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Hong Kong Experiences Protests As Beijing Celebrates 70 Years Of Modern China


Now to Hong Kong and a day of widespread unrest. Protesters set street fires, battled police and hurled abuse at the authorities in Beijing, and an 18-year-old protester was shot and injured by police who fired live ammunition. The day of defiance was meant to send a message to Beijing, which was preoccupied with celebrations of the 70th anniversary of modern China. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Tonight, in the aftermath of a day of violent protests, joss paper litters the streets. The paper is burned as an offering to ancestors in Hong Kong. It's a mourning ritual, as if to say, there was nothing to celebrate here in Hong Kong.

Mayhem reigned across the territory, and this clash between police and protesters may change the course of the pro-democracy movement and further inflame Hong Kong. The video footage depicts the moment when a policeman shoots a protester as he is about to strike the policeman with a metal rod. The protester, 18 years old, tumbles to the ground and can be heard crying for help. Hong Kong's police senior superintendent Yolanda Yu confirmed tonight that an officer had fired live ammunition. She says a large group of rioters were attacking police officers.

YOLANDA YU: (Speaking Chinese).

MCCARTHY: The police officers' lives were under threat, she says. To save his own life and his colleagues' lives, he fired a live shot at the protester, the superintendent said, calling the victim an assailant. It marks the first time in 17 weeks of unrest that police have used live rounds on demonstrators. Britain's foreign secretary said the use of live ammunition was disproportionate and only risks inflaming the situation. Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, and in the years since, Hong Kong protesters say China has broken its promise under the Sino-British agreement to safeguard Hong Kong's autonomy.

If the tripwire for the protests was a controversial extradition bill that could have transferred suspects in Hong Kong to stand trial in China, the grievances have grown. Protesters demand an independent inquiry into alleged police abuses and demand direct elections to pick their own leaders, who are now approved by Beijing. Sixty-two-year-old Nina Chan is a schoolteacher and says Hong Kong's basic freedoms are being whittled away.

NINA CHAN: Human equality, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of gathering, freedom of press - lose everything.

MCCARTHY: How far away from that do you think you really are?

CHAN: Very close - I'm not too optimistic.

MCCARTHY: And they have brought along with them the people of Hong Kong. Former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-Yan says though China is mighty, Hong Kong must not fear the fight.

LEE CHEUK-YAN: The only endgame for Hong Kong is that we win democratic rights for the people because this is promised under the Basic Law. At the same time, it's a right for all people of Hong Kong - and the world, actually - and without that, you know, the spirit of defiance, the spirit of struggle, will continue onward until we win.

MCCARTHY: In remarks opening the celebration of China's National Day, President Xi Jinping declared a very different sentiment. We will maintain control of Hong Kong, Xi said, and strive forward with complete unification of our country.

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.