Protesters Hunker Down Inside A Hong Kong University
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Protests in Hong Kong have taken a violent turn this week. Police have clashed with protesters who are barricaded inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Security officials threatened to use live ammunition. Protesters have pelted the officers with handmade explosives and rocks. This morning, a new police chief was sworn in amidst all this. He told the South China Morning Post the police could not end the social unrest in the city on their own and needed the help of Hong Kong residents. NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us now from Hong Kong. Good morning, Julie.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So what's the situation this morning? What's going on today?
MCCARTHY: Well, fewer than a hundred protesters remain inside the campus of that university. Some 30 walked out of a campus this morning surrendering to police. Paramedics were wrapping them in foil blankets. A lot of the protesters had been injured during this weekend-long battle with police. They had eye injuries from tear gas, hypothermia from being doused with water cannon. Police basically surrounded the university and are arresting anyone who leaves. Now, that didn't stop some people yesterday from trying to escape, including sliding down hoses to motorcycles waiting below. And supporters of the protesters fought these pitched battles with police near the school overnight. And that anger resonated again today in the business district on Hong Kong Island. Listen to this.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
MCCARTHY: White-collar workers stood shouting on the sidewalk. Police wouldn't let them stand in the street and block traffic. Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong - all of which suggests that the pro-democracy movement isn't relegated to students and radicals. It finds broad support in Hong Kong's middle class. That said, many don't support the violence used at Polytech University.
MARTIN: So let's talk about the new police chief. What a moment for this person to come in and assume leadership. Why would it happen now?
MCCARTHY: Well, the outgoing police chief, Stephen Lo, is retiring. His term was extended by a year, and he ends this 35-year career tarnished by the unrest of the last six months. As the South China Morning Post said today, he leaves with no fanfare and no farewell dinner. He hands over the reins to his deputy, Chris Tang, a career police commander, and he takes over at a time when trust in the police has plummeted. Their morale is battered. They face accusations of brutality, excessive force, mistreating people after they've been arrested.
There's no question that public anger at police has become a driving force of the protest. Seventeen hundred people have been injured. Five thousand have been arrested. Four hundred fifty of those injured have been officers. Police have fired more than 10,000 rounds of tear gas. Protesters demand an inquiry into the police. Carrie Lam's government has ignored it, and the Democratic lawmakers accuse police of acting as a political tool to suppress the people of Hong Kong.
MARTIN: So what do we know about Chris Tang, the guy who is going to assume this job as the new police chief? Is he likely to change how the police are approaching these protests?
MCCARTHY: Well, it doesn't sound like it. Tang, whose appointment was approved by Beijing, says there has been a massive breakdown of law and order. The protesters have vandalized Chinese banks, thrown bricks at police stations, battered officers in the streets. And Tang says, whatever your beliefs are, do not glorify the violence. You know, it's also worth noting, Rachel, that the number of people who have died in the unrest is remarkably low considering all the violence of the past six months. And Carrie Lam was also asked whether she would seek help from the Chinese soldiers stationed in Hong Kong, and she said her government thinks they can cope. So you know, neither Beijing nor Hong Kong seems to be looking to escalate this thing.
MARTIN: Any official word on the situation today from Beijing?
MCCARTHY: Well, so far they say they support what Carrie Lam and her government are doing in trying to restore order. But China also has made clear it is the ultimate arbiter in charge of Hong Kong. You remember that a Hong Kong court yesterday struck down an old colonial law that protesters couldn't wear face masks to hide their identities? Will today, Beijing said, no. That Hong Kong court has no authority to do that, which raises the question, is this really two systems - one system - one country, two systems, or is it being made into one country, one system?
MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy from Hong Kong. Thanks, Julie.
MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.