Hong Kong police clear protesters from legislature building

Hundreds of protesters swarmed into the Hong Kong legislature's main building, tearing down portraits and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans in the main chamber as frustration over a lack of response to opposition demands boiled over.

Police carrying riot shields and firing tear gas moved in shortly after midnight to clear surrounding streets and then moved into the already vacated legislative chamber.

A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that "appropriate force" would be used in the clearance operation, but there was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.

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Riot police clear the streets outside the Legislative Council building, after protesters stormed the building on the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China, in Hong Kong, China July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Hong Kong has been hit by weeks of protests over a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial.
Police fire tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. - Riot police fired tear gas as they attempted to dislodge anti-government protesters in the early hours of the morning of July 2 in chaotic scenes in the heart of Hong Kong. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Police fire tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. - Riot police fired tear gas as they attempted to dislodge anti-government protesters in the early hours of the morning of July 2 in chaotic scenes in the heart of Hong Kong. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Police stand guard on roads after protesters broke into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. - Riot police fired tear gas as they attempted to dislodge anti-government protesters in the early hours of the morning of July 2 in chaotic scenes in the heart of Hong Kong. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police fire tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. - Riot police fired tear gas as they attempted to dislodge anti-government protesters in the early hours of the morning of July 2 in chaotic scenes in the heart of Hong Kong. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police fire tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. - Riot police fired tear gas as they attempted to dislodge anti-government protesters in the early hours of the morning of July 2 in chaotic scenes in the heart of Hong Kong. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters and members of the media are seen in the parliament chambers after protesters broke into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament late on July 1 as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, ransacking the building and daubing its walls with graffiti as the city plunged into unprecedented depths of political chaos. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/07/01: Anti government demonstrators use umbrellas as shields, they also wear protective gears such as gas masks, helmets and eye goggles to defend themselves from police pepper spray and tear gas as they try to storm the legislative council building. Hundreds of protesters gather outside the legislative council building and attempt to force their way in and occupy Hong Kong's parliament on July 1 as the territory marked the anniversary of its 22nd anniversary handover to China. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters smash glass doors and windows of the Legislative Council Complex protest against the extradition bill on July 01, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters gather outside Legislative Council Complex protest against the extradition bill on July 01, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
A protester defaces the Hong Kong emblem after protesters broke into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament late on July 1 as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, ransacking the building and daubing its walls with graffiti as the city plunged into unprecedented depths of political chaos. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters break into the Legislative Council Complex protest against the extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters broke into Hong Kong's legislature on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of the territory's return to China from Britain after riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention center, citing bad weather, as tens of thousands protesters marched separately after the ceremony that morning. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
Protesters break into the chamber of Legislative Council in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Anti-government protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament building late on July 1 after successfully smashing their way through reinforced glass windows and prizing open metal shutters that were blocking their way. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters break into the parliament chambers of the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament late on July 1 as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, ransacking the building and daubing its walls with graffiti as the city plunged into unprecedented depths of political chaos. (Photo by VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP) (Photo credit should read VIVEK PRAKASH/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters take part in a rally against extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters take part in a rally against extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters smash glass doors and windows to break into the parliament chamber of Legislative Council Complex protest against the extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
Protesters spray graffiti in the parliament chamber after they broke into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament late on July 1 as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, ransacking the building and daubing its walls with graffiti as the city plunged into unprecedented depths of political chaos. (Photo by VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP) (Photo credit should read VIVEK PRAKASH/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters use a recycling bin to break the glass inside the Legislative Council while protesting against the extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre. (Photo by Ivan Shum/Clicks Images via Getty Images)
A protester waves the British Union Jack flag in the parliament chamber after they broke into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament late on July 1 as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, ransacking the building and daubing its walls with graffiti as the city plunged into unprecedented depths of political chaos. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Protesters gather outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July1, 2019. - Hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament late on July 1 as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, ransacking the building and daubing its walls with graffiti as the city plunged into unprecedented depths of political chaos. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters break into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Anti-government protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament building late on July 1 after successfully smashing their way through reinforced glass windows and prizing open metal shutters that were blocking their way. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters break into the Legislative Council Complex protest against the extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters smash glass doors and windows to break into the parliament chamber of Legislative Council Complex protest against the extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JULY 01: Protesters smash glass doors and windows to break into the parliament chamber of Legislative Council Complex protest against the extradition bill on July 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters faced off with riot police on Monday during the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule as riot police officers used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators. The city's embattled leader Carrie Lam watched a flag-raising ceremony on a video display from inside a convention centre, citing bad weather, as water-filled barricades were set up around the exhibition centre.(Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
A protester walks past a sign for the government headquarters after they broke into the building in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Anti-government protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament building late on July 1 after successfully smashing their way through reinforced glass windows and prizing open metal shutters that were blocking their way. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters break into the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. - Anti-government protesters stormed Hong Kong's parliament building late on July 1 after successfully smashing their way through reinforced glass windows and prizing open metal shutters that were blocking their way. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters are seen moving barricades down the road in Hong Kong, China. 1 July 2019. Protesters today clash with police with police using pepper spray and batons to disperses Protesters , protesters started occupying road early morning on the 22th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong From the United Kingdom to China. (Photo by Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Police Officers are seen waving their batons in Hong Kong, China. 1 July 2019. Protesters today clash with police with police using pepper spray and batons to disperses Protesters , protesters started occupying road early morning on the 22th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong From the United Kingdom to China. (Photo by Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A Protester is seen lying on the ground while police surround him in Hong Kong, China. 1 July 2019. Protesters today clash with police with police using pepper spray and batons to disperses Protesters , protesters started occupying road early morning on the 22th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong From the United Kingdom to China. (Photo by Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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The sharp escalation in tactics came on the anniversary of the former British colony's return to China, a city holiday, and reflected mounting frustration with Hong Kong's leader for not responding to protesters' demands after several weeks of demonstrations.

The protesters had smashed windows and pried open steel security gates to gain entrance to the building.

Police in riot gear retreated as the protesters entered, avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building.

The activists stood on legislators' desks in the main legislative chamber, painted over the territory's emblem high on a wall and wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city's leader and denouncing now-suspended extradition legislation that sparked the protests.

A protester walks by a defaced Hong Kong emblem
A protester walks by a defaced Hong Kong emblem (Vincent Yu/AP)

Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform.

The actions prompted organisers of a peaceful march against the extradition bill to change the end point of their protest from the legislature to a nearby park, after police asked them to either call it off or change the route.

Police wanted the march to end earlier in the Wan Chai district, but organisers said that would leave out many people who planned to join the march along the way.

Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks. Organisers estimated the number at 550,000.

Protesters in the meeting hall of the Legislative Council
Protesters in the meeting hall of the Legislative Council (Kin Cheung/AP)

Hong Kong has been hit by weeks of protests over a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial.

The proposed legislation, on which debate has been suspended indefinitely, increased fears of eroding freedoms in the territory, which Britain returned to China on July 1 1997.

Protesters want the bills formally withdrawn and Hong Kong's embattled leader, Carrie Lam, to resign.

Ms Lam, who has come under withering criticism for trying to push the legislation through, pledged to be more responsive to public sentiment but has not responded directly to protesters' demands.

In an address after a flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the handover, she said the protests and two earlier marches that attracted hundreds of thousands of participants have taught her that she needs to listen better to youth and people in general.

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