A fight broke out in Hong Kong’s legislature Friday as pro-democracy and pro-China lawmakers sparred over selecting the chairperson of a key committee.
The rival legislators, wearing masks because of coronavirus guidelines, shouted and pushed one another as pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee attempted to chair the meeting from behind a cordon of about two dozen guards in grey suits. Democrats said the move violated procedure and sought to eject her from the House Committee chair where she was seated.
“I have the right to start this meeting,” Lee, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said.
Democrats responded by shouting “Starry Lee, step down!” and holding signs in Mandarin and Latin reading, “Beyond one’s powers.”
Images showed security guards carrying several democrats out of the chamber and one person being taken out on a stretcher. Beijing has accused the pro-democracy lawmakers of “malicious” filibustering to prevent final voting on several bills, paralyzing the legislature.
Democrats maintained the committee needed to elect a chairperson first, before considering any legislation, including one bill that would criminalize abuse of China’s national anthem. Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to China in 1997 with a guarantee of extended freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. Beijing rejects criticism that it is seeking to reverse those freedoms.
Resentment against the government remains widespread in Hong Kong and last June it erupted into weekly demonstrations to protest an extradition bill that would have allowed detainees in Hong Kong to be transferred to mainland China. Although the bill was later withdrawn, the demonstrations continued for months before a lull starting in January as the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.