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Hong Kong Nears 6 Months Of Protests


We are following chaos in Hong Kong that seems to be escalating. Police say that city is experiencing some of the worst violence since protests broke out in June. Anti-government demonstrators caused disruptions for a third consecutive day. Subways were closed today, and already officials have suspended school tomorrow. NPR international correspondent Julie McCarthy is there in Hong Kong. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So five months now - I mean, these demonstrations started peacefully, though. I mean, what is causing the change now?

MCCARTHY: Well one trigger was a student, Chow Tsz-lok. He was found unconscious in a parking garage in circumstances that are unclear. They're murky. And he died of brain injuries on Friday. And protesters - many of them - suspect that police may have had a hand in Chow's death. Now, that's something police very much deny.

And directly on the heels of Chow's death, a policeman shot a masked protester at close range, which enraged Hongkongers. He's alive in serious condition. But here's the nub. Protesters say they tried peaceful demonstrations, got nowhere, and feel justified in using violence. On the other hand, police feel justified using harsher measures to counter that violence. And you have this loop of retaliation.

Now, a young woman who called herself Carlos (ph) stood at the barricades of a university where students clashed with police and said this is as bad as she's seen it.

CARLOS: Just so worried. And this is war. It's actually in the - it's a war inside. It's just like a war.

GREENE: Wow. I mean, that's a powerful word to use, obviously. Does it feel that way for people who live in the city? I mean, this was going on - taking place on weekends, originally. Now it's gone into weekdays. And, I mean, does it feel like it's entered a new phase here?

MCCARTHY: I think it's - I think that's accurate to say. It does feel more dangerous out there. And protesters tell me about preparing themselves to die. They're tired, police are tired - which is when people overreact. And here's what the universities are starting to sound like, David.


MCCARTHY: Now, firing tear gas on campuses was not done until now. And what you're hearing were students at Chinese University of Hong Kong. They're still holed up to stop any police advance. And as we speak, students are stockpiling supplies in other universities, anticipating clashes at their schools.

And protesters, you know, they're expanding to the weekdays. Because if you paralyze the transit system in Hong Kong on a Tuesday, you'll get people's attention. And what protesters hope to do is get fellow citizens to think about what's at stake. And for them, it's about more democracy and curbing what they see as police abuse.

GREENE: Well, if a lot of this is getting the message to the public about what's at stake, where is the public in all of this right now?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, nobody likes their commute disrupted. But here's 19-year-old Cecilia Lu (ph), and she says the spiraling violence scares her.

CECILIA LU: I think this thing is getting too violent because now we cannot go to school. Our courses are suspended. It's getting out of control.

MCCARTHY: Others say there's no equivalency in the violence of protesters versus the police, who have an arsenal at their disposal that protesters do not. But others say nothing. You know, at the scene of Monday's shooting, one woman came up to me and said, report what's going on here and quickly turned away, saying, we're too scared to talk. Please report the reality here. And she vanished.

GREENE: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong. Thanks, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.