Hong Kong as a civilized society, can use peaceful and rational methods to solve any problems.”

Lam Speaks (7:30 p.m.)
Hong Kong’s embattled leader Lam made her first public comments of the day in an emotional interview with local broadcaster TVB taped that had been taped earlier in the day. Lam defended the bill, saying her government still believed its “initial goal is right.”

Lam has argued that the legislation was needed to prevent the city from becoming a refuge for fugitives. “I’ve never felt guilty because of this,” she told TVB. Her voice cracked and her eyes appeared to well up as she insisted she would never betray Hong Kong.

But she also appeared to crack open the door to the possibility of withdrawal. “For Hong Kong’s benefits, whether we withdraw or go ahead, our concern is undoubtedly controversial, explanation works, but it can’t completely clear worries, concerns or controversies,” she said.

U.K. Weighs In (7:23 p.m.)
U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called on Hong Kong to engage in a dialogue with protesters. “I urge the Hong Kong government to listen to the concerns of its people and its friends in the international community and to pause and reflect on these controversial measures,” he said in a statement.

Organizers Push Back (6:30 p.m.)
Protest organizer the Civil Human Rights Front released a statement as evening set in, denouncing the police’s use of force, saying Hongkongers hadn’t “rioted” and urging Lam to take full responsibility.“CHRF urges the international community to intervene, denounce the Hong Kong government’s violent suppression and to withdraw the extradition bill,” it says.

Call for Teachers’ Strike (5:07 p.m.)
Hong Kong’s largest professional educators association, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, called for a strike “this week” on its Facebook page, citing “deteriorating social circumstances.” The union represents more than 100,000 members, adding lots of potential support to activists’ effort to organize a general strike in opposition to the bill.

‘Under Control’ (4:25 p.m.)
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said he was confident things were under control, after officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds at charging protesters. Lo said the use-of-force was justified to control a “riot situation” and that he wouldn’t be calling in the Chinese military for assistance. Police urged people to stay away from the Admiralty area where the clashes occurred. Hundreds of protesters remained on the streets while others took cover in nearby malls.

Police Clear (4:15 p.m.)
Police appeared have cleared from the immediate vicinity of the legislative building. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said earlier that any hearsay about a Chinese armed force being deployed to Hong Kong was “misinformation.” He was replying to a question at the ministry’s regular press briefing in Beijing about internet rumors that said such a force was preparing to head for the city.

Tear Gas (3:54 p.m.)
Police fired tear gas, leading to some apparent injuries among protesters and officers. The crowds began turning back, having earlier surged toward the entrance to the council building, moving barricades and throwing umbrellas at police as they tried to push inside.

Beijing Speaks (3:27 p.m.)
China repeated that it “will continue to support” Hong Kong’s government, Shuang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in Beijing. China has repeatedly said it backs the Hong Kong government amid the standoff over extradition. Some clashes erupted as protesters charged the police, who hit back with batons and water cannons.

‘Stop Charging’ (3:22 p.m.)
Images broadcast on local television showed Hong Kong police holding up a banner reading “Stop charging or we use force.” Protesters at the front of the crowd near the entrance to the legislature threw items at a line of riot police, including a traffic cone and water bottles. The police used batons, pepper spray and a water cannon against demonstrators in response.

Most people carried umbrellas to fend off both the rain and pepper spray as the crowd moved toward the council building, turning the street into a sea of colored nylon. The entire crowd shouted “withdraw!” for at least a minute.

Protest Leaders Rally Crowd (1:51 p.m.)
The CHRF and pan-democratic legislators, who oppose the bill, vowed to maintain their rally outside the Legislative Council, even as rain helped drive some demonstrators away. “We hope police won’t suppress this peaceful demonstration,” CHRF convener Jimmy Sham said. “We won’t leave until they withdraw the extradition bill.”

Government Urges Protests Off Road (12:47 p.m.)
Hong Kong’s government urged protesters to leave the roads as crowds swelled. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, making the announcement, repeated that the extradition bill would only target criminals. His comments came after some in the crowd began sitting in the roads, reminiscent of scenes from 2014’s Occupy movement when protesters staged a mass sit-in.

Protests Spill Into Business District (12:20 p.m.)
Protests expanded into Hong Kong’s financial district as the number of demonstrators continued to swell in the wake of the Legislative Council’s decision to delay voting on the extradition legislation. As activists spread across Queensway, some chanted: “Persist, Hongkongers! Fight on!”

Meeting Postponement Cheered (11:50 a.m.)
Opposition leaders celebrated the postponement of the legislative meeting, during which the bill was scheduled to be read, and urged people to keep demonstrating. “You guys made a miracle today,” Labour Party politician Fernando Cheung shouted to the crowd. “The meeting is delayed because you stood out today. But we still need more people coming out today. The turnout can temporarily delay the LegCo chairman and the government.”

U.S. Lawmakers Voice Support (11:42 a.m.)
Top U.S. lawmakers strongly denounced the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the law is dangerous and “imperils” the strong relationship between the U.S. and Hong Kong. “If it passes, the Congress has no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is ‘sufficiently autonomous’ under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” she said. “America stands with the people of Hong Kong.”

Her comments came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the city’s residents “rightly view” the extradition bill “as another erosion of the rule of law and tightening of Beijing’s grip on their imperiled autonomy.”

Legislature Chief Postpones Meeting (11 a.m.)
Legislative Council President Andrew Leung rescheduled the body’s meeting “to a later time to be determined by him” as protesters blocked roads outside the building. The council was slated to meet at 11 a.m. before what was expected to be almost 70 hours of debate on scores of opposition amendments.

Police Use Pepper Spray (10:40 a.m.)
Police shot pepper spray on some protesters near Harcourt Road and Tim Wa Avenue, the side street next to Lam’s office. Some demonstrators were ripping up bricks from the sidewalks, images published by local media showed.

There appeared to be a high degree of coordination between the protesters. Some dropped umbrellas from the overhead walkway above the protest scene to those underneath who might need to protect against any pepper spray. Others turned barriers around and used them as ladders to scale impediments. Students tied other barricades together to protect themselves from police.

By mid-morning, the rally appeared predominantly student-led. Ahead of the bill being read in the legislature, thousands of people shouted at rows of police lined up outside the gate leading to council’s building.

Social Media Symbolism (10:12 a.m.)
Some Hong Kong citizens changed their Facebook profile photos to black-and-white bauhinias. The flower of the Bauhinia blakeana orchid tree was selected as the city’s emblem during the British colonial era. It features prominently on the city’s flag, its coins and its coat of arms.

Meanwhile, news of the demonstrations appeared blocked on one of China’s most popular social platforms. A search using the Chinese words for “Hong Kong” and “march” didn’t bring up any results on the Weibo micro-blogging service. Searches for “Hong Kong” and “protest” or “Hong Kong” and “legislative council” returned only a few postings on the protest from the Weibo accounts of Hong Kong media, and several others on the Chinese foreign ministry’s response to the protest.

Local Stocks Plunge (10 a.m.)
Hong Kong stocks fell as the demonstrators brought parts of the financial district to a halt. Bigger contributors to losses on the Hang Seng Index included stock exchange operator the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd., HSBC Holdings Plc and Hang Seng Bank Ltd.

Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong also fell, including Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Blocking Major Roads (9:40 a.m.)
Demonstrators blocked Harcourt Road-Gloucester Road, a major central thoroughfare in and out of the city’s business district, and another road outside the Legislative Council building, according to local news footage. A number of passing vehicles got struck on the road as protesters put up their barriers.

Protesters also raised barricades on Lung Wo Road, near the Legislative Council building, echoing a tactic used in 2014, as part of the Occupy demonstrations for democratic reforms. Many held up umbrellas in the light rain in a standoff with police, like the demonstrators’ use of umbrellas in 2014 to shield themselves from pepper spray, causing some to call it the Umbrella Movement.

Protesters at the back of the crowd were asked to pass umbrellas, water and towels to people up front.

Protesters Swarm Legislative Council
Crowds swelled to thousands, with many wearing face masks and helmets opposite scores of police officers clad in riot gear. At Hong Kong Station near the council building, police cleared a row of demonstrators staging a sit-in to block a main walkway.

Call for Student Strikes (7:40 a.m.)
Pro-democracy activist group Demosisto, which played a key role in organizing demonstrators during the city’s 2014 Occupy movement, asked Hong Kong high school students to strike today. The group said it would gather people at central Statue Square at 10.45 a.m., before heading to Tamar Park near the government complex.

Some protesters, many dressed in white, gathered before dawn near the Legislative Council building. The crowds began growing after after daylight.