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Violent protests in Hong Kong may increase political pressure from China

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A pro-democracy lawmaker who tried to stop Hong Kong protesters from breaking into the legislature this week says China will likely use the vandalizing of the building as a reason to step up pressure on the Chinese territory.

Democratic Party member Lam Cheuk-ting was one of at least three lawmakers — all sympathetic to the protesters — who stepped in front of them Monday as they repeatedly drove a metal cart and thrust poles into a thick window until it shattered and collapsed. Hours later, protesters swarmed into the legislature, leaving a trail of destruction before riot police ordered them out three hours later.

“After the incident, I have strong reason to believe that the central government together with the Hong Kong government will try their very best to tighten their control in Hong Kong and try to undermine the ‘one country, two systems’ furthermore,” Lam said Wednesday.

Many people in Hong Kong worry that China is chipping away at the freedoms and rights they were guaranteed for 50 years after the then-British colony was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” framework 22 years ago this week.

As hundreds of thousands of people marched on Monday to voice these fears, a much smaller group of young protesters decided to break into the legislature, which was closed for a national holiday marking the anniversary of Hong Kong’s July 1, 1997, handover to China.

They started with a thick glass wall, hammering it over and over with a large cart. “Please listen to me, it’s very dangerous,” Lam screamed at them, warning that they could face long prison sentences for their actions. Another lawmaker who stood between the cart and window was tackled by a protester, and later appeared dazed and slightly injured.

Lam said that the young protesters, who have blocked streets, police headquarters and other government buildings in a series of protests over the past three weeks, have sacrificed enough. “It’s time for us to try our very best to convince them not to sacrifice anymore, but some of them even told us they are well prepared to die for Hong Kong,” he said, recounting Monday’s events at the site. “It’s very sad. It’s very sad.”

Hong Kong police have blocked off the legislative building as a crime scene. Protesters sprayed slogans in the main chamber, tore down and bashed portraits of legislative leaders and tipped over file cabinets in offices, strewing papers on the floors. At least one elevator was heavily damaged, as were a metal curtain-wall that was forcefully pried open and glass walls that were shattered on two sides of the building.

A Chinese government spokesman said that “violent lawbreakers” had intentionally damaged Hong Kong government facilities, calling them “serious illegal acts that trample on the rule of law and endanger social order.”

Police said late Wednesday night that one man had been arrested, accused of criminal destruction and forced entry into the building, while 12 other people were arrested in connection to protest activity earlier Monday.

The demonstrators had grown increasingly frustrated that, despite repeated disruptive protests, the government had not given them a response to their demands. They include the formal withdrawal of a suspended extradition bill that would allow suspects to be sent to China for trial, the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, the release of those arrested after a June 12 protest and an independent investigation into the unusually harsh police response on that day, which included tear gas and rubber bullets.

The government says the suspension of the bill effectively killed it. Carrie Lam, who was criticized for disappearing from public view for two weeks, said Tuesday that releasing suspects without investigation would violate Hong Kong’s rule of law.

Lam, the pro-democracy lawmaker, said the protesters felt hopeless and powerless and wanted to make noise to show the government and the outside world that they would not give up: “That was their choice, even if I don’t agree with them, even if they understand the tactic may not work, they still wanted to try to show their anger and frustration to the government and the international community.”

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