RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
China's top office for Hong Kong affairs held a rare press conference in Beijing today. Officials warned pro-democracy protesters that, quote, "further punishment is only a matter of time." This after a general strike yesterday in Hong Kong that devolved into clashes with police.
Here's NPR's Julie McCarthy.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTS)
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: It was a night of rage that has had no equal in the nine weeks of civil unrest that has upended Hong Kong. Flashpoints erupted across the sprawling territory.
(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)
MCCARTHY: This was Kowloon - just across the harbor from the main island of Hong Kong - shortly after midnight. The sounds of riot police banging their shields ricocheted off the streets. The area is called Mong Kok, described by the tourism board as one of Hong Kong's liveliest. Overnight skirmishes transformed this popular shopping mecca into a violent tableau. Black-clad demonstrators donning face masks, playing cat and mouse with the riot police, advancing then retreating as police tried to disperse them.
The riot police are once again raising the black flags that signifies they are firing tear gas, and they are indeed doing so.
(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS FIRING)
MCCARTHY: Hong Kong's summer of discontent began over proposed local legislation that would have allowed individuals to be extradited to mainland China, where legal protections are weak. It has grown into the biggest challenge to Beijing since the British handed over Hong Kong to China 22 years ago. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's Beijing-approved chief executive, said extremists were destroying Hong Kong's stability.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CARRIE LAM: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: "They even called for a revolution to liberate Hong Kong and that has gone far beyond the original political demands. They are challenging the one country, two systems formula," she says. Many in Hong Kong respect the one country, two systems arrangement. But protesters do not trust Lam to defend the freedoms the second system extends and which protesters say Beijing is eroding. They throw the burden of the spiraling disturbances on the police and alleged heavy-handed tactics.
Janet, who chose to be identified by her first name only for fear of police retaliation, lives in an area caught up in the fighting the last few days. A housewife and occasional demonstrator, she says riot police pushed her up against a wall when she and other residents objected to their deployment in their area.
JANET: How can we believe Hong Kong is safe now? No. No one. If we got money, we will get out. Hong Kong is not safe anymore because the police is not protecting us.
MCCARTHY: Janet plays a video that depicts bedlam when hundreds of residents confronted police Saturday night.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
MCCARTHY: Divisions are deepening in Hong Kong, with one side determined to defend what they say are shrinking liberties and the other firm in holding the line against mounting dissent.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Hong Kong.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLOATING POINTS' "ARP3") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.