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Hong Kong Protesters Clash With Members Of A Masked Mob


When have protesters gained enough to say they won? Puerto Rican protesters face that question as they demonstrate today. Their governor said last night that he will not seek reelection, but he is resisting demands to resign.

Protesters in Hong Kong gave their answer to a similar question over the weekend. Their government backed off an extradition bill that seemed to increase the power of mainland China to pull people out of Hong Kong. But the reassurance was not enough to stop half a million people from marching over the weekend. Their long-term concern is China's looming power over their territory, which is under Chinese sovereignty, but is also supposed to be guaranteed basic freedoms. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Hong Kong once again. Hi there, Julie.


INSKEEP: How did the protest go?

MCCARTHY: Well, as you just pointed out, there were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets again, defying expectations that people were beginning to get tired of going to the streets. Evidently not so.

But what's really stealing attention today, Steve, is a vicious attack that put 45 people in the hospital. The assailants were men dressed in white T-shirts, the opposite of the protesters' signature black dress. And like a mob, they were beating and kicking pro-democracy demonstrators as they stepped from the train on their way home last night. And you can hear the violence.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Yelling in foreign language).





INSKEEP: Julie, some of those...

MCCARTHY: It took police over an hour...

INSKEEP: ...Some of those slaps sound like gunshots people are getting hit so hard.

MCCARTHY: They're being hit with batons.


MCCARTHY: it took police over an hour to respond to this. And one democracy protester - or lawmaker - who was actually bloodied himself said he suspected that was intentional.

Now this entire thing closed stores in that area today, and it's deepening anxieties about what's happening in Hong Kong. Now Chief Executive Carrie Lam promised a full investigation and said the government condoned none of it. Here she is.


CARRIE LAM: Violence is not a solution to any problem. Violence will only breed more violence. And at the end of the day, the whole of Hong Kong and the people will suffer.

INSKEEP: Well, Julie, I want to figure out what it is the protesters want now. They had this clear demand - get rid of the extradition bill. The government has mostly backed off the extradition bill, but there are these larger concerns. Is there - has that taken the form of some concrete demand, something the protesters want?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, it's morphed into something large. First of all, I think the extra - the extradition bill came to symbolize the government's intransigence - they wouldn't back off, they won't withdraw it - but also Beijing's strengthening grip over Hong Kong and in defiance of this one country, two systems formula, whereby Hong Kong's freedoms were supposed to be honored. Instead, the protesters say China is eroding them.

And now what they're calling for is universal suffrage. They say we want a government that preserves our liberties, and we're only going to get that if we elect them ourselves. But they have to wrest control from Beijing, which now basically approves Hong Kong's officials.

INSKEEP: So there is a concrete demand. You have to change the election system somehow so that Hongkongers get to pick their own leaders rather than having this complicated election that Beijing heavily influences.

MCCARTHY: That's exactly right. Now you can imagine how this goes down in Beijing. They're furious, and they see the arm of foreign interference in Hong Kong's democracy movement. But as one analyst said, you know, what Beijing may be planning is a black box.

Observers say that China ought to be thinking about the fact that these young people, some of them anyway, feel they have nothing left to lose. They're without decent prospects for an affordable place to live in a very expensive place or a good paying job. And in the absence of these things, they talk about a feeling of hopelessness. So what's animating them is a struggle for their freedoms. For them, those are the building blocks for a decent life.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy, thanks.

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

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.