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Pro-Democracy Demonstrators Flood Hong Kong's Streets


Pro-democracy demonstrators are once again flooding the streets of Hong Kong. This time, it's on the 22nd anniversary of the territory's handover to China. A smaller group of protesters went beyond marching in the streets, damaging and defacing Hong Kong's legislative building and storming inside.


CORNISH: Riot police descended on the building with tear gas and shields to disperse the crowd after midnight. This comes after last month's protests over a bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be tried in China. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Hong Kong as these demonstrations unfold. She joins us now.

And Julie, you've been on the scene throughout the day as these protesters stormed the legislative building. What are you seeing right now?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, the scene down there basically has been cleared. Really, at the stroke of midnight, the protesters were basically tear-gassed out of the area. All evening long, people were speculating about - where are the police? Where are they gone? - when protesters had stormed this legislative council building. They'd gone room to room, vandalizing paintings and portraits of local leaders. And then the police appeared in full riot gear to take back the building the protesters had occupied. It was a very audacious and highly controversial move. Obviously, the trashing of the place was a humiliation for the local government on a day that was supposed to be a celebration of unification between China and Hong Kong.

CORNISH: And just last month, protesters had pressured the chief executive, Carrie Lam, into basically setting aside this extradition bill. So what were the protesters hoping to achieve today?

MCCARTHY: Well, their main demands now are a direct outcome of how the government handled this last set of demonstrations. They want Carrie Lam to resign, and they want to directly elect the next chief executive. They want their fellow jailed protesters freed. They want the label of riots and rioters removed from the record of previous demonstrators. Human rights groups say there's plenty of video footage that indicates that police used excessive force. And a 42-year-old man, Terrence Chow (ph), said he was especially upset about labeling the protesters as rioters.

TERRENCE CHOW: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: He says, "I want them to use a milder term because they are students, and they're fighting for the rights of the Hong Kong people."

And now, Amy Yeung (ph) was less concerned about how the young protesters behaved and much more worried about how the local government and their overseers in Beijing were behaving. She said they had betrayed the people of Hong Kong and eroded their liberties and their rights that were guaranteed with them with the handover.

AMY YEUNG: Oh, it's a lie, (foreign language spoken). No. No. I think - (through interpreter) the one country, two system is a lie. It's eroded to become one country, one system. For example, we don't vote for the chief executive, Carrie Lam. She was appointed by Beijing, so she can't represent the people of Hong Kong.

MCCARTHY: That was a sentiment I heard throughout the day.

CORNISH: And Julie, how likely is it that Carrie Lam would resign?

MCCARTHY: I think it's highly unlikely. I mean, her replacement would really mean a headache for Beijing. And while Hong Kong is simmering, it really would prefer that Hong Kong try to tamp down this problem on its own.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy reporting from Hong Kong.

Thank you, Julie.

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

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.