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Democracy Protests Subside, Hong Kong Begins To Return To Normal


After nine days, protesters in Hong Kong face questions about how much longer they can go on. The Hong Kong government set another deadline for the pro-democracy crowds to disperse. They didn't. The demonstrators, though, are divided about what to do as more voices call for them to stand down. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has our report this morning from Hong Kong.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Civil servants filed past reporters and demonstrators this morning on their way to work. The government said it would take all necessary measures to keep schools and government offices open. Some protesters who held a tense vigil anticipating a police assault now believe police lack the capability to do it. Standing outside government offices, an educational consultant, who gave only his first name, Chris (ph), says the police don't even have enough jail space to carry out mass arrests.

CHRIS: They don't even have enough cells to put people in, so they've shown that - well, they haven't used rubber bullets yet. But the tear gas tactic didn't work, so I don't see how it would work again.

KUHN: Demonstrators have so far ignored calls from politicians and university heads to claim victory and take a break. But they're facing more calls from their own ranks to compromise. Benny Mok is a former civil servant who's been hunger striking to call attention to what he sees as the protesters' mistaken tactics. He says the movement has grown spontaneously in part in reaction to heavy-handed government tactics. But he also says demonstrators have lost touch with each other and with their original goals.

BENNY MOK: Occupying places is not our goal. Our ultimate goal should be occupying people's hearts.

KUHN: Mok says he observed this in the Mongkok district where protestors have clashed in recent days with local residents and counter protesters.

MOK: I have seen a lot of conflicts with the protesters and the neighborhoods. This is not occupying people's houses; that's a blockage for them to understand the meaning of our campaign.

KUHN: As the protests stretch into their second week, there are questions about whether protesters can sustain their momentum and keep people in the streets. There are also concerns about whether the movement can achieve its original goal of freer and more inclusive elections for the territory's top leader.

David Zweig is a China expert the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He argues that Beijing has stacked the political system in favor of pro-business and pro-Beijing elites. He says these elites account for about 40 percent of Hong Kong's residents, and they get to choose the candidates for future elections.

DAVID ZWEIG: So you've got 60 percent of the people who are not going to have any of their candidates, any of the people who they think will defend their interests. None of those people are going to get a chance to become the chief executive, and that's blatantly unfair.

KUHN: Zweig says he's not optimistic that the current demonstrations can win Hong Kong residents more liberties.

ZWEIG: I think the mainland is just too strong for Hong Kong to make this place even more democratic. I don't think the students can do that, but what they can do is they can prevent it from becoming much less democratic or much less fair.

KUHN: Indeed many students say they're not just fighting for democratic progress, but to defend the freedoms they already have. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.