Hong Kong legislature erupts in clashes over key committee control

Linda J. Dodson

HONG KONG — A meeting in Hong Kong’s legislature on Friday descended into physical clashes among lawmakers, as members from opposing parties fought for the chairman role of a key committee that will determine whether important bills, including a controversial national anthem law, can be passed before the current legislative term ends in July.

The Legislative Council House Committee meeting saw lawmakers pushing and scuffling with each other, and several pro-democracy lawmakers were evicted from the meeting venue by security guards.

A Democratic Party lawmaker was injured in the skirmishes and carried away by ambulance.

The showdown comes as Beijing’s offices overseeing the city criticized pro-democracy lawmakers for using filibustering tactics to paralyze the Legislative Council, in rare statements that openly commented on the lawmaking body’s agenda.

Critics fear that Hong Kong’s autonomy will be further eroded as China’s central government interferes with greater frequency with the former British colony’s internal affairs.

The pan-democratic camp, the minority in the semi-autonomous city’s de facto parliament, has been stalling the election of a committee chair since last October in order to delay the passage of a proposed national anthem bill. Under the bill, people who “intentionally insult” China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” could face fines of up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars ($6,450) and three years in prison.

Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and its liaison office in the city have accused pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who has presided over the committee, of violating his oath and misconduct in public office, hinting that he might be disqualified if he continues to delay the vote on the chairmanship.

A total of six pro-democracy lawmakers have been disqualified in the current legislative term.

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