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Protests Over Extradition Bill Turn Violent In Hong Kong


Today in Hong Kong - violence as police clashed with protesters.


KELLY: A new wave of protests and widespread strikes were underway to block parliamentary debate of an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from the protest.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: The goal of the protesters this morning was clear - to prevent their government from moving forward with the bill.


SCHMITZ: Thousands of them surrounded the city's Legislative Council building, preventing politicians from entering. Then they dragged metal police barriers across major Hong Kong thoroughfares blocking police from reaching them. They did succeed in forcing the government to postpone the bill hearing. They did not succeed in stopping the police.


SCHMITZ: Police in riot gear use decisive force to clear the crowds, firing tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, hitting people with batons. Injuries piled up on both sides, and the police commissioner declared the protest a riot. Those arrested face 10 years in prison - all of this over a bill that would enable Beijing to demand Hong Kong handover criminals it wants tried in Chinese courts. Michael So believes if it becomes law, people like him, who came here to protest the government, could be extradited to China for this very type of behavior.

MICHAEL SO: 'Cause I and a lot of friends like me, we talk a lot of the Communist Party in China on social media, in public or even in our school articles. So...


SCHMITZ: Suddenly, a rush of protesters pushes us aside as they run from police spraying them with a water cannon. Michael is 19. He grew up idolizing the heroes of the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong's months-long protest against Beijing's erosion of the city's political rights five years ago. It inspired him to study law, and he's here with his mother, Janice So, a 50-year-old yoga instructor who tells me if this bill becomes a law, she wants to move her family to Australia.

JANICE SO: We haven't thought about it before, but now is the time we really - as parents, we care about our kids, especially my son. He study law. There's no future there if his profession is the law, right?

SCHMITZ: After all, she says, as Beijing erodes legal protections in Hong Kong, the case for a future in law is a tough one.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

SCHMITZ: While the crowd chants don't send us to China, 18-year-old Candy Lau says she too has grown up thinking about the measures Beijing has taken to tighten its grip over her city and whether she wants to remain living here in her adulthood. She says fighting against this extradition bill is all she feels she can do.

CANDY LAU: (Through interpreter) We don't have much hope that this bill will be defeated, but I'm hoping foreign governments start to pressure Hong Kong's politicians not to pass this bill.

SCHMITZ: But even that, she admits, is far-fetched given Beijing's influence over the world. I ask her what she thinks Beijing does not understand about the people in her hometown.

LAU: They do not understand that Hongkongers do not want to obey them because we have tried the taste of freedom, and we will never obey them or be controlled by them.

SCHMITZ: That spirit of defiance forced the legislature of Hong Kong to postpone its debate for another day. And when that day comes, says Lau, she and her fellow residents will be back. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.