Hong Kong's leader on Tuesday condemned 'the extreme use of violence' by masked protesters who stormed and ransacked the city's legislature in an unprecedented challenge to Beijing's authority.
The semi-autonomous financial hub has been thrown into crisis by weeks of massive demonstrations over a bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
But on Monday -- the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover to China -- anger spilled over as groups of mostly young, hardline protesters, broke into the legislative council.
They hung the city's colonial-era flag in the debating chamber, scrawled messages such as "Hong Kong is not China" and defaced the city's emblematic seal with spray-paint.
Police charged into the building shortly after midnight.
The events pose an unparalleled challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has so far left Lam to handle the protests.
In a pre-dawn press conference, Lam, the city's Beijing-appointed chief executive, described the scenes of vandalism as "heartbreaking and shocking".
"This is something we should seriously condemn because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong," she said, with the city's police chief Stephen Lo by her side.
Lo added: "Protesters' violent acts have far exceeded the bottom line of peaceful expressions of demands."
The financial hub has been rocked by massive protests over the past three weeks as anger against the pro-Beijing government has boiled over.
(with news agency inputs)