HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday (Jul 2) condemned the "extremely violent" storming of the city's parliament, after thousands of protesters ransacked the assembly in an unprecedented display of defiance on the anniversary of the territory's handover to China.
At a press conference in the early hours, Lam called Monday's events "heartbreaking and shocking" and said she hoped society would "return to normal as soon as possible", while acknowledging that thousands had marched peacefully in the city before the unrest.
"It is not true to say that the government has not responded (to protesters' demands). (We) have not responded to every demand asked because of good reasons," Lam said.
She reiterated that the extradition Bill has been suspended "with no timetable and no plan to resume the debate of the Bill".
"The Bill will expire or the Bill will die in July 2020 when the current electoral term expires. That is a very positive response to the demands that we have put," she added.
On the demands to "grant an amnesty to all those involved in these protests", Lam said that "would not be in accordance with the rule of law".
Masked protesters - mostly young and many wearing yellow hard hats - broke into the legislature after hours of clashes with police.
They ransacked the building, daubing its walls with anti-government graffiti, in an unparalleled challenge to city authorities and Beijing.
Speaking beside Lam, police chief Stephen Lo said: "Protesters' violent acts have far exceeded the bottom line of peaceful expressions of demands."
He added that police officers "had no choice" but to retreat from the legislature and allow protesters to briefly occupy it.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump said the demonstrators were "looking for democracy", adding that "unfortunately, some governments don't want democracy".
A spokeswoman from the US State Department earlier urged "all sides to refrain from violence".
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his country's support for Hong Kong and "its freedoms is unwavering" and urged restraint from protesters in comments echoed by the European Union.
"WE HAVE NO CHOICE"
Huge crowds of democracy activists earlier staged a march calling for Lam to step down and for a reverse of what they see as years of sliding freedoms.
But the atmosphere deteriorated as the day wore on, and a hardcore group of protesters breached parliament after hours of siege.
Once inside, they tore down portraits of the city's leaders, hoisted a British colonial-era flag in the main chamber and sprayed the city crest with black paint.
"There are no violent protesters, just tyranny," read one banner, hoisted above the podium.
"Hong Kong is not China," read another.
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, told AFP as she walked over shattered glass inside the building.
"We have to show the government that we won't just sit here and do nothing."
The legislature will be closed on Tuesday.
Lam - who has record low approval ratings - attended a flag-raising ceremony early Monday, marking the moment the city returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago.
Her speech stuck to the conciliatory tone she has used in recent weeks, saying she recognised conflict had broken out.
"ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS"
The past three weeks of rallies are the sharpest expression of fears over Chinese influence on the territory in decades.
Protesters accuse Beijing of stifling the city's freedoms and culture with the help of unelected leaders.
But the increasingly hardline tactics from some protesters have alienated some, with a large counter-rally in support of the police taking place on Sunday.
Although Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule on Jul 1, 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as "one country, two systems".
The city enjoys rights and liberties unseen on the autocratic mainland, but many residents fear Beijing is already reneging on that deal.
Activists have organised a march every handover anniversary, calling for greater democratic freedoms - such as the right to elect the city's leader.
They have mustered large crowds in recent years - including a two-month occupation of parts of the city centre in 2014 - but have failed to win any concessions from Beijing.
The spark for the current wave of protests was an attempt by Lam to pass the Beijing-backed extradition law, which she has now postponed following the public backlash.
But she has resisted calls to permanently shelve the law or step down.