(HONG KONG) — A somber pall fell over Hong Kong on Tuesday, as if the city were shaking off a bad hangover.
Monday was the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from England, and a small group of hard-line protesters, mostly young students, had stormed the Legislative Council building, breaking glass and spray-painting political messages.
Police in riot gear saw them off with a show of force that included tear gas, while the majority of those marching nearby, many to voice concern over a proposed extradition law, did so peacefully.
As the city picks up the pieces, parties on both sides of the divide appeared shell-shocked from the unexpected escalation.
So what comes next?
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Hong Kong’s embattled leader, denounced the violence at an early-morning press conference.
“I am very outraged and distressed, and I strongly condemn it,” she said.
She also offered to begin a dialogue with the residents of her city, and she praised the half million or so peaceful protesters before once again turning her scorn to those who vandalized the Legislative Council building, or LegCO.
“The second scene, which really saddens and shocks a lot of people, is the extreme use of violence and vandalism by protesters,” she added. “This is something that we should seriously condemn, because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
Authorities would “pursue the lawbreaking behavior to the end,” Lam added, echoing official words from Beijing that backed her and her government’s investigation into those responsible.
The power supply and fire-safety system of the LegCO building were damaged during the protests. Meetings over the next two weeks, before summer recess, have been canceled. Police are treating LegCO as a “crime scene.”
The peaceful marchers who share many of the same goals with the much smaller group that lashed out on Monday struggled to defend the violence.
Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo, seen on television Monday pleading with protesters not to storm the building, said on Tuesday many of the disaffected youth rising up have developed a “martyr mentality” — “some are quite willing, they claim, to die for this democracy fight.”
She said she understood where they were coming from, but it wasn’t worth sacrificing their lives.
Mo said that she and her colleagues “will not distance ourselves from young people. We completely understand their anger and their grievances. We’ve witnessed how Hong Kong has fallen in the past 22 years, how the city has continued to be mainlandized. They are just fighting for their future.”
Joshua Wong, a student leader in the 2014 Umbrella Movement that shut down Hong Kong’s streets for almost three months, tweeted his support for the protesters who resorted to violence: “Their objective was never to harm any individuals … WE ALREADY TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE.”
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