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World

Police In Hong Kong Use Tear Gas To Disperse Demonstrators

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What do Hong Kong's protesters do next? The latest demonstrations turned violent in the territory at the edge of China. Demonstrators broke windows and forced security gates. This gave the embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, a chance to take the offensive at a press conference that she called at 4 in the morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CHIEF EXECUTIVE CARRIE LAM: Nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong. So I hope community at large will agree with us that with these violent acts that we have seen, it is right for us to condemn it and hope society will return to normal as soon as possible.

INSKEEP: Let's remember, the immediate issue is a bill that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. The larger question is how, if at all, to preserve the relative freedom enjoyed by millions of people in Hong Kong. We've called the protest leader Bonnie Leung of the Civil Human Rights Front in Hong Kong. Welcome to the program.

BONNIE LEUNG: Hello, Steve.

INSKEEP: Was it appropriate for demonstrators to break into a government building, which is what they were doing?

LEUNG: Well, if you really read the whole story, that is 1 million people and 2 million people had took to the streets, voicing out our five demands, including the withdrawal of the extradition bill, which is a total violation of our basic human rights and rule of law. And also, if you see what happened on the 12 of June, which the police had used excessive force and disproportionate force.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure I understand what you're saying there. You're saying we should understand why the protesters are angry, but you also mentioned a million people and maybe only a few of them committing violent acts. Are you condoning the violent acts or are you saying the violent acts were wrong and committed by only a few?

LEUNG: Well, if we only look at what had happened last night, of course any violent act should be condemned. But the young protesters, they are so desperate, and already they had peacefully protested not only for the last few weeks, but actually Hong Kong people have been protesting this (ph) for so long, and our voice had never been heard by the governments.

And even with 2 million people, the world has seen us peacefully took to the streets and governments totally turn a deaf ear to our demands and ignoring, even mocking, our demands. And we can understand why the young protesters are so angry about it, and they want to escalate their actions, which I may not agree with their strategy, but of course these young people love Hong Kong so much that they even do not care about their personal cost.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you a question about your longer strategy, your broader strategy here. I'm thinking that if this were Egypt or one of the other countries in the Arab Spring, you would have an autocratic ruler, and the goal would be to be in the streets until the ruler is swept away, and it's an individual who can be swept away. In this case, the autocratic ruler is 1.4 billion people. It's mainland China. It's not going anywhere. Do you feel you know the longer strategy for fending off China's incursions into Hong Kong over time?

LEUNG: Well, I believe that to face with the situation that you mentioned, Hong Kong people, we are so determined to have universal suffrage, to have one man, one vote to vote for our chief executive and also the whole legislature, which we do not have now. And we believe that when we have voiced out our demands to the whole world - because it is according to law, it is according to international human rights standards and it is also promised in our constitutional law, which is the basic law and also promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which is signed between Britain and China before the handover. We are totally legitimate to have these demands. And of course, what we're facing is a tyranny. Beijing is a tyranny, and the Hong Kong government is becoming a tyranny also.

INSKEEP: But do you think that you can forever fend off China?

LEUNG: Well, we have to do our best, as we love Hong Kong, and we have legitimate reasons to fight for what we are fighting for.

INSKEEP: Bonnie Leung is vice convener of the Civil Human Rights Front in Hong Kong. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.