Day Of Peaceful Demonstrations In Hong Kong Ends Violently
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to turn now to Hong Kong. Today's demonstrations mark one of the most violent days since protests began 13 weeks ago - this after protesters defied a protest ban. To tell us more, we're joined now by NPR's Emily Feng, who's in Hong Kong.
Emily, thanks for joining us.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: So what was it that led up to today's protests?
FENG: Well, it was a highly anticipated weekend because it was marking the fifth anniversary of an event. Beijing had decided five years ago they were going to maintain control over how Hong Kong elects its direct leader, and that set off something called the Umbrella Movement, which is a pro-democracy protest that has partly inspired the current protests. And so people are going to turn out in droves for a Saturday march.
The problem was that the police banned this Saturday protest, and then they arrested at least nine prominent activists and local politicians on Friday. Saturday morning, a mysterious cyberattack then took down the online forum that Hongkongers have been using to organize the protest. But keep in mind - the current protests are leaderless, and so the arrest didn't do anything. In fact, they further angered people, who turned out in droves anyways on Saturday to protest police brutality.
MARTIN: And then tell us how the protests began.
FENG: They began peacefully with what attendees billed as a religious rally in a downtown park. This was a thinly-disguised attempt to organize despite having this police ban. And then, after the rally, people marched west towards Beijing's government offices on Hong Kong's island. Crowds kept swelling to cover basically the entire downtown of Hong Kong. And people marched for the entire afternoon despite heavy rains and heat. They then passed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's residence along the way. Here are some protesters I recorded chanting at the police who were guarding the entrances.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
FENG: They're shouting triads and unlawful police. But everyone still walked by peacefully.
MARTIN: But at some point, things did turn violent. What triggered that? It was a peaceful march by day, and then the clashes with - what happened there?
FENG: This has been the pattern - you know, peaceful marches and then clashes at night. What happened was in late afternoon, police fired tear gas and water cannons laced with some sort of blue dye at protesters who had gathered outside government buildings. Protesters dispersed, but they simply just kept moving along. And I began following them in the early evening, and here's what I heard last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING NOISES)
FENG: They were banging on every surface they could find, barricaded roads and then set a row of stadium chairs on fire. Riot police then moved in, arresting people who then just flowed across the city. And that happened over the next few hours. Then, just before midnight, police then ambushed a metro station, where they said they were protesters, pepper-spraying everyone inside and beating people.
FENG: But a lot of people were just random bystanders.
MARTIN: Emily, thanks so much for joining us. That was NPR's Emily Feng in Hong Kong.
Emily, thank you.
FENG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.