Hong Kong Lawmakers Scuffle After China Loyalists Assert Control

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(Bloomberg) -- Scuffles broke out between Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers and those who favor closer ties with Beijing, threatening to reignite pro-democracy protests that are starting to again show signs of life.

Verbal arguments erupted before a House Committee meeting at the Legislative Council on Friday afternoon, with opposition politicians trying to reach the chairperson’s podium and bring the gathering to a halt. Dozens of security guards had surrounded the seat after pro-government legislator Starry Lee, the body’s incumbent chairperson, sat down more than hour before the meeting was set to begin.

The House Committee, which vets new bills, has been a point of contention since October. Pro-democracy lawmakers led by incumbent deputy chair Dennis Kwok have prevented it from electing a new chairperson, effectively stalling the legislature -- a move that has drawn repeated criticism from China’s top agencies for Hong Kong.

In an effort to break the deadlock, the legislature’s president, Andrew Leung, had earlier sought external legal advice, which said Lee could handle urgent matters until a new chair was elected. Pan-democrats lawmakers then sought their own legal advice, which suggested that having Lee chair the meeting was illegal due to a conflict of interest because she was running for re-election.

Friday’s meeting eventually got underway amid shouting matches, with Lee calling for lawmakers to return to their seats. As Lee spoke, some pan-democrats shouted slogans and held up red posters bearing her face and the Latin phrase “ultra vires” -- meaning “beyond one’s legal power or authority” -- in protest.

At least six democratic lawmakers, including Raymond Chan, Eddie Chu and Ted Hui, were dragged on the floor and carried out of the room during the melee by security after failing to comply with Lee’s warnings to sit down. Pro-democracy legislator Andrew Wan was carried out on a stretcher, after apparently having been injured as guards tried to take him away.

The incident comes as Hong Kong’s government grapples with the threat of resurgent pro-democracy protests and an economy that’s been battered by both the coronavirus pandemic and months of violent demonstrations last year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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