Dozens of pro-Beijing members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) staged a walk-out on Wednesday to prevent two newly elected lawmakers from completing their swearing-in, demanding that they apologize for changing the wording of their allegiance oaths to include slurs aimed at China.
The move came after LegCo president Andrew Leung ruled that the oaths taken by five lawmakers during an initial swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 12, were invalid and should be retaken.
Two new members took their oaths a second time on Wednesday without incident, but then pro-Beijing lawmakers walked out of the chamber, forcing an adjournment because there was no longer a quorum.
Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the localist group Youngspiration and Democracy Groundwork's Lau Siu-lai were left unable to swear in.
Leung and Yau had used swearing, anti-China slurs and pro-independence wording as a form of protest during the earlier ceremony.
Their limbo state has sparked fears of a looming constitutional crisis in the former British colony.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers and officials demanded an apology after Yau referred to China by an outdated insult, Shina.
Chaos ensued inside the chamber amid tussles over Chinese national flags, while lawmakers shouted at each other outside as pan-democratic LegCo members disrupted a press conference held by the other camp.
During the altercations, long-time activist and pan-democratic lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung threw tinned luncheon meat at the pro-government lawmakers, in an apparent reference to a previous dispute.
Lawmaker Starry Lee, who chairs the pro-China Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), said the action was "necessary."
"A lot of local people are really very angry, because some people used the platform of a solemn LegCo ceremony to make anti-China slurs ... and those that did this have made no expression of regret since then," Lee said.
"They haven't admitted they were wrong, and they haven't apologized ... This is the core issue, and it's totally unacceptable."
The walk-out came after Hong Kong's government failed on Tuesday to win a High Court injunction stopping Leung and Yau from repeating their oath of office.
However, a judicial review into the matter will take place in early November, prompting some legislators to call for a postponement of the pair's swearing-in pending that decision.
Sixtus Leung on Wednesday said he wouldn't apologize, however.
"An apology isn't just something I can do lightly, because it affects my [political] reputation, and we all think that I did nothing wrong," said Leung, who wore a flag saying "Hong Kong is not China" during his first oath-taking.
Leung said the attempt to blur the separation of powers in Hong Kong, which has long enjoyed an independent judiciary, was a "very, very bad" example of how Hong Kong's traditional freedoms are being eroded.
"The government, expecially [chief executive] Leung Chun-ying and [security chief] Rimsky Yuen, are trying to use the judiciary to dictate the decision-making of the legislature,"
"Yesterday was a very, very bad example of this," he said.
Yau Wai-ching said the walkout was irresponsible and unprofessional.
"We will wait to see how long they keep up their games for," Wai said. "The job of a LegCo member is to sit in LegCo."
Meanwhile, Edward Yiu, who succeeded in swearing allegiance as a LegCo member on Wednesday following an earlier, "slow-motion" protest, said the pro-government camp had acted wrongly.
"They are the majority group in LegCo ... that is the case in any of the debates, so they could prevent any official business from proceeding," Yiu told RFA.
"As the pro-establishment camp, they are supposed to uphold the system, but now they are undermining it," he said. "It beggars belief."
Anything to stop Youngspiration
Pro-government legislator Junius Ho, however, warned that the pro-government camp will do anything it takes to stop the Youngspiration duo from becoming members of LegCo.
"We boycott the decision taking by the chair of LegCo in allowing [Leung and Yau] to retake the oath," Ho said. "But we couldn't do anything better than to walk out in order to allow the meeting to lapse."
"This is an extraordinary measure."
But pan-democrat James To said Andrew Leung's decision, taken "according to legal opinion," should be allowed to stand.
"The President ... has already arranged for the members to take their oath, and the court has refused to grant a temporary injunction," he said.
"The court has considered that not allowing them to take their oath will take away their right to represent their voters."
Using English, one of Hong Kong's official languages, both Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching swore allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" rather than to the People's Republic of China.
Yau also referred to the "People's Re-F**king of Shina" three times during her oath, while independent lawmaker Edward Yiu added lines to his, vowing to safeguard procedural justice, fight for sustainable development, and demand true universal suffrage for Hong Kong.
Pan-democratic members won 19 seats in the 70-seat council in elections on Sept. 4, giving them a crucial veto over political reforms and constitutional change put forward by the government.
The election saw a number of younger politicians, including pro-independence candidates, a former leader of the 2014 Occupy Central democracy movement and a campaigning land-rights activist, win seats.
The government, acting under pressure from the ruling Chinese Communist Party, had already barred six people from standing as candidates because they had expressed pro-independence views.
A recent opinion survey showed that almost 40 percent of young people in Hong Kong favor independence for the city in 2047, when existing arrangements with China expire.
But the topic is a taboo one for Beijing, and chief executive Leung has ordered schools to punish any talk of the topic among students, threatening teachers with deregistration if they are found encouraging it.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.