A long-awaited report from an official Hong Kong police watchdog group issued said officers used force only in response to threats to their safety during months of anti-government protests last year.

Police fired live rounds on 12 occasions when they “had reasonable suspicion of lethal force” being used or prepared against them, the Independent Police Complaints Council said in the lengthy report.

Its conclusions are unlikely to convince critics who say officers unnecessarily fired bullets, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to suppress the sometimes violent protests.

Although described as independent, the council is appointed by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, leading critics to say it ultimately serves the interests of the pro-Beijing administration rather than civil society.

A panel of international experts appointed to advise the council last November concluded that it lacked the power and independent investigative capacity to conduct a meaningful probe, but the council continued its work.

The human rights group Amnesty International said in March that the council lacked impartiality and echoed protesters’ demands that the government establish a truly independent inquiry into police conduct.

The council’s report said the protest movement, which was initially peaceful, had degenerated into violent protests with participants attacking police and destroying property.

It said police seized assault rifles, hand guns, ammunition and bomb-making materials connected to the protests, demonstrating that “our community is being dragged into an era of terrorism”.

Large-scale protests have ended, but the report said their economic damage had been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee it could retain its own legal and other institutions for 50 years.

Critics say China has been gradually eroding that semi-autonomous status, fuelling the opposition movement.

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