LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
We're watching demonstrations in Hong Kong this morning. Protesters are angry over Beijing's tightening control and have taken to the streets again this weekend. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Hong Kong, and she joins us now. Hi there.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Julie, what have you seen? What's been happening there this weekend?
MCCARTHY: Well, I just came from the scene of one of these clashes. Tear gas is billowing through the streets, and protesters are taking them on in what has sort of become a staple of these protests. The police, as I say, were firing rounds of tear gas at protesters. Clouds of it were wafting over a large area. What looked like elite officers from a special tactical squad of police was deployed. They were nimble, well-equipped. But the only shots fired - or that I heard - appeared to be the detonation of tear-gas canisters.
For most of the night, the protesters had played cat and (inaudible) games with the police, who then moved in full riot gear and kept coming. They raised a black flag, warning them tear gas was coming, and it caused pandemonium in this area that's filled with high-end shops and restaurants. The protesters are running from the scene, choking, flushing their eyes. And this is just an extension, Lulu, of the turmoil that has plunged Hong Kong into the worst crisis in its recent history.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, these marches have been going on since June. I mean, have the demands changed? What do the people want?
MCCARTHY: Well, you know, what we've got is - earlier, we had a bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China. And that really animated these protests. But - and they still want that completely withdrawn. But, you know, this entire movement has morphed into something else. It's now about political reform, and that's at the core of the demands. Protesters want the government to preserve their liberties, not erode them and say the only way that's going to happen is if they can elect their own leaders. And those leaders are now heavily vetted by Beijing and, in some cases, appointed by them. One demonstrator, 61-year-old Yuan Quoc Wai (ph), told me that Hong Kong was at serious risk. Here he is.
YUAN QUOC WAI: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: He's saying, "The Uighurs, the Muslims of China were the precedent and that Hong Kong will be next. China is re-educating the Uighurs. It's brainwashing them," he says. "I've been in Hong Kong for 60 years, living under freedoms that we have. But, under China," he says, "we enjoy no such thing. There is no democracy."
Lulu, he's basically saying China isn't honoring what Hong Kong was promised when it reverted back to China - that is, one country, two systems - and that China is eroding Hong Kong's system.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, how is the government of Hong Kong reacting?
MCCARTHY: Well, they're furious tonight. In fact, they're really putting the blame on the protesters. Now, in - as a corollary to that, the protesters themselves seem to reserve a lot of tolerance for the more hardcore among them. They say, you know, no one wants violence. Most of us will not be part of any escalation. But they will extend empathy for those who do take part in more violent courses. They say, look. The protesters don't bear the burden of responsibility. The government does for ignoring them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong. Thank you so much.
MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.