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Since June, large protests have rocked Hong Kong with hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets. The rally started after officials introduced a bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Today, police used tear gas and brought out water cannons for the first time to clear the crowds. Protesters pushed back, throwing bricks and gasoline bombs toward them. The Chinese government has accused demonstrators of acts verging on terrorism. But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Hong Kong, the violence has apparently not divided the movement internally nor turn the wider public against it.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: When the big rallies rap up, the sun goes down and the families head home. That's when the kids in black get busy. Many of them show up ready to confront the popo, which is their name for the police. A 20-year-old woman, surname Chan, and her crew are dressed head to toe in black. Earlier this week, they gathered outside government offices in central Hong Kong. They've got helmets, gas masks, walkie talkies and arm and leg protectors. Chan asked that we only use her last name to protect her from reprisals by the authorities.
CHAN: I was the one standing there and say, oh, we need to keep fighting and we won't, like, leave today.
KUHN: Some protesters start yelling for everyone to head home.
KUHN: The protest organizers urged the young protesters to withdraw to show the world that the movement can still be peaceful. Chan says she decided to call it quits simply because she and her team were outnumbered by police.
Why is it OK to use violence?
CHAN: Because the police used violence to us first.
KUHN: One of the protesters' top demands is an official inquiry into allegations of police brutality against them. Chan argues that Hong Kong's youth are simply fighting for their future. She says that their city will go back to the same political, legal and economic system as mainland China in less than three decades.
CHAN: It will be the golden time in Hong Kong. If they don't fight for themselves now, they will be the ones who suffer, like, after 20 years.
KUHN: Hardcore protesters like Chan are allied with pro-democracy politicians like Ray Kwong, a 36-year-old lawmaker. Kwong has negotiated between protesters and police at the front lines and protected injured demonstrators. He doesn't condone violence, but he says protesters are his friends, whether they're peaceful or not.
RAY KWONG: (Through interpreter) These days, I feel very grateful for the students' trust in me. Our relationship is like hands and feet. If one gets hurt, we feel the other's pain.
KUHN: Kwong says the protest movement will not fall apart simply because different camps adopt different tactics.
KWONG: (Through interpreter) Sometimes, Hong Kong people are courageous. Sometimes, they're more rational. Only when these two aspects work in conjunction with each other can our movement achieve its aims.
KUHN: Edmund Cheng, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University, has surveyed protesters and says the majority are moderates.
EDMUND CHENG: Most of the moderate protesters actually understand and tolerate some sort of more militant actions as long as they didn't really hurt the ordinary citizens.
KUHN: Cheng says that just like during the Umbrella Movement protests of 2014, the government's strategy has been one of attrition - wait them out and wear them down. And therefore protesters know that they can't let their tactics divide them.
CHENG: They somehow understand why when the government didn't really listen to the public, they must escalate.
KUHN: Cheng says that the movement has become more peaceful in recent days because the moderates and radicals have debated the way forward in online forums and messaging apps. And for the moment, the moderates have prevailed. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hong Kong.
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