Pro-China and democratic lawmakers scuffle in Hong Kong legislature

Rival lawmakers shouted and shoved each other in Hong Kong's legislature on Friday (May 8) in a row over electing the chairman of a key committee.

It was a fresh sign of rising political tension as lockdown restrictions ease in the Chinese-ruled city.

Some democrats charged at a line of guards, seeking to eject a pro-Beijing lawmaker who attempted to chair the meeting in a move that democrats said violated procedure.

Democrats said the committee needs to elect a chairman first, before any legislation, including one bill that would criminalize abuse of China's national anthem, can be discussed.

But Beijing has accused the former British colony's pro-democracy lawmakers of "malicious" filibustering to prevent some proposed bills from going to a final vote, effectively paralyzing the legislature.

Friday's scuffles were reminiscent of scenes last May, over a proposed extradition law which was later scrapped after months of often violent protests.

Social distancing has largely put the brakes on protests since January, but demonstrations are expected to resume later this year.

China's Hong Kong affairs office warned on Wednesday (May 6) that the city would never be calm unless "black-clad violent protesters" were all removed, describing them as a "political virus" that seeks independence from Beijing.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 with a guarantee of its much-cherished freedoms.

Beijing rejects criticism that it is seeking to erode those freedoms.