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Politics

Hong Kong's evolving protests: Voices from the front lines

Updated : 2019-08-21 14:02:20

On a recent sweltering Saturday, a day now reserved for protest in Hong Kong, a demonstrator named Wayne stepped past a row of plastic barricades, lifted a pair of binoculars and squinted. Four hundred meters away, a line of riot police stood with full-length shields, batons and tear gas launchers. It was a familiar sight for Wayne after more than two months on the front lines of Hong Kong's turbulent pro-democracy demonstrations. Along with hard hats and homemade shields, face-offs with police have become part of the 33-year-old philosophy professor's new normal. The stories of Wayne and three other self-described "front line" protesters interviewed by The Associated Press provide insights into how what started as a largely peaceful movement against proposed changes to the city's extradition law has morphed into a summer of tear gas and rubber bullets. They spoke on condition they be identified only by partial names because they feared arrest. The movement has reached a moment of reckoning after protesters occupying Hong Kong's airport last week held two mainland Chinese men captive, beating them because they believed the men were infiltrating their movement. In the aftermath, pro-democracy lawmakers and fellow demonstrators — who have stood by the hard-liners even as they took more extreme steps — questioned whether the operation had gone too far. The demands grew from opposing legislation that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited for trials in mainland China's murky judicial system to pressing for democratic elections, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's resignation and an investigation into allegations of police brutality at the demonstrations.

Protesters deface the Hong Kong logo at the Legislative Council to protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong. July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian Yu, File)
Protesters deface the Hong Kong logo at the Legislative Council to protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong. July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian Yu, File)
Protesters march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong. June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Protesters march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong. June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Wayne, a 33-year-old self-described “front line” protester, adjusts his gas mask stands along with other demonstrators in Tai Po, on Hong Kong's outskirts. Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Wayne, a 33-year-old self-described “front line” protester, adjusts his gas mask stands along with other demonstrators in Tai Po, on Hong Kong's outskirts. Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Wayne, a 33-year-old self-described “front line” protester, stands along with other demonstrators in Tai Po, on Hong Kong's outskirts. Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Wayne, a 33-year-old self-described “front line” protester, stands along with other demonstrators in Tai Po, on Hong Kong's outskirts. Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters take part in a march on a street in Hong Kong. July 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Protesters take part in a march on a street in Hong Kong. July 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Protesters surround banners that read:
Protesters surround banners that read: "Those on the street today are all warriors!" center top, and "Release all the detainees!" during a sit-in rally at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International airport in Hong Kong. Peaceful marches against proposed changes to the city’s extradition law morphed into nights of tear gas and rubber bullets. Aug. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam pauses during a press conference in Hong Kong. July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam pauses during a press conference in Hong Kong. July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
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