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Protests Grip Hong Kong For 10 Straight Weeks


Hong Kong's airport canceled flights today because of pro-democracy demonstrations that have been going on now for 10 straight weeks. Over the weekend, police clashed with protesters in several downtown districts, and things got violent. There are fears of a bigger government crackdown and more economic repercussions as all this unfolds. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us now from Hong Kong. Anthony, this has got to be incredibly chaotic. I mean, Hong Kong's airport is a major international hub. What can you tell us?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: OK, so protestors have been in the airport since Friday, and they've been trying to tell incoming visitors about what's going on in Hong Kong, the protests and their demands. And as of Sunday, things are sort of winding down. I think they were going to wrap up those protests. But there was so much violence and so - and perceptions of police brutality that a lot of people were enraged, and they flocked to the airport, and police said they were about 5,000 people there jamming the arrival and departure halls.


KUHN: And so all flights were cancelled. And it's one of the biggest airports in the world, and Hong Kong is one of the biggest, you know, financial centers in Asia. So this is really a big disruption.

MARTIN: Right. If the world wasn't focused on this already, it definitely will be now. Can you tell us about the violence? I mean, you just mentioned that things have gotten so tense. How have the protests themselves evolved?

KUHN: They've evolved a lot. In June, we saw 2 million people take to the streets; now the numbers are a lot smaller, but the protests are a lot more intense and violent.

What happens is protesters, mostly young kids wearing black, go out and barricade streets. They throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police. Then the police fire tear gas and rubber bullets. They charge and beat protesters with batons. They arrest some of them. They clear the streets and reopen them to traffic, and then the rest of the protesters go on to another district. And this happened in about four different districts all over the city yesterday.

MARTIN: What about the accusations of police brutality?

KUHN: Yeah. Well, a lot of people here feel that police did a lot of unnecessary beating of protesters, firing rubber bullets at close range. They fired tear gas into a subway station, where that gas has no way to get out. There are also allegations and media, you know, coverage purporting to show that police were dressing as protesters, working undercover, stirring up violence which riot police then went in and had to quell. And the police say that they're just, you know, defending themselves, they're responding to threats to their safety, and they're using minimum force to disperse the protesters.

There've been, you know, reportedly scores of injuries over the weekend, and luckily, no reports of fatalities so far.

MARTIN: So as you noted, I mean, it's been 10 weeks. Protesters don't seem to be caving in any way; the government is not making any further concessions. What's going to give? I mean, where's this heading?

KUHN: It's very hard to tell, and it makes people really worried. It seems that both the protesters and the authorities are committed to keeping this up, that they have the resources to do it. And these hit-and-run battles just keep on going on. One thing that could stop it is if the police started making mass arrests; that's not happening. Another thing is that China's central government, which says this chaos cannot go on, sends in troops or police, but that would entail huge political costs, and there's no sign of that happening.

So what people here say is, you know, this crazy chaos has become the new normal, even though there is - it seems there's no way for people to keep up normal lives, and it's just unclear how this is going to end. It's just an unprecedented situation.

MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting from Hong Kong. Anthony, thank you.

KUHN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.