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Hong Kong Protesters Demonstrate On China's Historic Anniversary


Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong turned more violent today.




KING: Local media there report that, for the first time in months of protests, the police shot a protester with live ammunition. Now, protesters want China to give Hong Kong autonomy. This is all happening as China celebrates 70 years under communist rule today.

NPR's Julie McCarthy is on the ground in Hong Kong. Hi, Julie.


KING: So Beijing wanted these protests over and done before today, before the 70th anniversary. That obviously didn't happen. Can you just give a sense of what's been going on there today?

MCCARTHY: Well, Hong Kong may have reached a new level of violence of the sort that not many people could have imagined, even on this day, which promised to be a big major day of conflict and defiance.

The Hospital Authority of Hong Kong confirmed to us that a male protester has been hospitalized and is in critical condition. Police have not yet confirmed it was a live round that hit the protester, but local video showed a young man slumped on the ground, asking to be taken to the hospital, blood being seen visibly on his shirt, and he is saying, my chest hurts.

Now, the shooting of a protester would present Beijing and the local governors here with a new crisis, a crisis of a new dimension. There's already been an outcry about the level of force that has been directed at protesters. And across Hong Kong today, broad swaths of the territory have been consumed by violent clashes of the sort that would have blemished what Beijing would have wanted to have been an unblemished celebration of its 70th anniversary of the founding of modern China.

KING: OK. So potentially a dark turn here in Hong Kong. The protesters you talked to today who were out in the streets, what were they telling you?

MCCARTHY: Well, the message from across generations - really, the old, the young, the middle-aged - is that they want the autonomy and the freedoms they were promised, that Hong Kong was promised when Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997. They want to elect their own leaders. They want Beijing to stop eroding their autonomy. They want China to live up to its promises.

And a former lawmaker by the name of Lee Cheuk Yan led a major long march today. And he cast Hong Kong's struggle as a global struggle. Here he is.

LEE CHEUK YAN: If the people of Hong Kong win against dictatorship, then it's also a lesson for the world that, you know, with a spirit like the people of Hong Kong, we can finally overcome the impossible. You know, people think that the regime is so powerful that it's possible, but we can do the impossible if we continue to fight. And we have confidence in that.

MCCARTHY: Now, as for the violence, the vandalism, the more radical protesters really see this, Noel, as a principle stand. And others say, look; it's a doomed strategy that only offers Beijing the pretext to march in here.

KING: Well, yeah, let's ask about that. These protests have been going on for four months. I mean, are people actively afraid that, on the Chinese mainland, they may send in troops, they may try to shut this down?

MCCARTHY: Right. Well, no one was really expecting a broader crackdown involving any kind of reinforcements from across the border today. The optics of having Chinese troops on the streets of Hong Kong would have been not good...

KING: Yeah.

MCCARTHY: ...As they celebrated today. But now with that National Day dispensed with, Hong Kong people do consider the fact that there are some 18 barracks housing troops from the People's Liberation Army from the Chinese mainland in Hong Kong. And the threat of them leaving their barracks to suppress the protest movement here is never far from people's minds.

KING: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong. Julie, thanks so much for your reporting.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.
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