(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong began picking up after historic protests left the legislature ransacked, the streets littered with spent tear gas canisters and the city’s Beijing-backed leader promising to push back against further unrest.
Authorities announced that the central government complex in Admiralty would reopen Wednesday, but the legislative building will require a lengthier cleanup after demonstrators pulled down portraits, spray-painted slogans and draped a Union Jack-emblazoned colonial flag across the body president’s desk. Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the “extreme use of violence and vandalism” and defended the police’s decision to leave the Legislative Council to a small, but destructive group of protesters.
Most of the violence ended early Tuesday after the last crowds of mask- and helmet-wearing demonstrators fled the area to escape hundreds of riot police firing tear gas. The defacement of the only democratically elected legislature under Beijing control came on the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule.
Lam’s government sparked the political crisis by pushing legislation that would allow extraditions to China, a move that alarmed locals and multinational companies. The clashes have embarrassed the government in Beijing, which continues to back her.
“The government’s handling of the extradition bill issue has reinvigorated what was an ailing pro-democracy movement,” said Steve Vickers, former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police’s Criminal Intelligence Bureau and chief executive officer of risk consultant Steve Vickers & Associates. “A government crackdown and large-scale arrests of the extreme elements is likely and may result in further, but smaller demonstrations.”
The Hang Seng Index rose 1.2% as the city’s market reopened after a holiday, catching up with a global rally on trade talk optimism. The Hong Kong dollar briefly traded in the stronger half of its band against the greenback for the first time since September, rising as much as 0.19% to 7.7987.
The Chinese government on Tuesday denounced protesters who stormed the legislature as “extremists” and said it supported Hong Kong in punishing anyone responsible for the damage, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a spokesman from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council. State media rebuked the vandalism, using the chaos to bolster China’s views about the dangers of democracy.
Lam, who has seen her popularity plunge to record lows amid weeks of unprecedented protests, seized on the destruction to call for a return to order. She drew a contrast with a largely peaceful protest march Monday that attracted one of the largest crowds ever -- between 190,000 and 550,000 people -- with the occupation of the legislature.
“This is something that we should seriously condemn because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong,” she said. “I hope community at large will agree with us that, with these violent acts that we have seen, it is right for us to condemn it and hope society will return to normal as soon as possible.”
Lam’s response to the unrest was criticized as dismissive by opposition lawmakers, who demanded a meeting with the chief executive. Eddie Chu, a member of the Legislative Council, said Lam hadn’t said what her administration would do to address the underlying political problems.
“Ninety-nine percent is about the condemnation of the protesters, but very little time was left for how the government is going to resolve this crisis,” he told Bloomberg Television outside the legislature Tuesday. “In the coming weeks, we will see a very large hit back from the Beijing side and it turn into a security issue.”
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said Tuesday that police retreated out of fear for the safety of bystanders and themselves after protesters backed them into the building, tampered with the electrical boxes and threw “toxic powder” at officers. As of 4 p.m., there was no indication from police that any protesters had been arrested.
Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said the remaining two meetings of the legislature before its summer recess in July had been called off after extensive damage, effectively canceling the remainder of this year’s session.
“The police are now gathering evidence in the complex,” he said. “The repair and the rebuilding of the LegCo complex is expected to take a long time.”
At her early morning news conference, Lam denied that her government hasn’t responded to the people’s demands, pointing to a mid-June announcement that the extradition bill would be suspended. But some protesters have vowed to fight until she withdraws the bill completely and resigns.
Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo said pan-democratic politicians didn’t approve of the ransacking, but that Lam had twisted the events to cast the protesters in a bad light.
“Of course, we do not endorse vandalism, we don’t condone violence, but we hope everyone, not just in Hong Kong but in the whole wide world will try to understand the Hong Kong youngsters, the desperation exhibited behind the so-called violent act,” she told reporters. “Carrie Lam is trying to turn the table and trying to shift public opinion, focusing on our youngsters.”
(Updates with reopening of government offices in second paragraph.)
--With assistance from Fion Li, Bill Faries, Larry Liebert, Dominic Lau, Jon Herskovitz, Qi Ding and Will Davies.
To contact the reporters on this story: Natalie Lung in Hong Kong at email@example.com;David Tweed in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Kari Lindberg in Hong Kong at email@example.com
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