In Hong Kong, Students Strike, Seeking Democratic Reforms
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Students in Hong Kong returned to their campuses today, but they weren't there to attend class. University and high school students are boycotting classes for two weeks or until Hong Kong's chief executive responds to their demands, which are to establish direct elections for Hong Kong's chief executive and to completely scrap a bill allowing for extradition to China. This student strike is the latest move in more than three months of demonstrations by protesters seeking democratic reforms.
NPR's Emily Feng is in Hong Kong and joins us now. Hey, Emily.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So I understand that you spent most of today on a university campus. Can you tell me what today was like?
FENG: There was a huge turnout. Thousands showed up, not only from Chinese University but from 10 other universities. All of them wore clothes in black. They were waving flags that said, restore Hong Kong, revolution of our times, which has been one of their core slogans. Here they are chanting some of the demands of their protest, including direct elections.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
FENG: You can hear just how many of them there are...
FENG: ...And how passionate they still are about this cause. There were about 180 high schools who also joined in the boycott this morning, and that was despite the fact that police preemptively were stationed at many metro stations, searching students and visiting them at their school gates as they demonstrated.
But students say today was not about violence. It was about demanding political rights like direct elections that they say they were promised when the U.K. handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Here's a speech that one of Hong Kong's student unions gave today at the rally.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: We, students of Hong Kong, hereby solemnly swear that we will spare no endeavor in the pursuit of happiness, safety and core values of Hong Kong.
FENG: That language struck me as really familiar to anyone who might've studied American history, for example.
CHANG: I mean, so it sounds like these campus protests today were much calmer, much less violent than what we saw over this past weekend, right?
FENG: Yeah, this weekend was one of the most violent on record since June, which is when the protests began. It's in part because police had banned protests from happening and then arrested a number of prominent activists and local politicians the day before protests were supposed to get underway. And people turned out anyways, at first peacefully. I marched with tens of thousands of them as they headed to Beijing's government offices on Hong Kong Island.
But by late afternoon, things had turned violent because some of the more hardcore protesters started throwing gas bombs at government headquarters, and then riot police began tear-gassing and blasting water cannons at people. And then by about 9 p.m., things sounded like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF METAL BANGING)
CHANG: Wow. What's that sound in the background?
FENG: That's the sound of an entire street being blockaded near police headquarters and protesters banging these metal pipes on sidewalks, on doors as others set fire to the barricades. Riot police then quickly moved in, and they clashed with protesters throughout the night, arresting more than 160, sometimes really brutally.
And people were angry. People came out of stores and restaurants to yell insults at police as arrests were happening. Police then raided multiple metro stations over the night. And in one case, they pepper-sprayed and beat everyone inside a carriage, including this random passerby.
CHANG: So what's next? I mean, how do you expect the Hong Kong government to respond in the coming days, because these protests don't seem anywhere near ending?
FENG: Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam said last week that she is exploring, quote, "all legal means" to stop protests. And many people suspect that what she means is she's talking about the Emergency Regulations Ordinance. It's a colonial-era law from British times, and it would give her the power to make any rules she says are in the public interest. So she could use those to block the messaging channels that organizers have been using to protest. And this is a law that mainland Chinese state propaganda outlets have been pushing Carrie Lam to use after the protests this weekend.
CHANG: That's NPR's Emily Feng in Hong Kong. Thanks so much, Emily.
FENG: Thanks, Ailsa.
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