Protesters supporting President Donald Trump violently clashed with law enforcement on Wednesday, sending the US Capitol into chaos, locking the building down and halting the vote to certify Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
Dozens of people breached security perimeters at the Capitol and lawmakers inside the House chamber were told to put on gas masks as tear gas was fired in the Rotunda.
An announcement was played inside the Capitol as lawmakers were meeting and expected to vote to affirm Biden’s victory. Due to an “external security threat,” no one could enter or exit the Capitol complex, the recording said.
Both chambers abruptly went into recess. The District of Columbia’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, issued a curfew for 6 pm.
The skirmishes occurred outside in the very spot where president-elect Biden will be inaugurated in just two weeks.
Protesters tore down metal barricades at the bottom of the Capitol’s steps and were met by officers in riot gear. Some tried to push past the officers who held shields and officers could be seen firing pepper spray into the crowd to keep them back. Some in the crowd were shouting “traitors” as officers tried to keep them back.
Trump urges protesters to ‘stay peaceful’:
Addressing the unfolding situation on Twitter, Mr Trump urged protesters to “stay peaceful,” before later issuing a video urging them to “go home.”
“I know your pain, I know your hurt, we had an election that was stolen from us,” he said, repeating baseless claims of election fraud.
“But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order.
“We can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”
The clashes came just shortly after Mr Trump addressed thousands of his supporters, repeating baseless claims of election fraud at a rally near the White House on Wednesday ahead of Congress vote.
“We will not let them silence your voices,” Mr Trump told the protesters, who had lined up before sunrise to get a prime position to hear the President.
“We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
Biden urges Trump to ‘demand an end to this siege’:
In a national address, Mr Biden called those storming the Capitol “a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness.”
“This is not decent, it is disorder, it is chaos,” he said, urging Mr Trump to “demand an end to this siege.”
“It borders on sedition and it must end now. I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Vice-President Mike Pence, who issued a series of tweets condemning the violence, which he labelled an “attack on our Capitol.”
He called for those involved to be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.”
“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol must stop and it must stop now,” he tweeted. “Anyone involved must respect law enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”
Joe Biden’s Greek American Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, also tweeted her praise of the way Biden has handled the situation so far, writing: “pretty proud to work for a future President (t-2 weeks) who calls people to a greater good, to leadership, to respect for Democracy and decency.”
Prime Ministers of Greece and Australia react to violent clashes:
In a post on Twitter, Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has expressed his concern over the unfolding situation at Capitol Hill this morning in the US.
“Extremely troubled by the violence and horrible events taking place in Washington DC,” Mitsotakis wrote.
“American democracy is resilient, deeply rooted and will overcome this crisis.”
For his part, Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has condemned the acts of violence and says he’s is looking forward to a peaceful transfer of Government.
“Very distressing scenes at the US Congress,” Mr Morrison wrote on Twitter.
“We condemn these acts of violence and look forward to a peaceful transfer of Government to the newly elected administration in the great American democratic tradition.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
The US Congress is now back in session to certify Joe Biden’s election win, while the death toll from the riots has risen to at least four.
Washington DC police said four people died during the chaos at the Capitol on Wednesday local time.
They include the woman who was shot and a further three who suffered “medical emergencies.”
“We will not know the cause of death – we believe some type of medical emergency,” Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department chief Robert Contee said.
Fifty-two people were arrested – 26 on Capitol grounds – Washington DC police said.