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Defiant Hong Kong Protesters Try To Blockade Government Headquarters

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's travel now from Ferguson to Hong Kong where pro-democracy protesters suffered a setback. This morning, thousands of protesters tried to blockade city government offices. Police beat them back using batons and pepper spray. It's the latest of several disappointments these protesters have suffered as they demand the right to free elections. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALL BANGING)

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Banging the aluminum walls that lined a construction site, protesters surged onto a major road last night and blocked it. It was part of a plan, the most aggressive in weeks, to surround the government complex and shut it down. The idea, generate attention and force local officials to respond to demonstrators' demands for open elections.

JOE LI: I hope that more people come out and focus on these issues and focus on the democracy problems in Hong Kong.

LANGFITT: Joe Li teaches religion at a Catholic secondary school here. He's been protesting since September. Though the government shows no sign it will negotiate, Li feels obligated to keep coming out.

LI: I think this is always our responsibility as Hong Kong people and also as a teacher. Every day, I tell my students that we - what we need to speak the truth, we want justice. We do what we say in our class. How can I face my students if I am not doing the same thing?

LANGFITT: Li and other protesters are demanding the right to nominate candidates for Hong Kong's next chief executive. China's Communist Party insists on vetting who runs. But after more than two months of occupying city streets, democracy protesters wonder where the movement is going. Nick Chu, a part-time cultural studies professor, and Sum Ho, a financial consultant, are standing near the barricades in the middle of the night. I ask the question on the minds of many in Hong Kong. Ho answers first.

What's the strategy?

SUM HO: I really don't know. I'm just a supporter. I'm not the one who planned this (laughter). Sorry.

LANGFITT: Do you know what the strategy is?

NICK CHU: No, no idea. It's just some kids - right? - fighting for universal suffrage. That's it, and then they just go where they can.

LANGFITT: Armed with shields, scores of police ran protesters away from the government complex this morning with the help of pepper spray. Students writhed on the ground and volunteer medics poured water on their eyes and ointment over their arms. Police then continued into the main protest camp, home to more than 2,000 tents.

They're in their helmets, and they've got their batons. And they're now trying to clear these barricades that the protesters have put up at the foot of an escalator to keep government workers from coming to the office today. Whoa, the cops are really beating people. The police are coming in, and they're hitting people with batons. They're cornering them. This is quite violent.

STEVE SALE: My name is Steve Sale. I was a policeman in England for 21 years.

LANGFITT: Sale, a Hong Kong resident, is standing on a footbridge watching police clash with demonstrators. He doesn't like what he sees from the cops.

SALE: They just don't seem to be disciplined. They're swinging their baton at anybody who moves. You know, I don't quite get it.

LANGFITT: Sale is sympathetic to the demands of the demonstrators. He says they should be allowed to elect a government leader who represents their interests, not just that of the Communist Party in Beijing.

SALE: I think the protest has gone on fairly long or too long, but then you can understand. This is their future, not our future.

LANGFITT: Still, popular opinion in Hong Kong has turned sharply against the occupation. Like most, Sale thinks the demonstrators need to retreat and keep a token site downtown to continue their cause. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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