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Hong Kong Authorities Clear Area In Protest Zone


When China decided the time had come to clear student protesters out of Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, it used troops, tanks and bullets. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students were killed. This morning, student protesters in Hong Kong were cleared from one of the areas they've occupied for almost two months. But this scene was very different. Bailiffs arrived with court orders. We reached NPR's Frank Langfitt at the main protest camp in Hong Kong. Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What happened this morning, exactly?

LANGFITT: Well, court bailiffs came in to enforce an injunction to clear some tents and barricades and open a road here. What's really interesting is that there was no violence, no resistance, and late in the afternoon, there were even protest leaders actually removing some of the tents themselves. They were surrounded by reporters and cops, and the scene was incredibly civil. Authorities are being really, really careful in how they try to wind down these protests. There's even a bailiff I saw - she was taking an inventory of shoes, a folding camping chair and other things were just lying on the sidewalk.

MONTAGNE: Now, they haven't always been so careful, so why now?

LANGFITT: Well, because every time they're not careful, it backfires. They've used force in the past. They attacked them about - my gosh - I want to say about seven weeks ago with tear gas and pepper spray. These are peaceful protesters. And Hong Kongers were appalled, and then the crowds really, really surged. So the authorities here, their strategy is - they want these protests to just die off and the last thing they want is to actually have another incident that reignites them.

MONTAGNE: Well, is that working, the protests dying off? I mean, they've cleared some of the main protest area today. What is left?

LANGFITT: A lot. I was surprised, I thought when I came in today, I was going to find a lot of stuff missing, and, you know, a lot of stuff had been cleared. In fact, today it was only a small slice of the protest zone was cleared. The protest zone is still enormous. I mean, right now I'm sitting in the middle of an eight-lane highway that the protesters have occupied now for - gosh - since late September, and I'm surrounded by, I'm guessing about 2,000 tents. They've been doing inventories here on the tents. Most of the tents, honestly, are empty, but still this is kind of a village within a village; looking across at a study hall, there must be 60 or 70 students studying there. They've got very nice Wi-Fi and electricity. And so for the cops come in here and try to clear this, especially if they're going to take a very careful approach, it could take a really long time.

MONTAGNE: Well, so the protesters seem, in their way, pretty settled in, but what about the public? They're on roads there, right? I mean, this is really interrupting life.

LANGFITT: Yeah. There was a really interesting survey that came out - a poll out of the Chinese University of Hong Kong over the weekend, and found that two-thirds of the people in Hong Kong want these protests to end. And that includes people who actually support the goals of the protesters, which are free and open elections. It's not just that this is all an inconvenience, it's also a sense that these protests, politically, aren't going anywhere. The government won't budge on granting open elections, and, in part, they can't because the Communist Party of Beijing is calling all the shots here anyway. And so the protesters can't get any concessions, and frankly, they're kind of stuck.

MONTAGNE: And so what does that mean for what's next?

LANGFITT: Well, later this week is going to be interesting to see. You know, the police do have an injunction to try to clear a satellite protest camp. It's across the harbor in a place called Mong Kok, which is a pretty gritty neighborhood. There's a very different vibe over there. It's not a very civil place in the sense that it's been much rougher. There've been counter-protesters who've been actually throwing things at demonstrators. Demonstrators actually had to build nets to protect themselves. And so clearing that place - there is a concern that there could be some - some real violence.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Frank Langfitt, speaking to us from a protest camp in Hong Kong. Thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.