hots were fired and a woman was reportedly left “critically” wounded after Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building in Washington DC.
The iconic landmark was plunged into lockdown as crowds protesting Joe Biden’s victory in November’s presidential elections charged through security barricades around the building where politicians had met to vote on the Democrat’s victory.
A number of demonstrators shouted “traitors” as police in riot gear attempted to block their path.
The skirmishes occurred at the very spot where President-elect Biden will be inaugurated in just two weeks’ time.
More than an hour after the violence first erupted, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said that the National Guard was being deployed to deal with the violence “along with other federal protective services”.
Mr Biden had planned to deliver a speech from his native town of Delaware, focused on how to revive America’s economy in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
But shortly before he was due to begin, the demonstrators broke into the Capitol, where members of the Senate and House of Representatives were tallying the Electoral College count. The session was swiftly suspended and lawmakers were rushed to safety.
At least one explosive device was found near the scene, but authorities later confirmed that it was “no longer a threat”.
Joe Biden urged Mr Trump to ‘step up’ and call for an end to the chaos
In a televised speech following the outbreak, Mr Biden described it as a “dark moment” for a nation that for so long had been a “beacon of hope and light for democracy”.
He said: “At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault. Unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. An assault on the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself.”
“Let me be very clear, the scenes of chaos at the Capital do not reflect the true America do not represent who we are are. What we seeing are a small number of extremists, dedicated to lawlessness.
“This is not dissent, this is disorder, this is lawlessness, it borders on sedition, and it must end now.”
“I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfil his oath and defend the constitution and demand an end to this siege.”
In the clip, which Twitter flagged for featuring baseless claims about electoral fraud, Mr Trump told his emboldened followers: “I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side.
“But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.
“It’s a very tough period of time, there’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us – from me, from you, from our country.
“This was a fraudulent election, but 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,” he continued: “But go home and go home in peace.”
The heated confrontations came just shortly after Mr Trump addressed thousands of his supporters at a rally near the White House ahead of Congress’s vote.
“We will not let them silence your voices,” the incumbent president told the protester who had lined up before sunrise to hear him speak.
But Mr Trump has vowed to “never concede” and earlier urged the massive crowd to march on the Capitol.
In response to the chaos later in the day, he tweeted: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
However, the situation swiftly became far from peaceful amid an armed standoff at the entrance to the House chamber, with lawmakers stuck inside.
Members of Congress were instructed to put on gas masks after tear gas was dispersed in a bid to quell the clashes.
But after protesters stormed into the building, politicians, including Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were evacuated.
Photos posted by journalists inside showed demonstrators wearing “Make America Great Again” caps squaring off with officers.
One man who managed to get into the Senate chamber got up onto the speaking platform and yelled: “Trump won that election.”
Several dozen were said to be roaming through the halls yelling: “Where are they?”, while others were spotted in the visitors’ galleries.
Journalist Michael Del Moro, of MSNBC, tweeted a photo of a person apparently being carried out of the building by ambulance workers with “what appears to be a serious injury”.
CNN later reported that a woman had been left in a “critical condition” after being shot in the chest on the Capitol grounds.
In response to the mayhem, the region’s mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew from 6pm tonight until 6am tomorrow, local time.
David Trone, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, said lawmakers “will not be stopped by this lawless intimidation”.
Tweeting a picture of himself in a gas mask, he wrote: “I am safe. We have been evacuated.
Pressure soon mounted on Mr Trump to condemn his supporters’ actions, with his former Counselor Kellyanne Conway, tweeting: “STOP. Just STOP. Peace. Law and Order. Safety for All.”
Among those urging the president to act was his former communications director, Alyssa Farah, who wrote that he should “Condemn this now.”
Meanwhile, Ms Pelosi tweeted that she and New York senator Chuck Schumer were calling on the president to “demand that all protesters leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol grounds immediately.”
Once he had reached safety, Vice-president Pence tweeted: “Peaceful protest is the right of every American but this attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
In a now-deleted post, Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka addressed the protesters as “American Patriots” while urging them to be peaceful.
“American Patriots – any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable,” she wrote.
Mr Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also addressed Trump supporters in a tweet, calling them the “patriots challenging the fraudulent election”.
The situation has been met with shock across the world, with international leaders branding the actions of protesters “appalling”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the “disgraceful scenes”, tweeting: “The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.”
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “Horrendous scenes from the US. These are not ‘protesters’ – this a direct attack on democracy and legislators carrying out the will of the American people.”
And former Tory MP and Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames shared a more personal attack, writing: “Finally the World can see that Trump is a maniac”.
He continued: “Never in a lifetime could one imagine such appalling scenes in the Capitol. A testament to the unspeakably vile behaviour of Pres Trump now confirmed to be a very very bad man.
“A terrible incalculable tragedy to see scenes like this in the Capital City of our closest dearest Ally, partner and friend in the defence of Freedom and Democracy for generations.”
News – ‘Woman critically injured’ as Trump supporters storm US Capitol