Tense calm returned to the semi-autonomous territory after anti-government protesters broke into the legislative council in Hong Kong overnight.

"Hong Kong is not China" graffiti on the walls of the Legislative Council reads, a day after protesters broke into and defaced the building in Hong Kong. July 2, 2019. (Reuters)

A tense calm descended on Hong Kong early on Tuesday, hours after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had stormed the legislature in chaotic scenes to protest against an extradition bill in a direct challenge to Beijing.

China condemned the violent protests as an "undisguised challenge" to the formula under which the city is ruled.

A representative of China's Hong Kong affairs office denounced the demonstrators, who are furious about allowing extraditions to China, and said Beijing supports holding criminals responsible, state media said.

The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.

Monday was the 22nd anniversary of the handover.

Beijing denies interfering, but for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march towards mainland control.

Storming parliament

Debris including umbrellas, hard hats and water bottles was among the few signs left of the mayhem that had engulfed parts of the city on Monday and overnight after protesters stormed and ransacked the Legislative Council, or mini-parliament.

Police cleared roads near the heart of the financial centre, paving the way for business to return to normal.

However, the former British colony's government offices, where protesters smashed computers and spray-painted "anti-extradition" and slurs against the police and government on chamber walls, were closed on Tuesday.

The government's executive council meeting was due to be held in Government House, officials said.

Backlash to extradition bill

Millions of people have taken to the streets in the past few weeks to protest against the now-suspended extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

Lawyers and rights groups say China's justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention. China has been angered by Western criticism of the bill.

The bill triggered a backlash against Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, taking in the business, diplomatic and legal communities that fear corrosion of the legal autonomy of Hong Kong and the difficulty of guaranteeing a fair trial in China.

Lam, Hong Kong's self-styled Iron Lady, has created a fresh crisis for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is already grappling with a trade war with Washington, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.

Beijing backs criminal probe

China's central government condemned on Tuesday the ransacking of Hong Kong's legislature and said it backed the city authorities to investigate the "criminal responsibility of violent offenders".

"These serious illegal actions trample on the rule of law in Hong Kong, undermine Hong Kong's social order and harm the fundamental interests of Hong Kong," the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, China's cabinet, said in a statement by an unnamed spokesperson.

"It is a blatant challenge to the 'one country, two systems' bottom line. We express our vehement condemnation against this," the spokesperson said.

The statement said Beijing strongly supports Hong Kong's government and the police.

The central government "also supports the relevant agencies of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to investigate the criminal responsibility of violent offenders in accordance with the law, to restore normal social order as soon as possible, to protect the personal and property safety of the citizens, and to safeguard Hong Kong's prosperity and stability," it said.

Calls for restraint

The European Union on Monday called for restraint and dialogue to find a solution to the Hong Kong crisis.

“In the wake of these latest incidents, it is all the more important to exercise restraint, avoiding escalatory responses, and to engage in dialogue and consultation to find a way forward,” the EU said in a statement.

“The actions today of a small number of people, who attempted to force their way into the Legislative Council premises, are not representative of the vast majority of demonstrators, who have been peaceful, throughout successive protests,” the EU statement added.

British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt also urged the protesters to restrain themselves and demonstrate within the confines of the law. Hunt reiterated his support for the demonstrations but called on the protesters to be peaceful.

“Away from campaigning want to stress UK support for Hong Kong and its freedoms is UNWAVERING on this anniversary day,” Hunt said in a post on Twitter.

He added: “No violence is acceptable but HK people MUST preserve the right to peaceful protest exercised within the law, as hundreds of thousands of brave people showed today.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies