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Divide Occurs Between Hong Kong Democracy Protesters
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Divide Occurs Between Hong Kong Democracy Protesters

Asia

Divide Occurs Between Hong Kong Democracy Protesters

Divide Occurs Between Hong Kong Democracy Protesters
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Hong Kong's protests have gone on for more than two months, but the movement has splintered. Several older activists tried to surrender to police on Wednesday, and urged students to leave the streets.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we'll have much more on the Eric Garner case throughout the program this morning. For now let's turn to Hong Kong. As the pro-democracy demonstrations grind on there, protesters have become sharply divided. Several older democracy activists who founded the movement known as Occupy Central tried to surrender to police yesterday and urged students to leave the streets. Some students don't seem to be listening. Several are now several days into a hunger strike, though one student group said it will decide whether to retreat within the next week. Let's turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who's been covering these events.

Frank, good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what is driving these divisions in the protest movement in Hong Kong?

LANGFITT: Well, simply put, probably frustration and failure. You know, this occupation has been going on for more than nine weeks. That's longer than the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. The protesters have been asking for open elections. The government refuses to negotiate and this tactic of blocking streets, which probably was not a good idea in the first place, has really lost public support and so protesters in the camp can't decide what to do next and there's really kind of a sense of paralysis.

GREENE: It sounds like a question of patience too and I guess I wonder if it's generational. I mean, the founders of Occupy Central are age 50 or older. They're urging students who are in their teens and 20s now to leave. How much of this depends on age and generation?

LANGFITT: Well, there is a generational division here. Originally, Occupy Central, the plan was going to be some civil disobedience, it was going to be over the national holiday in October. The idea wasn't to disrupt business, wasn't to anger Hong Kongers.

That plan actually never happened. The students got out in front of all this, they climbed inside - some of them climbed inside a government compound, there were some arrests, clashes with police. You remember the tear gas and the huge crowds that came out in early - I guess late September, early October. And then this giant tent camp sprouted in the middle of an eight-lane highway so what happened really is the students really took over this movement and these older Occupy Central guys, the ones who tried to surrender yesterday to the police, they've really become marginalized.

GREENE: And I guess we see this with protest movements sometimes where the central message begins to get lost. Which makes me wonder, I mean, who's actually running the show in this protest movement now?

LANGFITT: Well, there are two main student groups, but honestly the answer is no one and this has become a huge problem. One of the strengths of this movement was that it was spontaneous in grassroots. People just came out, they took over the street. That gave it a sense of authenticity, but now it's kind of become the Achilles' heel. There's no single leader. A lot of people want to leave but there are also these diehards who are more aggressive and they were the ones who led an attempted blockade of the government on Sunday night. Problem is, there's really no way to reach consensus in the protest camp. When you talk to the rank and file protesters, they're increasingly critical of some of the decision-making and one I was talking to on Monday after this clash at the government headquarters was saying, you know, the student leaders they, like most people, have no experience in terms of strategy and tactics for running a mass protest like this.

GREENE: Well, and Frank, I know you've been covering this movement for a while. Originally, people in Hong Kong, many of them seemed to support the goal of this movement. They wanted open elections, but now a lot of people seem to just want this thing over, right?

LANGFITT: I think people still do support the goals, but they do want it to end and what's kind of surreal is you still have this huge occupation downtown but most of the rest of the city has moved on. Most people - if you don't go down around that area, you don't even know that there's a big protest in town.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt talking to us about those ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David.

GREENE: It's NPR News.

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