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Violence Increases Dramatically In Hong Kong Protests


The relationship between protesters and police in Hong Kong seems to be deteriorating. This morning, police fired live ammunition at protesters. They hit a young man. Hospital authorities say he is in critical condition. And there was violence over the weekend, too. Six lawmakers were arrested.

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


KING: So you've been out there in the streets today. What have you seen?

MCCARTHY: Well, what you see is deepened polarization and a lot of rage on the streets. The residents of Sai Wan Ho, which is in the northeast of the Hong Kong Island, were furious. That's where the shooting took place. And crowds on both sides of this big, broad boulevard - the police in the middle - shouted all manner of insults at the police. Here they are.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

MCCARTHY: They're yelling, dismiss the police now; may your family die; and murderers. One woman breached the police cordon, wagging her finger, and began screaming at them. And rather than engage with her, out of nowhere, a policeman squirts pepper spray directly into her face, landing on everyone near her...

KING: Wow.

MCCARTHY: ...Including the NPR team.

KING: What do you know, Julie, about the young man who was shot this morning?

MCCARTHY: Well, the - a video circulated online, and it shows that a traffic cop pulled out a revolver. He fired three rounds, and he shot a protester at close range. Hospital authorities say he's in intensive care after undergoing emergency surgery. At a news conference, police referred to the protesters as rioters. They'd blocked a major intersection in that area. And police said several men wearing masks moved on a policeman, one with a metal rod. They denied any reckless use of firearms.

Now the chief executive, Carrie Lam, said it was wishful thinking to believe, by escalating violence, the government would be pressured into acceding to the protesters' demands. Now, does that mean there's a harsher crackdown to come? There's lots of speculation about what she means.

KING: Yeah, I would imagine there's a lot of worry. I mean, these protests have been going on for six months. You and others from NPR have been covering them that entire time. Hong Kong, interestingly, has elections coming up in two weeks. What are those elections for? And how does this - how might this unrest influence people?

MCCARTHY: Well, they're electing - yes, they're electing district councilors, which are like, you know, barrio - neighborhood representatives. And if the election is a measure of public support for the government, then the government's probably in trouble. And there's a new twist. A half a dozen pro-Democratic lawmakers were arrested this weekend and were in court today. The police said they had broken the law by obstructing the local assembly last May. And there is increasing concern that Beijing could maneuver to stop the election. Kwok Ka-ki is one of the half a dozen lawmakers who was arrested. Here he is.

KWOK KA-KI: And you know, to the Beijing Communist Party, they want to have the tight control. They would like to have 100% sure of the control of the results of whatever election in Hong Kong.

MCCARTHY: Kwok says the clampdown on legislators is a way to provoke more unrest, which would be used to justify canceling the election.

KING: OK. So the worrying takeaway here is that the dynamic between the people in the streets - the protesters and the police - it's changing.

MCCARTHY: That's right. If there was suspicion before, now you really hear it. People are prepared to believe the worst without very little evidence about the police. And I heard a different Hong Kong this past weekend, and you hear it in the chanting. You know, protesters used to chant add oil, meaning be robust, mobilize more. And then it's evolved to Hong Kong resist. And now the chant is Hong Kong revenge.

KING: Wow. NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong. Julie, thanks so much.

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