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In Hong Kong, Violence Escalates As Pro-Democracy Protests Continue


It is now evening in Hong Kong after a long day of protests. This day is the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China, which is a day for celebrations in Beijing but also a day for demonstrations for pro-democracy protesters in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Hong Kong and is on the line. Hi, Julie.


INSKEEP: And let's give a listen to some of the sounds of protest today in Hong Kong.


INSKEEP: Julie, what are we hearing there?

MCCARTHY: What you're hearing are protesters building barricades. They build these barricades. You hear that scraping across the pavement - that's that sound you hear. And then after they build these things, and often set fire to them, the police move in, and then you hear that altercation. That's what's going on.

INSKEEP: And this is something that has been happening throughout the day?

MCCARTHY: Well, Hong Kong today. Broad swaths of the territory have been consumed by violent clashes of the sort that would have blemished what Beijing would have wanted to have been an unblemished celebration of its 70th anniversary of the founding of modern China.

INSKEEP: We know from your reporting, Julie, that people were denied permits to legally protest today, but obviously, they disregarded that in Hong Kong - this at the end of 17 weeks of other protests. What is the message that people brought to the streets today?

MCCARTHY: Well, the message from across generations - and all ages were on the streets today - is that they want the autonomy and the freedoms they were promised when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China 22 years ago in 1997. They want to elect their own leaders. They want Beijing to stop eroding their autonomy. They want China, they say, to live up to its promises. Lee Cheuk Yan lead a long, largely peaceful march today. And he's a former lawmaker. And he cast the struggle underway in Hong Kong as a global struggle. Here he is.

LEE CHEUK YAN: If the people of Hong Kong win against dictatorship, then it's also a lesson for the world that, you know, with a spirit like the people of Hong Kong, we can finally overcome the impossible. You know, people think that the regime is so powerful that it is impossible, but we can do the impossible if we can unify, and we have confidence in that.

MCCARTHY: But, you know, Steve, what we had here today was - you could say that Hong Kong reached a new level of violence, of the sort that people could not have imagined even today. Hospital authorities of Hong Kong confirmed to us that a male protester has been hospitalized and is in critical condition. He's been moved to a second hospital tonight. They would not say why, but in a news conference this evening, police said that, under serious threat from protesters, one officer fired a live shot, hit the protester who they said was 18 years old and injured his shoulder.

Now, local video also showed a young man slumped on the ground, asking to be taken to the hospital, complaining about his chest hurting. But a shooting of a protester would present Beijing and the local governors here with a crisis of a whole different proportion.

INSKEEP: That gunshot and also a word that was used in that clip that you played bring home a reality here, I think. You had a protester there saying that they were trying to do the impossible. It is a fact that mainland China has the most force here, by far. They have the power, even if citizens of Hong Kong feel that they have the law on their side. Is there any indication that the government might crack down more harshly?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, that's always on people's minds, but they did not expect that - a kind of broader crackdown involving reinforcements from across the border today. The optics of having Chinese troops on the streets of Hong Kong while Beijing was celebrating China's achievements would have been horrible.

But now with China's National Day dispensed with, Hong Kong citizens have sort of focused the mind a little bit more and considered the fact that there are some 18 barracks that house troops from the People's Liberation Army from the Chinese mainland. They are here in Hong Kong, and their numbers are estimated anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 troops. And the threat of them leaving their barracks to suppress the protest movement here is never far from people's minds.

INSKEEP: Julie, thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.