Updated: June 12, 2019 09:35 AM GMT
A protester throws back a tear gas canister during clashes with police outside the government's headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12. Violent clashes broke out as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP)
Riot police fired tear gas, water cannon and pepper spray after thousands of protesters surrounded Hong Kong’s legislature today and forced a delay in a debate over a controversial extradition bill.
A relatively peaceful demonstration erupted as hundreds of protesters tried to storm the Legislative Council complex, prompting police to retaliate.
The protest followed Sunday’s huge march when an estimated one million people protested about the proposed new law.
Protesters, mostly young people who had camped overnight, were building metal barricades and walls of loose bricks in a standoff with riot police bearing shields and batons.
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung declared the clashes a "riot". Rioting is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
"It's a riot now. We had no choice but to use weapons to stop these protesters from barging at our defense lines. We condemn such irresponsible behavior. There's no need to hurt innocent people to express your opinions,” Lo said.
"We urge people not to do anything they will regret for the rest of their lives."
Black-shirted protesters wearing helmets and goggles taunted police outside the legislature as they opposed a bill which, critics say, will undermine the territory’s "one China, two systems" structure.
Some protesters entered the building as riot police responded by firing tear gas and smoke bombs inside the building. Some council members provided tissues and water to protesters stung by the gas.
Mark, a 20-year-old student from Lingnan University, told Al Jazeera that he had joined the protest because he did not trust China.
"The rule of law is central to Hong Kong. China is very sneaky. They promised us direct suffrage [to elect the chief executive] but then took it back," he said.
He doubted students would repeat the weeks-long Occupy Central protests that brought Hong Kong to a standstill in 2014. "Now people have different ideas," he said. "There are more aggressive ways to fight for our freedom."