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Hong Kong Protesters Continue Tit For Tat With Police

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Overnight, hundreds of police rushed protesters there in the worst clash since the demonstrations began late last month. Beijing continues to warn that the demonstrations must end. And for the latest, we go to NPR's Frank Langfitt who is in Hong Kong. And Frank, to begin, tell us what happened over night.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, police pepper-sprayed and scattered a bunch of protesters who'd been building a barricade. A local T.V. station here - they showed actually police walking a man in handcuffs over to a corner and then kicking him and beating him for - it looked like a number of minutes.

Police said they made at least 30 arrests, and this is part of this tit-for-tat that we've been seeing. Protesters have been building barricades; police then tear them down. Up until now, it's been peaceful, and this is the first time it's really gotten rough since police tear-gassed the protesters at the end of last month.

CORNISH: Now, these protests are in their third week. I mean, what exactly are you hearing from the government in Beijing?

LANGFITT: It's getting more and more ominous, Audie. They blame these protests, actually, on foreign forces. They say that outside people are agitating. They haven't really given any evidence - saying they're trying to destabilize - kind of trying to hurt China.

They've also called the protests unrest and turmoil, which is very politically charged language in Communist Party speak. The head of the government liaison office for Hong Kong was quoted in state media calling this a radical form of street confrontation and said it has to end as soon as possible.

CORNISH: Now, at this point in Hong Kong, how much public support is there for the protesters?

LANGFITT: Less and less - I think that most people you talk to say they support the goal of the protesters - free and open elections. People, I think, would like that here. But they've really tired of this civil disobedience. The protesters have blocked a number of roads, and it's really disrupted things. Businesses are losing money. On Monday, taxi drivers and truck drivers came out and actually pulled out barricades. So there are a lot of people here who agree with the protesters, but they would really like to see this end.

CORNISH: Let's talk more about the policy issue here. The protesters are demanding, essentially, free elections. But is there any sense that they would get concessions from the Communist Party?

LANGFITT: Even the protesters don't think that's going to happen.

CORNISH: So what's the point? Why are they continuing?

LANGFITT: Some people you talk to say that this is on principal. They think Hong Kong should be democratic. They want to fight to the end and try to create some hope for the future. I'll give you an example. I was talking to a man in a pinstripe suit - a real estate agent in his late 20's. His name's Wu, and he said he feels an obligation to witness this and to tell his future kids that he fought the good fight for democracy. Here's how he put it.

WU: To tell my boy somedays, yeah, we want a change. But maybe we did not success. If you want to strive for it, I think, yeah, you have to be here.

LANGFITT: That said, protesters are bracing for police to try to clear the camps at any time.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.