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Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the wall of the the US Capitol in Washington yesterday.

WASHINGTON—A violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol yesterday and forced lawmakers into hiding, in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.

The nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and don gas marks, while police futilely tried to barricade the building, one of the most jarring scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power.

A woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol, and Washington’s mayor instituted an evening curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.

The rioters were egged on by Trump, who has spent weeks falsely attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to descend on Washington yesterday to protest Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s victory. Some Republican lawmakers were in the midst of raising objections to the results on his behalf when the proceedings were abruptly halted by the mob.

Together, the protests and the GOP election objections amounted to an almost unthinkable challenge to American democracy and exposed the depths of the divisions that have coursed through the country during Trump’s four years in office.

Though the efforts to block Biden from being sworn in on January 20 were sure to fail, the support Trump has received for his efforts to overturn the election results have badly strained the nation’s democratic guardrails.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers were resuming the counting of electoral votes yesterday evening after the Capitol was cleared of the pro-Trump occupiers.

Trump boosts mob

The president gave his supporters an added boost yesterday morning during an appearance at a rally outside the White House, where he urged them to march to the Capitol. He spent much of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching scenes of the violence on television.

At the urging of his staff, he reluctantly issued a pair of tweets and a taped video telling his supporters it was time to “go home in peace” — yet he still said he backed their cause.

Hours later, Twitter for the first time locked Trump’s account, demanded that he remove tweets excusing violence and threatened “permanent suspension.”

Biden, Obama, Bush react

A sombre President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, said American democracy was “under unprecedented assault,” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans. Former president George W Bush said he watched the events in “disbelief and dismay.”

“What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States,” said Republican Sen Mitt Romney of Utah.

There were harsh words from major business organisations and the Republican National Committee, too, suggesting uneasy relations with Trump were skidding into divorce as he leaves Washington.

“Our soldiers have died carrying the American flag into battle for our freedom,” tweeted RNC communications director Michael Ahrens.

“To see that flag used in the name of unfounded conspiracy theories is a disgrace to the nation, and every decent American should be disgusted by it.”

Former president Barack Obama said history will rightly remember the violence at the Capitol as a moment of great dishonour and shame for the nation.

Obama said the violence was “incited by a sitting president” who baselessly lied about the outcome of the presidential election. He has convinced his supporters that he lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden only because Democrats cheated, a false claim.

Legislators given gas masks

Protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. Lawmakers were told to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.

Rep Scott Peters told reporters he was in the House chamber when rioters began storming it. Security officers “made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault, it looked like. They had a piece of furniture up against the door, the entry to the floor from the Rotunda, and they had guns pulled,” Peters said.

“And they just told us to take our pins off,” he added, referring to lapel pins members wear so Capitol Police can quickly identify them. Then the lawmakers were evacuated.

Staff members grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwise, said Sen Jeff Merkley, the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.

Trump supporters posting on internet forums popular with far-right fringe elements celebrated the chaos.

Bipartisan outrage

The mob’s storming of Congress prompted bipartisan outrage, as lawmakers accused Trump of fomenting the violence with his relentless falsehoods about election fraud. Several suggested that he be prosecuted for a crime, which seems unlikely two weeks from when his term expires.

“I think Donald Trump probably should be brought up on treason for something like this,” Rep Jimmy Gomez told reporters. “This is how a coup is started. And this is how democracy dies.”

Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who’s at times clashed with Trump, issued a written statement saying, “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”

National Guard deployed

The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilised to help support law enforcement at the Capitol. More than a dozen people were arrested.

As darkness began to set in, law enforcement officials worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades to try to clear the area around the Capitol. Big clouds of tear gas were visible. Police in full riot gear moved down the steps, clashing with demonstrators.

Experts questioned the lack of security in Washington, despite knowledge that thousands of people were gathering for the Trump rally. The US Capitol Police has 1,800 men and women dedicated to protecting the people’s citadel.

Sitting resumes

Just after 8 pm (Washington time), the Senate resumed debating the Republican challenge against Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory, more than six hours after pro-Trump mobs attacked the Capitol and forced lawmakers to flee.

Scores of Republican representatives and 13 GOP senators had planned to object Wednesday to the electoral votes of perhaps six states that backed Biden. It was unclear whether those objections would continue in light of the day’s violent events. (AP)