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News Brief: Hong Kong Protests, Trump V. Biden, Sudan Prisoners

Jun 12, 2019
Originally published on June 12, 2019 7:13 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

In Hong Kong today, protests turned violent. Hong Kong residents are outraged about an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent back to mainland China to stand trial.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The sound of protesters there. Thousands of them were out on the streets overnight blocking roads and buildings. This comes after those huge protests that happened on Sunday in Hong Kong. All of it seems to have had an effect, though. Hong Kong's legislature has decided to delay an important hearing on the extradition bill.

KING: NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Hong Kong today. Hi, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So we had these protests on Sunday. They were mostly peaceful. And then today, something changed. What is it like? What are you seeing?

SCHMITZ: Well, as we speak - I don't know if you can hear it - but there are police sirens outside of my hotel. Police in riot gear just blocks away are using brutal force to clear the crowds. The streets are filled with clouds of tear gas. They fired water cannons. Several have been injured on both sides. And I think part of the reason is that this is a much younger crowd today than on Sunday, when you had grannies and families coming out.

Today, they're students, and they're people in their 20s. And they're angry. You know, they came ready for a fight, covering their faces with masks, hiding their identities, you know, protecting themselves against pepper spray and tear gas too. Police did use tear gas, and it escalated all this afternoon. And this all comes from the frustration of their government's refusal to back down on this extradition bill.

I spoke to 18-year-old Candy Lao (ph) today. She just graduated from high school here. Her dream is to one day become a doctor. I asked her if she's considering leaving Hong Kong because of this crackdown on civil liberties, and here's what she said.

CANDY LAO: Sometimes, but this is my hometown. It is really hard to live here.

SCHMITZ: And, Noel, at this point, she started to cry. And I gave her a little time. And then I asked her what Beijing does not understand about the people in her hometown.

LAO: They do not understand that Hongkongers do not want to obey them because we have tried the taste of freedom, and we will never obey them or be controlled by them.

KING: All right. So she said it there, we've tried the taste of freedom.

SCHMITZ: Right.

KING: The reason people are so upset is this seems like part of an effort by Beijing to erode those freedoms. Tell us what that's about.

SCHMITZ: Well, this bill, if passed, would allow the government of China to hand over any Hong Kong citizen it believes broke the law. And for those protesting here, this is a significant step away from a government protecting your rights to one trampling your rights and even punishing you for things like criticizing your government, peacefully protesting policies. You know, these are freedom-of-speech rights protected under the Hong Kong constitution. But across the border in China, authorities do not protect these rights. And Beijing routinely arrests and imprisons people for criticizing its leaders and their policies.

KING: OK. So that's what people are worried about. Worth noting, this isn't the first time there have been mass protests on this same issue in the streets of Hong Kong. Can you give us the historical context here?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. This is one of the many protests in the past several years that all represent this popular resistance to Beijing's efforts to tighten its grip over Hong Kong society. You know, five years ago, residents occupied the city financial district for months to protest this rule that gave Beijing more power in selecting Hong Kong's leaders. And that was called the Umbrella Movement, and it was about maintaining transparent elections. And many of the leaders of that movement have been imprisoned in Hong Kong as a result.

This latest extradition bill could give Beijing even more power, allowing it to take those leaders - democracy leaders - or anyone else it does not like to China for punishment. That's terrifying for people here in Hong Kong. And that's why you're seeing so much popular resistance to it and, as we've seen today, very violent resistance.

KING: A lot at stake there. NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us live from Hong Kong. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. There are 23 candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination and President Trump has a preference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'd rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody. I think he's the weakest, mentally.

MARTIN: The president threw those jabs at the former vice president in Iowa yesterday. Both of these men were there - the president and the former vice president. And Biden had made his own remarks directed at the president earlier on the same day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: He's a threat, in my view, a threat to our core values. And, folks, I think there's a genuine threat to American democracy.

MARTIN: So they both seem to be skipping way past the primaries here, previewing what a head-to-head matchup could look like.

KING: Tamara Keith is NPR's White House correspondent and co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She's with us now. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. Let's talk about strategy here. Joe Biden's comments might have goaded President Trump on, to be fair. But there are 22 other Democrats. Why is President Trump focusing only on Joe Biden - or so much on Joe Biden?

KEITH: Right. So President Trump has occasionally name-called or otherwise jabbed at a number of the other Democratic candidates. But Biden is in the lead in the polls, and he also seems to be in the lead in terms of the various insults that the president is sending in his direction.

And, you know, we all know that President Trump thrives on conflict and feuds. It was a trademark of his campaign. And in Biden, he has a willing sparring partner. And, you know, in 2016, beating up on and debasing his opponents as they fought with him was a trademark of how Trump became president in 2016. And so here's the thing. If Biden isn't the frontrunner anymore, you can bet that President Trump will be feuding with whoever the frontrunner is.

KING: I mean, interestingly, the president is not the only one ignoring the other Democratic candidates. Joe Biden is not talking about them either, even though they are his immediate competitors. Why is he so focused on President Trump, not the competition?

KEITH: Right. Biden wants to be elevated. Biden wants to present himself as the candidate to take on President Trump. He wants to skip right ahead and look like the nominee and give Democratic voters, who have made it clear that they want someone who can take the fight to President Trump - they want someone who can beat President Trump - he's trying to make it clear that he could be that guy. He wants them to imagine that fight now.

And just to give you a sense of this, Biden's campaign released a written version of his prepared remarks for a speech that he was going to give yesterday evening at 6 a.m. - like, a full 12 hours early...

KING: Yeah.

KEITH: ...So that it would get into the cable bloodstream so that then President Trump would comment on it and that, then, Biden's comments in Iowa at all these various stops would be carried live on cable.

KING: Everybody's telegraphing what (laughter) they're doing pretty clearly. Tam, let me shift to the Hill for a second because, yesterday, House Democrats passed a resolution that should give them some more teeth in their investigation into the Trump administration, whether or not the president obstructed justice. What was that resolution? What will it let them do?

KEITH: It's a couple of things. It basically allows them to go to court, first to enforce subpoenas against the attorney general and former White House counsel Don McGahn, but also to allow other committees to more easily go to court to ask for documents and other materials.

KING: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: OK. In Sudan, a massacre led by the military caused a strike that paralyzed the capital, Khartoum. Now, an end to all of this may be in sight.

MARTIN: Yeah. A mediator says negotiations will resume soon to figure out who's going to run Sudan's transitional government. Remember, the military took over in April after the ouster of longtime president Omar al-Bashir. Negotiations broke down last week after military forces raided this democracy camp and ended up killing people. Opposition leaders then called for a civil disobedience campaign, which has led to huge disruptions in daily life.

KING: NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is in Khartoum. Hey, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: So we've got a little bit of a delay on the line there, so we'll jump right in. What are you seeing in the streets of Khartoum today?

PERALTA: Things - you know, they're a bit more normal. Shops are open. People are out. There's more traffic. But there's still signs that something is very wrong here. The internet is still off in the entire country. And a militia, the Rapid Support Forces, they're still patrolling. They have big guns and sticks and whips.

KING: OK. So very scary for people there, even if things are calm. The military is in control for the moment. You've been talking to people. Is anyone saying, look, we're hopeful that we will return to - that we will get a civilian government? Because it's been a long time in Sudan.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, just a few weeks ago, you know, the Sudanese I spoke to, they were emboldened. In every corner, I heard people calling for democracy, calling for a civilian government. And today, I heard people calling for military rule. But it's important to keep in mind that people are scared. This is a country that has been terrorized the past week. I was talking to an activist - Radwan Daoud - and he told me the story of a young friend who was 17. He was building a roadblock, and he was shot. And they tried to take him to the hospital, but they ran into some paramilitary guys.

Here's what he says happened next.

RADWAN DAOUD: One of the soldiers - he said, I think he's just pretending to be dead. Let us check him out. And then they beat him with a stick.

PERALTA: When he was already...

DAOUD: He's already dead.

PERALTA: So activists are scared. You know, they're leaving the country. They're in hiding. I spoke to one guy on the street today who told me, look, we built this big, beautiful democratic revolution. And now all we've gotten is a capital city full of troops.

KING: And when people in Sudan - when negotiators on both sides say that talks are going to resume soon, what does that mean, especially with the capital on edge this way? We talking hours, days, weeks?

PERALTA: We don't know, actually. The opposition is saying that they have a series of demands that need to be met before they go back to negotiating table. One of those is that the troops are taken off the street and the internet is back on. And we don't know when that's going to happen.

KING: And, Eyder, the people you've talked to who've said we want military rule, are they saying, essentially, we just want things to be calm?

PERALTA: It's hard to tell, Noel. I - you know, I get the feeling that they're saying that because they're scared.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOIDIS' "A PARADE")

KING: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Khartoum. Eyder, thanks so much. Be safe.

PERALTA: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.