WASHINGTON: Donald Trump's supporters on Wednesday stormed a session of Congress held to certify Joe Biden's win, as a desperate last-minute bid by the president to overturn his election loss sparked chaos and accusations of a "coup" attempt.
Hours after an extraordinary rally by Trump challenging his defeat, his flag-waving backers broke down barricades outside the Capitol and swarmed inside, with the special session going into an emergency recess as protesters entered the chambers.
Officials at the US Capitol declared a lockdown, and lawmakers said on Twitter that they were sheltering in place in their offices, as protesters -- some of them holding Trump flags -- were seen walking through the building. The US House and Senate were forced into emergency recess after protesters supportive of outgoing President Donald Trump breached security cordons and entered the Capitol building after clashing with police. "Without objection the chair declares the House in recess," Congressman Jim McGovern said, banging down the gavel as loud shouts and disturbances could be heard in the public galleries in the chamber. CNN reported source said Senate and House leaders were in an undisclosed location.
"Chamber security and Capitol Police have their guns drawn as protesters bang on the front door of the chamber," Representative Dan Kildee tweeted from inside the chamber. "We have been instructed to lie down on the floor and put on our gas masks." Tear gas was used in the US Capitol on Wednesday, a congressman said, as supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the building in protest at his election defeat. An AFP photographer described a smoky substance in the air in the large circular space under the Capitol dome as 100 or more protesters gathered.
"Police have asked us to get gas masks out as there has been tear gas used in the rotunda," House Democrat Jim Himes said on Twitter. According to CNN a woman was shot in the chest and critically wounded as the mob shattered the Capitol’s windows to barge into the House.
US police in the chamber of the US House of Representatives drew their weapons as supporters of Donald Trump tried to break in Wednesday, a congressman said. Police struggled to remove a sea of protesters who took aim, at Trump's urging. "The President of the United States is inciting a coup. We will not be intimidated. We will not be deterred," tweeted Democratic Representative Karen Bass. Representative Elaine Luria said she had to evacuate because of a report of a pipe bomb and said she believed she heard gunshots.
Resident-elect Joe Biden addressed the riots that erupted at the US Capitol building, calling it an "assault" on democracy. "At this hour, our democracy's under unprecedented assault. Unlike anything we've seen in modern times. An assault on the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself. An assault on the people's representatives and the Capitol Hill police, sworn to protect them. And the public servants who work at the heart of our Republic... Let me be very clear. The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America. Do not represent who we are. What we're seeing are a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent. It's disorder. It's chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now," Biden said.
Biden won more than seven million votes more than Trump in the November 3 election and leads him 306-232 in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines elections. Trump has repeatedly alleged without no evidence that there was vote-rigging but his team has not been able to prove a single case in court.
The US National Guard troops are being mobilized in Washington and neighboring states after protesters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday, the White House and Pentagon said. White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said in a tweet that Trump had directed the callup of National Guard troops "along with other federal protective services" to deal with the unrest.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew Wednesday after angry supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol. Bowser set a 6:00 pm (2300 GMT) curfew after thousands of protesters descended on the US Congress, forced lawmakers to go into recess as they began the process of confirming Joe Biden as the next US president. The curfew is to remain in place until 6:00am Thursday.
Later, President Trump urged protesters to support police and law enforcement in a tweet Wednesday afternoon as they breached the US Capitol. Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!
As Trump was still speaking and Congress opened the session, Pence -- dutifully loyal to Trump over four years and quiet since the election -- said he would not intervene.
"The Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not," Pence said in a statement.
Trump blasted Mike Pence after his vice president refused to intervene in the certification by Congress of Democrat Joe Biden's election victory. "Mike Pence didn´t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution," Trump tweeted. "USA demands the truth!" Trump's statement came after Pence, in defiance of the president, said he would not stop the certification by Congress of Biden's victory.
In his rally near the White House, Trump urged them to head to the Capitol. Rambling angrily, the president warned "weak" Republicans not to certify Biden's victory and put direct pressure on Vice President Mike Pence, who ceremonially presided over the session. "We will never give up. We will never concede," Trump told the cheering crowd, few wearing masks despite a spike in Covid cases. "I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do," Trump said, describing the US election as less honest than those of "Third World countries."
Thousands of Trump supporters had headed to Washington at his urging in recent days, with downtown businesses boarding up in fear of violence. "I can't say I respect our election process anymore," said Gail Shaw, 76, who drove down from New Jersey. "We will take our nation back." President elect appeared on TV asking Trump to go on TV to call for end to Capitol siege.
As scenes of chaos spread, Trump took to Twitter to call on his supporters to be peaceful and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a 6 pm curfew in the city.
The session of Congress comes one day after voters went to the polls in Georgia and appear to have handed a pair of stunning victories to the Democratic Senate candidates over Republican incumbents.
Biden is due to be sworn in on January 20 and control of the Senate would give his Democrats the levers of power in the executive branch and both chambers of Congress and allow him to push through his legislative agenda.
Global condemnation began pouring in. "Shocking scenes in Washington, DC," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg tweeted. "The outcome of this democratic election must be respected," he said, referring to the US presidential election that saw Joe Biden beat Trump.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on supporters of President Donald Trump to "stop trampling on democracy" after they smashed into the US Congress and shut down legislative sessions.
"Trump and his supporters should finally accept the decision of American voters and stop trampling on democracy," he tweeted.
"The enemies of democracy will be pleased to see these incredible images from Washington DC," he added. "Inflammatory words turn into violent actions."
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