Police Finish Dismantling Hong Kong Protest Sites
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
An active protest that caught the attention of the world has come to an end. Pro-democracy protesters spent 75 days occupying key streets in Hong Kong. NPR's Frank Langfitt was watching as police cleared those streets today. He's on the line from Hong Kong, and, Frank, what did you see?
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It was remarkable, Steve. I saw cops coming through. They had chainsaws. they were tearing these tents down, and we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of tents. This was really truly a protest village in the heart of the city. They were followed behind by dump trucks, heavy equipment. And then there were approximately 200 protesters who refused to leave. They sat in the middle of the highway, and they waited for the police to arrest them one by one - In the beginning, police actually having to carry them out by their limbs to take them to the police vans and arrest them.
INSKEEP: So classic civil disobedience here at the end?
LANGFITT: Classic civil disobedience. They wanted to send a statement in part that they believe so much in the cause, democracy, open and free elections here, that they were willing to be arrested for it.
INSKEEP: Frank, why is it that police finally cleared these central streets of Hong Kong after 75 days of occasionally going after the protesters but mostly feeling they had to tolerate them?
LANGFITT: Well, there a couple of reasons for it. I think one is it had gone on for a very long time and while the majority of Hong Kong people support of the goals of the protesters, they felt that this had become very inconvenient for traffic. And they also felt that the protesters weren't getting anywhere politically. The government wasn't responding, certainly the Communist Party wasn't responding in Beijing. And so they felt that really it ought to end. The other thing is that there was a strategy here by the central government to let these protests just kind of continue on the street. And they hoped over time that support would wane, and, in fact, they were right.
INSKEEP: Oh, support did wane over time? You're saying the camp was smaller at the end than it was some weeks ago.
LANGFITT: It was much smaller, you know. If you remember back in late September, we saw tens and thousands - tens and tens of thousands of people on the streets of Hong Kong. In the evenings, generally on the weekends, maybe you'd get two to three - 4,000 people max in the last probably five or six weeks.
INSKEEP: Would you remind us, Frank Langfitt, what it was that people in Hong Kong wanted? Of course, this city is governed under somewhat special rules by the central government in Beijing, China. They had elections coming up. What was it they were demanding?
LANGFITT: Well, what they wanted to do was actually have the right to nominate the people who would run for the next chief executive and the Chinese Communist Party, understandably, certainly from their perspective, is they really wanted a hand in who those people were going to be. And they have a committee and it was going to be frankly very supportive of Beijing, and they were going to select.
Folks here felt that that was a rigged election. And they also were very unhappy with the government here. They feel that a lot of conditions have deteriorated in recent years. There's a big income gap - things along those lines. And they wanted to be able to really select their leader. And they feel like the current government really doesn't represent them.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, did protesters gain anything from their 75 days?
LANGFITT: They did not. The government never blinked. What they say, though, is they feel that in many ways, they really awoke the political spirit of this city in a way that people really haven't seen before.
INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much as always.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Hong Kong where police have cleared protesters from the center of that city today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.