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Guards Drag Pro-Democracy Lawmakers From Hong Kong Legislature

2020-05-08 -- Pro-democracy lawmakers were dragged out of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) on Friday at the behest of a pro-Beijing lawmaker whose legal powers to have them removed were immediately questioned.

The standoff began after Starry Lee, a lawmaker for the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), physically occupied the chairperson's seat at a committee meeting setting the legislative timetable.

Shouting "Starry Lee, step down!" pro-democracy lawmakers charged the dais where Lee was sitting, prompting security guards to form a protective cordon around her.

Lee claimed that her status as a former chairperson of LegCo's house committee gave her the right to conduct its business.

Several pro-democracy lawmakers were carried out of the chamber by security guards and paramedics on Lee's say-so, while the remainder of the pro-democracy camp displayed banners and chanted slogans.

Dennis Kwok, the pro-democracy chair of the committee, said he should have chaired the meeting.

Kwok was last week slammed by Beijing for using LegCo's rules of procedure to delay the election of a new chairperson, stalling a bid by the government to table a national anthem bill outlawing insults or disrespect to the national anthem of the People's Republic of China, which has been repeatedly booed by Hong Kong soccer fans.

Kwok was publicly attacked by a newly assertive Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office under the ruling Chinese Communist Party's State Council, and warned last week that LegCo could soon become like China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

"The events of the past few weeks are very clear--the Central People's Government is now exercising their so-called comprehensive jurisdiction over every aspect of Hong Kong domestic affairs," Kwok said.

"This was predicted a few years ago, but it is happening right now."

The HKMAO accused Kwok of violating his oath of allegiance as a lawmaker, which has been a precursor to the removal of several pro-democracy lawmakers in recent years, leaving the camp with insufficient votes to block key legislation in LegCo.

No right to preside

A LegCo legal adviser who earlier said that Lee had no power to call the committee meeting to order appeared to make a U-turn on Friday, opining instead that Lee should sort out the stalled legislative timetable because she was the last chairman before Kwok.

"With reference to the advice given to me by the legal adviser, I decided ... to convene two meetings of the House Committee," Lee told reporters on Friday.

"Kwok had no right to preside, as the afternoon House Committee was convened to discuss various legal opinions," she said.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Andrew Wan sought treatment in hospital after scuffles with security guards.

Kwok told journalists that Lee had effectively staged a coup in LegCo on Friday.

"What happened today was that the Hon. Starry Lee blatantly seized power, in collusion with the legal adviser and the security guards," he said. "I pointed out to her in no uncertain terms that she doesn't have the power to preside over this meeting."

Senior Hong Kong barristers have advised that Kwok's filibustering hadn't exceeded his authority nor broken any procedural rules.

LegCo president Andrew Leung has, however, agreed with the legal advisers consulted by Lee.

Standoff sparks protests

The standoff in LegCo brought dozens of protesters out onto streets and into shopping malls on Friday night, with a large crowd of black-clad protesters gathering alongside people in regular office clothes at Pacific Place, a glitzy mall not far from government headquarters in Admiralty.

Riot police were dispatched to the scene, and also turned out in force in Kowloon's Mong Kok district after protesters set up barricades near Soy Street and Sai Yeung Choi Street.

The crowd in Pacific Place repeated demands for fully democratic elections, a full inquiry into police violence, an amnesty for arrested protesters, and an end to the description of the protests as "riots."

But the HKMAO earlier this week weighed in with anti-terrorism rhetoric to describe the pro-democracy movement, calling it a "political virus" and a "dark, destructive force."

Plans by chief executive Carrie Lam to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China sparked mass street protests beginning in June 2019, soon followed by widespread public anger at police use of force against peaceful demonstrators and demands for fully democratic elections.

Lam formally withdrew the hated amendments to the city's extradition laws, but stopped short of meeting protesters' other demands.

Frontline protesters, eyewitnesses, journalists, and human rights groups have repeatedly said that the majority of violence during the protests has originated with the Hong Kong police, who have been widely criticized for the excessive use of tear gas, water cannon, and pepper spray, as well as both non-lethal and live ammunition weapons, on unarmed protesters.

Medical personnel and rights groups have also slammed the handcuffing and arrests of voluntary medical staff, including nurses and doctors, during the siege of the Polytechnic University by riot police in November 2019.

Reported by Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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