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Protesters Turn Out In Hong Kong For 15th Straight Weekend


The streets of Hong Kong were hot with protests again over the weekend - for the 15th straight weekend, actually. Two weeks ago, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdrew that controversial extradition bill that first kicked off this movement. But it was not enough. Protesters actually said it was too little, too late. This is what the street sounded like yesterday.


GREENE: Tear gas, water cannons being fired by police at protesters after the initially peaceful demonstrations turned violent. NPR's Julie McCarthy has been covering this in Hong Kong and joins me this morning. Hi there, Julie.


GREENE: So tell me how this went from peaceful to violent.

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, it did start out peacefully enough. The demonstration wasn't sanctioned by police, but that doesn't stop Hong Kongers from turning out. They spilled into the streets. I found myself in a sea of American flags with marchers belting out "The Star-Spangled Banner."

GREENE: Oh, wow.

MCCARTHY: Protesters aren't shy, now, about partition - petitioning Western governments to pressure Beijing to let them keep their autonomy.

But it soon descended into violence. And it was early, and it went swiftly, and it went way late into the night. Masked protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police barricades that were protecting the government headquarters. They set fires. They vandalized the metro. Riot police advanced with tear gas and water cannon that sprays this stinging blue dye that can mark protesters so, later, they can arrest them.

And after that, pro-Beijing demonstrators clashed with pro-democracy protesters. And in all, 18 people wound up in the hospital.

GREENE: You know, when we've heard from protest leaders in the past, they have suggested that the violence is being committed by, you know, just radical elements within a much larger movement. Does that seem fair to you? Is the violence coming from a smaller group of radical protesters here?

MCCARTHY: Well, from my experience, it is a rather hardcore group of young, both men and women, mostly in their 20s, many underemployed if they are employed. Some are students, not all. And they're likely to be the same sort of demonstrator who stormed the Legislative Council July 1 and sent shockwaves through Hong Kong because it was seen as so audacious.

But I - there is a tolerance for them; there remains a tolerance for them. And while they may be small in number and most people would like to see these things go off peacefully, they don't judge too harshly. But there's a new brazenness here, David. You hear it in the slogans - "Resist Beijing," "Expel the CCP," the Communist Party. There's a new aggressiveness, and it is on both sides.

GREENE: So protesters have these five demands. One of them was to withdraw this extradition bill that I mentioned. That happened, but they have a number of other demands here. Any sense for whether they'll be met and there could be some sort of end to this?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, that's right. I mean, the question from a lot of people is, you know, what is the end game? And for the protesters, the end game is all five demands. Their slogan is "All Five, Not One Less." They include amnesty for accused rioters, an independent inquiry into the police handling of the protests.

But dragging out the extradition bill saga only snowballed demands to calls for universal suffrage, where they elect their own leaders and Beijing doesn't pick them.

GREENE: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong on another weekend of protests. And as Julie just mentioned, no end in sight at this point.

Julie, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOATING POINTS' "SILHOUETTES [I, II & III]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Julie McCarthy
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.