Graffiti, glass and tear gas: Scenes of defiance from protesters in Hong Kong

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Protesters stormed Hong Kong’s legislature and occupied the complex Monday night, the anniversary of the semiautonomous territory’s return to Chinese rule — sharply escalating weeks of demonstrations against Beijing’s influence.

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In an unprecedented act of civil disobedience, the mostly young protesters smashed metal shutters, broke windows and ripped down metal fencing around the Legislative Council, eventually forcing their way into the building where riot police tried to push them back with tear gas.

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Before dawn, riot police and hundreds of protesters gathered on roads leading to a square where the Hong Kong and Chinese flags were set to be raised. The ceremony, which was attended by Hong Kong leaders and dignitaries including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, was moved indoors as crowds of protesters gathered. Officials said the event, which has never been held indoors, was moved because of “inclement weather.”

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July 1, the anniversary of the 1997 handover of sovereignty, has always been marked by marches featuring hundreds of thousands of people who want to uphold Hong Kong’s unique status, democratic characteristics and relative freedoms compared with mainland China. But this year’s event was taking place against a backdrop of upheaval. More than 80 people were injured in a clash between police and protesters in mid-June, angering many in Hong Kong who turned up at a large rally days later to denounce what they consider police brutality.

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"We are exhausted,” said a 22-year-old protester who did not want to give his name for fear of retribution from authorities. “But today’s march is special. We think it will be the last one that people will come out [to] on a large scale. We have to show our disappointment and anger.”

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Inside the convention center where the anniversary ceremony was held, Lam, flanked by Hong Kong and Chinese officials, raised a glass of champagne to mark the occasion. At a reception that followed, she said she had reflected on the disputes and that she understands “the need to grasp public sentiments accurately.”

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“After this incident, I will learn the lessons and ensure that the government’s future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community,” she said. Work to make Hong Kong’s governance “more open and accommodating” will start immediately, she added.

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Hours later, police using riot shields and wearing gas masks began violently removing the demonstrators who had occupied the legislative building. They fired tear gas, and images from the scene showed police using batons against protesters.

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