SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Police in Hong Kong have fired tear gas into huge crowds of pro-democracy demonstrators. We're joined now by Shibani Mahtani, reporter for The Washington Post who is at the protests. Thanks so much for being with us.
SHIBANI MAHTANI: Of course. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: What can you see?
MAHTANI: So I am standing kind of on an overpass, looking down at a pretty big group of protesters. And there's a line of riot police behind them who just actually fired a little bit of tear gas just a few moments ago, actually.
So tens of thousands had actually gathered here in this neighborhood called Yuen Long. It's the same neighborhood that, a week ago on Sunday, there were mob attacks against protesters coming back home from a massive march. So they have come here to protest against those mobs, which supposedly have triad links, and are very, very angry at the police because of their slow response to what happened here last week.
SIMON: Yeah. The protests, we should remind ourselves, began a few weeks ago against a bill that would've permitted the Chinese central government to extradite people in Hong Kong to the mainland. Now, the government dropped that plan, but the protests are now about a lot of larger issues, aren't they?
MAHTANI: Yes, exactly. The protesters have basically, you know, formed a sort of movement of sorts that is very much taking aim at Beijing's steady increasing control over Hong Kong. And, you know, there's this idea that has always underpinned Hong Kong or many Hongkongers. They feel that the government doesn't actually work for them, doesn't represent them but actually works for the interests of Beijing.
This protest, in particular, has a very, very overt anti-police tone because they believe that the police used too much force against protesters much, much more early on in early June. And, again, they are protesting, too, against the mob attacks last week where police took about 40 minutes to respond, leaving about 45 minutes injured. So there's very, very deep mistrust against the police and also the government here.
SIMON: Yeah. Have the pro-democracy demonstrators been largely peaceful?
MAHTANI: Well, not really. I think the crowd that came here early in the day were peaceful. But this march was illegal from the beginning. The police never gave their authorization. So they had essentially warned everyone that anyone coming would be sort of in violation of the law. And so from early on, things were kind of chaotic. I think protesters have sort of dug in for what they had assumed would be a pretty violent night.
I've been seeing people basically pulling up bricks from the sidewalk and putting them in carts. I've seen people arm themselves with various iron rods and also umbrellas and create sort of shields out of wood that they found everywhere. I think what you're starting to see - you know, digging in on both sides here, between the police and also the protesters.
SIMON: Are the protesters a cross section of Hong Kong, or are they one demographic, if you please?
MAHTANI: Well, I think, today, I've actually seen quite a mixed crowd, which was sort of unexpected because, obviously, this march is - this protest was illegal. So we didn't really expect sort of to see kids or elderly people. But I have seen them.
But I would say that this group that you kind of hear behind me, the group that stays past sundown, which, obviously, there's now - they're much younger. And they form sort of like a hard core who, every night, at the end of these protests, suit up. They wear - you know, they wear sort of hard hats and full gas masks and respirators and stuff. And, you know, they start essentially building weapons and stuff. This group is predominantly young.
SIMON: Shibani, the clock, or at least the calendars...
SIMON: ...Is against the pro-democracy protesters, isn't it?
MAHTANI: Yeah. So Hong Kong is guaranteed, obviously, a degree of autonomy until 2047. So that was 50 years since the handover from the U.K. back to China. But I think, you know, protesters aren't even thinking that far. They're thinking about tomorrow. They're thinking about next week. And for now, they just tell me that they want to defend their freedoms. They want to defend their rights. And they want to defend Hong Kong.
And they want to, you know, push for Hong Kong's government to get the message loud and clear that they're not happy with them, right? They're not happy with the way they've handled the extradition bill. They're not happy with, you know, the current setup in Hong Kong where, essentially, Beijing exerts huge control over the selection of leaders here. And they say that they are going to fight until they get what they want.
SIMON: Shibani Mahtani of The Washington Post, who is joining us from the streets of Hong Kong today where tear gas has been fired at pro-democracy demonstrators. Thanks so much for being with us.
MAHTANI: No problem. Thank you.
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