Police In Hong Kong Clear More Barricades From Protest Areas
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters have not given up. In the heart of that great city, they have clashed with demonstrators who support China's central government. The pro-democracy protesters are demanding open elections from communist China. The pro-government demonstrators tore down some barricades hoping to drive demonstrators away. We're joined now by NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is in Hong Kong. And Frank, where are you exactly?
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, right now I'm actually at the headquarters of the pro-democracy protesters. It's a huge tent camp right in the heart of the city. And there are probably over a thousand people out here tonight, still trying to show their determination, to make a point about the democratic elections that they want to see from the government in Beijing.
INSKEEP: OK, you described a huge tent camp, so obviously the protesters have not been driven away. What was the effort to get them out of there?
LANGFITT: Well, it's been really interesting. It was a quiet weekend, and then things picked up yesterday. You had taxi drivers, truck drivers, some men wearing surgical masks - they seemed to be - some of the protestors thought they were thugs, as well as some ordinary folks here in Hong Kong who do support the government. They came out, and they started tearing up the barricades. They brought in a crane, actually, to lift up some of the barricades. And when you talk to the taxi drivers, the truck drivers, they're saying this isn't politics. This is - we're losing money. You've been blocking roads for - into the third week. And so they want to see a change here. They feel that they're really getting hurt economically.
Now, what happened last night was was really interesting. Construction workers came down here. They brought bamboo which has been used for many, many years as scaffolding here, and they taught the protesters how to make bamboo barricades. And so they built these huge, new barricades last night with cement and trash cans to fortify against another attack.
INSKEEP: OK, so construction workers came down and helped the protesters understand how to build stronger barricades, so they are still there. But there were these pro-government demonstrators who tried to tear the barricades down. It may be difficult to tell, Frank Langfitt, but is it understood whether the pro-government demonstrators were actually acting on the instigation of the government, or were they just acting on their own?
LANGFITT: Well, I think it's important to point out that the anti - the people who are fighting the protesters, who are blocking these roads, are a variety of people. Some of them are normal truck drivers and taxi drivers who - this isn't political for them. This is economic. And they genuinely want them to clear the roads. It's not clear that they're working for the Beijing government at all. People don't think that. I've talked to ordinary people here who say, you know, we support the protesters, but we're tired of everything being blocked. There are certainly some protestors who come here who speak with - they speak in Mandarin. They have a mainland accent, and they seem to certainly be very sympathetic to the Beijing government.
INSKEEP: Speaking in Mandarin, meaning that they don't necessarily come from Hong Kong itself where you would hear a different kind of speech and different accents.
LANGFITT: Exactly. Down here in Hong Kong, the dialect is Cantonese.
INSKEEP: Now, let me ask about the protests' goal. Are the protesters any closer, actually, to achieving their goal after three weeks of protests, their goal of getting a guarantee of open elections?
LANGFITT: They're not. And the government here - local government will not speak to them. Beijing has, I think, made it clear certainly through the local Hong Kong government, that they're not going to budge. And the reason they don't want to budge is they're afraid, in part, that if Hong Kong gets genuine electoral democracy, what's to stop a province in mainland China, in a few years, from saying, well, we would like that, too? Also, Beijing doesn't really trust some of the Hong Kong people. They're afraid that they are much more democratically minded, and they will undermine rule in the mainland. So in terms - politically speaking, the democracy demonstrators here don't really expect to get a lot out of this.
INSKEEP: Does anybody understand how this ends?
LANGFITT: I was talking to a protester here today just moments ago, and she said people are pretty pessimistic and maybe a little fatalistic. They think that the government may move on them in the next couple of days. There's a big meeting next week in Beijing - a big political meeting. And increasing the police and the politicians here saying this has to end. So it appears to be maybe moving towards that kind of an endgame where the police come in and clear it out.
INSKEEP: OK, NPR's Frank Langfitt is watching and waiting in Hong Kong. Frank, thanks very much, as always.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.