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Reporter's Notebook: Hong Kong


Hong Kong was unusually calm on Saturday, but by evening, police had tear-gassed a polytechnic university in the Kowloon (ph) section of the territory, attempting to clear out protesters. Residents have endured a volatile week, mourning the death of a student while dealing with increasing violence. NPR's Julie McCarthy has spent the past week covering developments in Hong Kong and has this reporter's notebook.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Protests begun in June with peaceful demands for more democracy by mid-November have turned perilous.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: A stunned reporter narrates as a policeman shoots a masked activist Monday, outraging Hong Kong. The 21-year-old lies in the hospital with serious injuries. A 57-year-old is in critical condition after he was set on fire for opposing the protests. Life hangs on a thread in Hong Kong. No one knows what will happen when they venture out to protests now. Protesters have embraced violent tactics in response to brutal police practices.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: (Chanting in foreign language).

MCCARTHY: Crowds this week taunted the black-clad policemen outfitted with riot shields and tear gas. Two young women huddled in a doorway sneak a worried peek. One of them, who chose not to be named for fear of reprisal, says the people are massing because day-to-day dangers seem to be growing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm just feeling the police in Hong Kong is out of control. They totally is not following the Hong Kong rule and the Basic Law. They're bullying Hong Kong people.

MCCARTHY: Do you sense that things are getting worse?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I think so. Until Hong Kong people get real democracy and real freedom.

MCCARTHY: This week, riot police advanced on Chinese University, reputed to be Hong Kong's most radical. Police accused the students of throwing bricks and debris from a bridge to block a highway below.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Foreign language spoken).


MCCARTHY: It is believed to be the first time the police fired tear gas into a campus. Students silhouetted against fires igniting around them refused to retreat.


MCCARTHY: They hurled Molotov cocktails and rained arrows down on the police from their perch above. Once a haven, school grounds are now battlegrounds. Worried by the downward spiral, administrators ended the semester early. Police chased suspected protesters into the basement of the Holy Cross Church this week, beating them as they barged past parishioners.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting in foreign language).

MCCARTHY: The parish said since the start of protests, it has been a sanctuary and condemned the police for using what it called excessive force entering the church. In Hong Kong, customs and traditions are now casualties of the ongoing unrest. Student protesters talk openly about dying in this movement.


UNIDENTIFIED VIGIL ATTENDEES: (Singing) Sing Hallelujah to the lord (ph).

MCCARTHY: Thousands of Hongkongers grieved last weekend in vigils for student Chow Tsz-lok. He suffered fatal brain injuries from a fall in a car park near the scene of protests. Genki Yeung graduated a year ahead of Chow. Recalling Chow's youth and education so similar to his own, Yeung begins to sob.

Chow is our hands and feet, he said, a reference to the intimate connection people inside the protest movement feel for one another. Many Hongkongers admit to being overwhelmed by the magnitude of events and the uncertainty that hangs over Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters and the Hong Kong government, backed by Beijing, have intractable differences.


PHOEBE: Fight for freedom.


PHOEBE: Fight for freedom.


MCCARTHY: Phoebe, as she chose to be identified, leads a lunchtime protest in chants of fight for freedom. She says no one knows what lies ahead, but the protesters must not deviate from their convictions.

PHOEBE: Whether or not it is optimistic for us to continue, we have no choice but to continue. And that is why we still come out while we still can.

MCCARTHY: With divisions deepening, the stakes for coming out are growing ever higher.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Hong Kong. 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.