The morning after a chaotic night in Hong Kong, Chinese officials were quick to paint protesters as angry and destructive.
But some people online are saying otherwise and want the world to know they’re not all bad.
More than 500,000 protesters took to the downtown city streets and entered government headquarters on Monday in yet another show of opposition over a now-suspended bill that would allow the extradition of suspected criminals to China for trial.
It’s the latest in a series of pro-democracy demonstrations that have marred Hong Kong and its chief executive, Carrie Lam. The protests are seen as a reflection of mounting frustration with Lam for not meeting protesters’ demands regarding the government’s attempt to change Hong Kong’s extradition laws.
The protesters have demanded Lam completely withdraw the bill and step down, neither of which she has done. Instead, Lam has apologized on several occasions and moved to suspend debate on the bill indefinitely. What was intended to quell the upset with her government has only further damaged public trust and frustrated protesters, who found her actions insincere.
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The month-long protests came to a head on Monday night. In video and photos shared to social media by those in the thick of the demonstrations, things appeared chaotic.
Protesters smashed through glass windows of the city’s Legislative Council building and pried open steel security gates, according to the Associated Press.
The demonstrators blew past police and building security and dispersed throughout the building, ransacking offices and vandalizing property.
After broadcasting a warning that “appropriate force” would be used if the protesters did not back down, police eventually made a call to intervene.
Riot police used tear gas to clear the streets shortly after midnight, AP reported. The officers then turned their attention the legislature building, but the protesters who were inside reportedly left before police arrived.
The building was occupied by the protesters for three hours. The occupation ended on a city holiday, the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China.
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The Chinese government has described the events as “extreme” and “excessive,” calling the protests “large-scale assaults.”
“Their violent acts are an extreme challenge to Hong Kong’s rule of law and seriously undermined Hong Kong’s peace and stability,” the Chinese government said in a statement via state-run news agency Xinhua.
“It’s totally intolerable.”
Beijing called the violence an “undisguised challenge” to the country’s governing model, which gave Hong Kong autonomy when it was returned to China in 1997. Hong Kong operates under a “one country, two systems” framework that allows it to retain its own systems, but the mainland government has increasingly encroached on that autonomy.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said China supports Lam’s administration and the force used by police to keep the demonstrations in line with the law.
Early on Tuesday, at police headquarters, Lam told reporters that she saw two different protests unfold overnight — one of order and one of violence.
She said the former reflected Hong Kong’s inclusiveness while the latter should be “seriously condemned.”
As the tear gas dissolved, another version of events emerged on Twitter.
Some pictures, which Global News has not independently verified, appear to show protesters’ attempts to protect artifacts and other valuables inside the building.
In one photo, poster boards block glass doorways that reportedly lead to “cultural objects,” according to one Twitter user. The words “should be preserved, don’t destroy” are written in red marker.
Elsewhere in the Legislative Council, barriers and signs warn the crowds against storming a library.
Some protesters left behind cash inside a refrigerator for cold sodas they had taken during the takeover. A sign that read “we are not thieves, we won’t take without asking” was left next to the bin of bills.
There are unconfirmed reports of some protesters sweeping up broken glass after the crowds dispersed, even putting the shards in a garbage bin.
Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist, claimed many of the protesters “behaved with unimaginable discipline.”
Wong, who became the face of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in 2014, defended the actions of the protesters. He claims they were left with no choice but to take firmer action and did so without causing injury.
“The protesters who broke into the Legislative Council complex were NOT rioters. They were NOT violent. Their objective was never to harm any individuals,” Wong tweeted.
“They wanted to make the regime hear Hong Kongers’ voice, and they had no other option.”
The solidarity between protesters was also on display. In a tweet from a local reporter, a group demonstrators carry a protester who was “determined to stay” out of the building.
“We should leave together. Leave no one behind,” they said, according to the reporter.
While there were no reports of injuries, there’s no denying damage was caused on Monday.
Other tweets show protesters in yellow hard hats and surgical masks climbing onto podiums in the building and spray-painting over the Hong Kong SAR emblem. Some appear to pin up a British colonial flag.
In a video, the protesters appear to destroy a portrait of Legislative Council President Andrew Leung and former president Rita Fan.
A reporter for a local media outlet tweeted a photo showing graffiti spray-painted on a pillar inside the building, believed to be a message for Carrie Lam.
Others on Twitter claim protesters are responsible for tearing up the Basic Law — a constitution that distinguishes Hong Kong’s legal system from China.
In a video posted to Twitter by an ABC News reporter, a group of protesters reportedly got involved in a “scuffle” with a man they claim was taking photos of them.
The cleanup began Tuesday morning, with glass from the front of the legislature building being swept away.
Leung, the Legislative Council president, said the destruction was not in line with the “core values of Hong Kong” and that police were collecting evidence of criminal acts.
Some pro-China lawmakers have urged the protesters to cool off following weeks of demonstrations.
It’s not clear when or if the protests will resume.
— With files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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