Dozens of protesters gathered in Hong Kong on Wednesday after two legislators-elect pushed their way into the city's legislature, halting proceedings, after being barred from attending meetings pending a court decision on their status.
The protesters gathered outside the Legislative Council (LegCo) building to show support for Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the "localist" group Youngspiration, who barged into the chamber on Wednesday, saying the LegCo chairman Andrew Leung didn't have the authority under procedural rules to bar them from meetings.
Shouting slogans calling on Andrew Leung to resign, the supporters also hit out at a government court action seeking to prevent Sixtus Leung and Yau from taking office.
The two lawmakers-elect have yet to be formally sworn in after they used their first swearing-in oaths to stage a protest against Chinese rule, referring to the country by an outdated epithet, adding swear-words and inserting pro-independence slogans into their declarations.
The pair were expected to retake their oaths last week, but pro-Beijing lawmakers invalidated the ceremony by staging a mass walkout.
Then, Andrew Leung on Tuesday barred them from LegCo meetings pending a court decision on a government writ seeking to bar them altogether from taking up their seats.
The chamber erupted into shouts and jostling as pan-democratic lawmakers shuffled closer to the pair, trying to stop security guards from forcibly removing them.
"Democratically elected legislators need to take their oath," the democrats shouted, while Sixtus Leung pointed to LegCo's rules of procedure which he said entitle him to be there.
After around 30 minutes of standoff, during which they were surrounded by the media, the meeting was adjourned.
'Duplicitous Andrew Leung'
Yau told reporters: "I and Sixtus Leung should have been allowed to enter LegCo today legally, but instead we had to rely on help from the pan-democrats to get in."
"Last week they said we could retake our oaths, but now they have refused us," she said. "This is shameless, and the only person who disrupted the order of the council today was the duplicitous Andrew Leung."
Sixtus Leung said they would now be fully sworn-in legislators if it hadn't been for the walkout by pro-government LegCo members.
"If they hadn't sabotaged the ceremony by sheer force of numbers, then we would have completed our others and we could have started our work as LegCo members, examining proposed legislation," he said.
"This is all the doing of the pro-establishment faction."
"Localist" groups have emerged as a political force in the city since the failure of the 2014 Occupy Central movement to persuade the authorities to allow fully democratic elections, in spite of an order from Beijing that all candidates must be vetted by its supporters.
While some localists stop short of advocating independence, they are largely united in their desire to minimize the effects of Chinese rule in the city, amid widespread concerns over the erosion of its traditional freedoms.
But the growing movement, which has a huge support base among younger voters, has drawn withering comment and warnings from Beijing, which regards support for independence as anathema.
War of words with China
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign ministry officials have engaged in an ongoing war of words with the younger generation of Hong Kong politicians over the city's right to self-determination.
According to Beijing diplomat Song Zhe, Hong Kong was under the effective control of the Chinese government until the first Opium War, which saw the main island ceded to Britain "in perpetuity."
This history and shared Chinese culture makes the city an "inalienable" part of Chinese territory, in spite of its colonial past, Song wrote. "There has never been a Hong Kong nation," he said.
But former Occupy Central leader Joshua Wong and activist Jeffrey Ngo argue that the city was stripped of its right to self-determination by Beijing in 1972, when Chinese officials persuaded the United Nations to change its status.
According to the activists, Hong Kong, as a British colony from 1842-1997, was entitled to self-determination under international law. They have also called for Hong Kong to "regain" its lost right to self-determination.
Under the terms of the 1997 handover, the city was promised a "high degree of autonomy," but Beijing's growing interference there, especially the cross-border detentions of five Hong Kong booksellers by Chinese police for selling "banned" political titles to customers across the internal immigration border has undermined that autonomy, journalists, activists and diplomats say.
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 Beijing says it is out of the question, and Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying 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.