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Pro-Democracy Unrest Continues In Hong Kong


An ominous ultimatum from the Hong Kong government to the tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters that have filled the streets of the city - if they don't clear out, local authorities say they will take all necessary actions to restore social order. The protests have been mostly peaceful, but counter-protest attacks and ultimatums by both sides have heightened the situation. Lily Kuo of the website Quartz is in Hong Kong. I checked in with her earlier today as night fell in the city.

LILY KUO: Protesters are trying to regroup and they're trying to sort of grab the momentum again after suffering attacks on their different protest sites throughout Hong Kong by people that are supposedly locals, who are really angry at the protesters for blocking traffic and forcing stores not to be able to operate and just overall disrupting the daily life in Hong Kong.

It's also been important in the next 36 hours here for the movement because the government has issued this ultimatum that if they don't clear out by Monday that the authorities will take all necessary actions to restore social order to Hong Kong. The government had made an offer to the students to open talks. The students had accepted. And there seems to be room for compromise. And then quickly things deteriorated.

RATH: And in regard to these attacks on the protesters that took place on Friday, you called the attackers supposed locals. Do we have a clear sense of who the attackers were?

KUO: All the protesters think that the anti-occupiers, as they've been calling them, that they've been hired. I was in Mong Kok yesterday, which is one of the neighborhoods where the protests and scuffles between the protesters and these anti-protesters got kind of rough. And a few people that I spoke to, two of them showed me their Hong Kong ID cards. So they were local Hong Kongers. They weren't, you know, sent over from southern China just to stir up trouble.

And yet they were saying how much it had disrupted their daily lives and how angry they were. And also in the past, it has been the case that people had been hired to join certain protests before. So I think that's where that suspicion comes from.

RATH: And I understand you spoke with some Chinese visitors in Hong Kong. What was their perspective on what's happening there right now?

KUO: The news of the Hong Kong protests has been tightly censored in China. But then at the same time, this week is a national holiday in mainland China and so tens of thousands of Chinese tourists come to Hong Kong to do their shopping. And so they can see it first-hand as soon as they get here.

So I kind of trailed some tourists around some major shopping districts. And it was interesting, you know, there was a range of perspectives. Some people were impressed by the fact that the students and the protesters could speak their mind. And they thought that that was, you know, a pretty good thing. But then also, a vast majority were truly unimpressed by it and just thought that it was just a hassle, just, you know, what was the point of it? Beijing is not going to listen. The government's not going to change their mind.

And then also a fair number of people also feel like they kind of don't understand the point because then they think well, Hong Kong is already such a free place. It already has a free press, independent judiciary. So some are like well, they have it good enough. Then what are they so upset about?

RATH: Any expectations for what happens on Sunday? Is there any possibility of a meeting between the government and the protesters or is that just off now?

KUO: So the protesters after all the attacks yesterday, they backed out of the talks and said that they wouldn't talk while these - the violence had stopped. There might be another opening. Maybe there'll be another olive branch that's extended on Sunday. But it's really hard to say.

RATH: How anxious are the protesters about that looming ultimatum?

KUO: I think that protesters are pretty anxious. And there are protesters now that are not going to the protests. There are these local residents that are sort of starting scuffles and fights with them. There are female students that say that they've been assaulted. And the worry is that the police aren't doing anything to stop it.

RATH: That's Lily Kuo, a reporter for the website Quartz. Lily, thank you.

KUO: Great, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.