HONG KONG: The Hong Kong police were not “setting a trap” or “playing games” with protesters, the police chief said on Tuesday (Jul 2), in response to criticism that officers took hours before confronting demonstrators storming the government headquarters late Monday night.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, police commissioner Lo Wai-chung was asked why there were “no police officers” inside the Legislative Council building when protesters broke in.
Officers fired tear gas to disperse protesters just after midnight, about three hours after protesters first smashed windows and glass panels to get into the building.
Once inside, they defaced its walls with anti-government graffiti and hung up British colonial flags. Commentators have asked why it took hours before officers hit back against the protesters.
When asked if police were “playing games” or “setting a trap” for protesters, Mr Lo “totally disagreed” and said officers had been defending the Legislative Council building for nearly eight hours before the raid.
“During the period, we had been under siege of the protestors. They kept on using violent tactics to try to intrude into the LegCo (Legislative Council),” he said.
He said “several incidents happened” that forced his officers “to do a temporary retreat” after protesters started using violence to “charge the inner door”.
“Due to the local environment, we were unable to use some of the force that we could use in open ground,” he added.
“We found that there were some protestors tampering with the electricity boxes, and we found that some of the lights had gone out.
“And in fear of a total (black) out (after) some protestors turned off the lights, I'm afraid there will be people stepping (on) people, or there will be wrong move on either side, both the police and the protestors.”
The commissioner said there had been a “toxic powder attack” on his officers during the afternoon clashes on the streets, and that white smoke was thrown at police as demonstrators charged into the building.
“So without knowing whether this was another toxic powder attack, we had no other choice but to temporarily retreat from the LegCo,” Mr Lo said.
The red alert was raised by the Legislative Council Secretariat around 6.30pm on Monday, calling for a total evacuation of the building.
Mr Lo said the building was emptied by 9pm - the same time the protesters broke in - and that there were no other civilians in the building.
“My officers had no choice but to temporarily retreat, to do a regrouping and to do some redeployment to take back LegCo later on,” he said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the “extremely violent” storming of the building was “heartbreaking and shocking”.
Huge crowds of democracy activists earlier staged a march calling for Lam to step down and to protest against the extradition Bill.
But the atmosphere deteriorated as the day wore on, and a hardcore group of protesters breached parliament after hours of siege.
Many protesters said they felt compelled to take action because the city's leaders had ignored public sentiment.
"We have marched, staged sit-ins ... but the government has remained unmoved," Joey, a 26-year-old protester, said.
“We have to show the government that we won't just sit here and do nothing."
A protester surnamed Cheung, 24, added: "We know that this is breaking the law, but we have no choice."
The legislature will be closed on Tuesday.