Activists In Hong Kong Use Holiday To Amass More Protesters
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's a holiday in China, the 65th anniversary of the People's Republic, the Communist government. And today is also another day of protests in Hong Kong. People are demanding that China uphold an agreement to allow them free elections. That was part of the deal under which Hong Kong came under the rule of the People's Republic of China. We'll hear more about the history in a moment. We start on the streets of Hong Kong where NPR's Anthony Kuhn is once again today. Anthony, Wednesday afternoon there, what's been happening?
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, as you said, today is China's national day, so everybody's got the day off, and the crowds are very large here at the center of the protests. One thing that the protest organizers said today that was very interesting was that they apologized to people who live next to the main protest sites. There are really three big ones in the big urban areas, and they asked for the protesters to sort of concentrate on these three sites so as to minimize the influence to their neighbors. And they also said that they're trying to set up humanitarian corridors so that ambulances and people can get through. They're really trying to get things organized for the long-term. They set a deadline of today for the government to address their demands and that passed, and so now they're trying to move to the next phase of the campaign.
INSKEEP: OK, so they're trying to make sure they don't cause a backlash among people in Hong Kong itself, people who would be irritated by these protests. But I'm listening to you, Anthony, say that this deadline for the government to respond has passed. I'm wondering if there's any sense of how much longer the authorities will tolerate this.
KUHN: Well, you know, they were really stung by the backlash when over the weekend the police fired tear gas and used pepper spray on the protesters, and they've pulled back all the riot police. They're nowhere to be seen here. So it's unlikely that there's going to be a quick government response. But this is a city that thrives on business, and it's happened before that protesters have outlived their welcome.
INSKEEP: What have the economic effects of these days of protests been so far?
KUHN: Well, large sectors of the city are shut down and barricaded. Traffic is not moving there. There are a lot of shops in the area that are shut down. It's not clear that there's been a big drop in tourism, but there's no question that this is having an economic effect on the city. The chief executive, CY Leung, has said as much, and based on that, he's essentially asked the protesters to call it quits and go home. But nothing of the sort is happening.
INSKEEP: Well, you mention the chief executive. Let me ask about him. Since this whole debate is over how Hong Kong should be choosing it's leaders, how is the current chief executive chosen, and what exactly is he saying?
KUHN: Actually, Steve, it's the butt of a joke. The current chief executive, CY Leung, is nicknamed 689 because he was in fact selected by 689 professionals on a committee, and the critics and the protesters here say that committee is essentially a bunch of pro-Beijing elites. And what he said about elections is Beijing has decided to give each Hong Konger the vote, and he says that's better than no vote, even if the selection of candidates is controlled by a nominating committee. Now, I'm sure he knows that there have been surveys that show that there is a divided opinion on the selection of candidates
INSKEEP: Is there any outline of a possible compromise here?
KUHN: It has not appeared yet. You know, CY Leung also said in his speech that, you know, please do not assume that the whole process is going to be rigged from the start. But people are protesting because they don't believe they're going to get a real choice. So no, no signs of compromise yet. The only sign we could say is that China and Hong Kong leaders have said they're not going to send in the Chinese army.
INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Hong Kong. Thanks very much.
KUHN: You're welcome, Steve.
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