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Hong Kong protests: Shoppers and tourists in one street and a riot in the next

People stare at us wide-eyed as we walk through shopping malls, we look sort of ridiculous in a normal environment – think Ghostbusters.

We are usually trying to cut through to the next street where rioting is taking place, but we are clad in lightweight body armour, hi-vis vests with “PRESS” written all over it, skateboard helmets and the coup de grace, full face gas masks – think Darth Vader.

We also stink of tear gas.

Every day here seems slightly crazier than the last. On the one hand tourists and shoppers are enjoying Hong Kong while on the other hand, actually next door, there are running battles with the police.

This campaign of protest that started off as an angry reaction to plans to introduce a new extradition law with China has morphed into a fundamental discussion about something much more complex. Really complex. Like what IS Hong Kong?

Advertisement Image: A police station is surrounded by protesters

The problem is, there IS no fundamental discussion. There is actually no discussion. So chaos has taken over.

Which is why I’m walking through a shopping mall looking like a Ghostbuster stormtrooper and scaring the living daylights out of kids and their tourist mums and dads.

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Hong Kong days and nights are now punctuated by thousands of people demonstrating. This in a city where basically nothing out of the ordinary ever happens.

Roads, bridges, tunnels and motorways that never close, are being closed all the time.

‘The government has a very big problem’

The underground is often brought to a standstill by violence above ground or overrun by thousands upon thousands of young men and women all covered head to foot in black with gas masks attached and tinted goggles and masks covering their faces.

It is all generally good humoured and they don’t hurt or abuse anyone. But it is obviously pretty scary for commuters as they chant their slogans of revolution, bang drums and any bit of metal they can find as they make their way to the surface and another location to which they are directed on social media.

Image: The protests are generally good humoured

I started my day at a peaceful demonstration in the northern suburbs of Hong Kong. There were tens of thousands of people.

All ages, all social classes, all walking for about three hours pretty much in silence. It’s a good turnout but it isn’t much of a show. They are screaming but in an Edward Munch “The Scream” sort of way. The silence is deafening.

A short distance away a group of “black shirt” demonstrators are throwing stones at probably the most inconsequential police station I have ever encountered. In Hong Kong terms we are in the middle of nowhere.

Saturday: Police clash with Hong Kong protesters again

That any of them were able to actually break a window was quite something. Genuinely, in 30 years of covering street protests and riots I have never seen anyone miss a police station with a rock from 10 paces – they did, regularly.

In fact, one guy hurled a slate at the station but didn’t let go so it whistled past my head and landed next to a 10-year old standing and watching with his dad. We were behind him.

Listen to “Hong Kong protests: How did we get here and what happens next?” on Spreaker.

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What is really obtuse about these attacks on the police stations, apart from provoking the officers inside, is that they are being carried out because the protesters accuse the police of attacking them without provocation. This argument could go on forever.

We left alongside the “black shirts” when they were informed the riot police were coming.

Image: Police move in on the protesters after stones were thrown

They don’t want to be arrested and charged with rioting, which carries a 10-year prison sentence, so they leg it when it seems the police are about to turn up.

They do that by jumping on the metro, and that brought me back to Hong Kong Island and the deployment of seriously equipped riot police guarding the districts that house the government buildings.

The “black shirts” coughing and spluttering from another mouthful of gas took to the metro and headed towards Causeway Bay, a high-end tourist and shopping destination, where they took over the streets, stopped the movement of all buses and cars and sat about waiting for their next instruction to move.

“We are not targeting normal people for no reason, whatever we are targeting is actually very point on, you know the government buildings, whatever symbols that represent the police violence,” one of the masked “black shirts” explained to me.

I asked him if the government was listening. “Absolutely not,” he said.

A general strike and more demonstrations are planned. Hong Kong has never seen anything like this before, but everyone is bracing itself for more.


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