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Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activist Discusses Violent Clashes During Protests


Enemy of the people - that's what Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam is calling protesters after a string of violent clashes in Hong Kong. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters on a university campus, and a thousand demonstrators blocked roads during lunch hour in the center of Hong Kong.


CORNISH: On Monday, a man was set on fire during an apparent argument about the demonstrations. In a separate incident, a Hong Kong police officer reportedly shot an unarmed protester. To talk about the significance of this moment, I called up Emily Lau. She's a pro-democracy activist. She served on Hong Kong's legislative council for 25 years.


CORNISH: When you last spoke to NPR over the summer, the protests were getting a lot of international attention. Do you think that the violence over the last couple of days is a sign of a turning point of a kind in these protests?

LAU: Yes, in a way. I think many of us in Hong Kong are very frustrated because Carrie Lam, the chief executive, and Beijing, President Xi Jinping, refused to listen to the demands of the people. And one of them is very, very modest and legitimate, and that is the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry to look into the five months of unrest. But I tell you most Hong Kong people - most of the protesters - are very peaceful. But what you've seen on the screen and so on, they are violent. And these violent protesters are concerned. Some of them are concerned that if they all dialed down, there will be no more international attention, and the government will do nothing.

CORNISH: To this point, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam told journalists that, quote, "if there is still any wishful thinking that by escalating violence, the Hong Kong government will yield to pressure to satisfy the so-called political demands, I'm making this statement clear and loud here. That will not happen." So what is your response to that in the context of what you're talking about?

LAU: Well, I think she is a sinner for a thousand years. Look at the protests in Bolivia. Just a few weeks, the president stepped down. Look at the protests in Chile. The president fired some of his senior officials. In Lebanon...

CORNISH: You would like to see Carrie Lam go?

LAU: Of course, but that would not be the end of the story. She should go. And then, of course, the big demand is for democratic elections because Hong Kong is not a democracy. But ironically, the level of freedoms, personal safety and the rule of law that we've enjoyed in the last few decades is much higher than countries, places which have democracy. So we want to preserve our free lifestyle, but we want to have democratic elections to choose our local government. And that's been promised by Beijing. We want Beijing to keep the promise. I mean, it's not as if the people are fighting for independence or the overthrow of the Chinese government in Beijing. We just have very legitimate and modest demand, and they will not listen. And look at the stock market. It plunged. Do they want to destroy Hong Kong?

CORNISH: What do you see as the end game for these protests?

LAU: Well, I don't know. As you must have heard, some of these protesters are not afraid of dying. And it's very sad to see young lives being lost. And we don't want that to happen. We want the whole thing to dial down, to de-escalate. But the administration and Beijing would have to take some action and respond. And if they refuse, what you've been seeing for five months may continue. But how long do you think Hong Kong will last as a financial and business center? Hong Kong may be destroyed.

CORNISH: That's pro-democracy activist Emily Lau. She spoke to us from Hong Kong.

Thank you for your time.

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

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