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Clashes Between Hong Kong Protesters And Police Intensify


It looks like things are getting worse in Hong Kong. A fiery standoff at one of the city's major universities culminated with police storming the barricades before dawn this morning.


GREENE: Now, to stop them, protesters inside set fire to the barricaded entrances. Let's remember - these demonstrations started almost six months ago over a proposed law that would allow people accused of a crime in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. That law has been withdrawn, but the protests have intensified over concerns that China is tightening its control over the city.

NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Hong Kong and joins us. And Julie, thanks for being there. And is this standoff on this campus still going on?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: It is. And it's also eerily quiet there. The protesters continue to hole up, and the police continue to arrest those who are trying to escape. The student union president said there's about 600 people who are, quote, "trapped" on campus. The closest we could get today was a road overlooking the campus.

Polytechnic is a sprawling urban campus full of big buildings interlinked with footbridges - that's key. The protesters controlled those bridges, and they stockpiled them like garrisons. And from those heights, they were hurling arrows and gasoline bombs. And the police were answering with tear gas and water cannon and rubber bullets and finally warned the protesters to leave or face the consequences as rioters.

And you know what else, David? From these bridges, the protesters also controlled, all last week, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. It links Hong Kong Island to the rest of the territory. So this was no ordinary protest. And the dramatic events on this campus marked a, I'd say, powerful turn in violence for these anti-government protests.

GREENE: Well, these dramatic events - I mean, they're taking place on a Monday, the beginning of a workweek. How much is this going to affect life there?

MCCARTHY: Well, it will. Now, today the university siege kind of ignited hot spots around the school. It was the epicenter of the disruption. And in fact, what they had was reinforcements arriving this morning in the form of mainstream supporters. This evening, more areas are erupting.

But earlier, a - one 29-year-old woman who skipped work today to help protesters said she wanted to identify herself as Alice (ph) to avoid reprisals at work. And I asked her what she was defending.

ALICE: Democracy and freedom, to me. Many of us - like, we have no gears. We don't even have the mask on my face. And then many of the people like us were arrested. But this is nonsense. It's all about our rights and freedoms are suppressed by the government and also by Beijing.

MCCARTHY: But the protesters also have detractors as well. Their techniques, their tactics are very disruptive. And you're seeing support - some drop-off. One attorney named Christine (ph) joined her neighborhood in cleaning up the streets outside City University. The protesters inside had blocked the roads. Christine says Hong Kong's freedoms are secure enough, and she says enough is enough.

CHRISTINE: We want peace and order. You cannot take away somebody's right just because of your own desire. OK? Your own desire can demonstrated, can be expressed very well in peaceful way. OK? This is the cost of the value (ph) in Hong Kong - peace and order, law and order.

GREENE: I mean, different takes on this from different people there.

I just wonder, Julie - I mean listening to Alice, that first voice, I mean, feeling like her freedoms are being repressed by Beijing. I mean, what China will do has been this question looming over everything. Right?

MCCARTHY: Well, what will China do? China is - interestingly, the foreign ministry said, you know, no one should underestimate China's will to safeguard its sovereignty and Hong Kong's stability. They may also have something to say about the court ruling that said the law against wearing masks in Hong Kong is simply unconstitutional. There was another sign that people saw was ominous today, and that was the People's Liberation Army left their barracks. They came out to clean up the roads that the protesters had filled with debris. It was symbolic, and it was provocative according to a lot of people here.

GREENE: NPR's Julie McCarthy covering all of this playing out in Hong Kong this morning. Julie, thanks a lot.

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.

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