Angry core of Hong Kong protesters storms legislature, dividing the movement

  • >> Javier C Hernández, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-07-02 13:15:58 BdST

Protesters breach the doors of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Monday, Jul 1, 2019, hours after the government held a ceremony commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the territory’s return to China from Britain. A few hundred protesters stormed into the legislative complex on Monday, pumping their fists in the air, after riot police appeared to back away from a confrontation, leaving the compound hours after the core group of demonstrators started bashing their way in. The New York Times

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in peaceful protest in Hong Kong on Monday as it commemorated its return to China in 1997, but the city was shaken by images of a smaller group of activists who broke into the legislature, smashed glass walls and spray-painted slogans in the inner chamber.

The split-screen protest offered vivid evidence that the divide in the former British colony is not merely between protesters and the Beijing-allied government — the protesters are increasingly at odds with one another.

On Monday, as activists armed with metal bars and makeshift battering rams were on the cusp of breaking down the doors of the Legislative Council, a group of veteran politicians sympathetic to their cause pleaded with them to reconsider.

“Please ask if it’s worth it,” Claudia Mo, a lawmaker, told one black-masked protester. “Think about your mother.”

The confrontation made clear that the protest movement that has upended Hong Kong for months as citizens condemned meddling from the mainland is at a crossroads. Until now, protesters took pride in having no recognized leaders and using encrypted messaging to crowd-source their direction. But the pitfalls of that approach have begun to emerge, with protesters disagreeing over tactics and goals and lacking a consistent position from which to negotiate — even as the government toughens its stance.

“Now Beijing has a good excuse to become even more uncompromising,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University.

On Monday, Hong Kong social media was filled with pleas for the protesters to return to non-destructive methods. And early Tuesday, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, condemned the violence and praised the police, who she said had exercised restraint.

For weeks, the Hong Kong protest movement had stayed on the high road.

A few days after police used rubber bullets and pepper spray against demonstrators June 12, protesters held a vast and peaceful demonstration of more than 2 million.

On Monday, the vast majority of protesters were once again peaceful. But the images that dominated the day were generated by a core of a few hundred protesters who broke into the legislature.

The protesters now risk helping President Xi Jinping of China justify his desire for tighter control of Hong Kong, analysts say.

© 2019 New York Times News Service