[05:00:00] ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT:—go with the place for the moment. And certainly, you can smell the tear gas in the air prickling your eyes and your throats. And if you can see—if you can just swing to the right slightly, you can see the protesters now wearing the yellow hats—distinctive yellow hats who are being pushed back by the police. There is, again, as you can see, tear gas being used at the far side of the road.
Kristie, I believe, if you are hearing this, you were also involved in the occupy movement as well reporting on that as well as Ivan. This is a very, very well planned operation. You see the shots then of tear gas going into the middle of that crowd. It’s now igniting and I can see the crowds running, seeking cover from that.
A couple of people have picked up canisters and thrown them back not very far. There’s a couple now going back towards the police and the police retaliate by sending in yet more canisters of tear gas, forcing protesters further back. Although there does seem to be some protesters who are staying put in the middle, that is a lot big volley of tear gas from the police. And you see them now advancing.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Andrew, the riot police are pushing up this flyover right now, as you can see, using shields. Not using force, but steadily moving forward to clear demonstrators off of here. And it’s a very fluid situation right now. Normally, they would have cars here, but right now there are riot police, some demonstrators, and bystanders, and journalists. And it’s a fluid situation. No tear gas used at this particular location, but there’s been a substantial and muscular push by the security forces to clear people out of this area where they had been basically barricading themselves around the headquarters of the city government.
The message is very clear here. People have to get out of here. They’ve got batons. They’ve got shields.
Kristie, I’m going to toss it back to you right now.
KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. That was CNN’s Ivan Watson and CNN’s Andrew Stevens live and in the thick of things reporting on the intensifying political situation here in Hong Kong. I’m Kristie Lu Stout reporting live from the city, live from Victoria Harbor. Let’s give you a reset on what’s happening right now. There is an intensifying political situation unrest in the heart of the city. We heard from the Hong Kong police commissioner in the last 30 minutes saying that what is happening now is a riot. The Hong police confirming that they are using tear gas, they are using pepper spray, they are using rubber bullets on the protesters there. Also, urging residents of Hong Kong to stay away from the area.
This is what we know that led to the events this day. Earlier this day, around the legislative council building, which is near the central business district of this major financial center, tens of thousands of protesters gathered there to fight against the controversial extradition bill. They were young people wearing white t-shirts, wearing black t-shirts, colors that are symbolic of the resistance movement. Also, wearing and bearing masks as well as goggles in anticipation of what is happening right now.
The police in full force, some 5,000 riot police have been deployed around the city and they have been using tear gas, and pepper spray, and water cannon on the protesters there. We have CNNteams on the ground. They have been witnessing the police using pepper spray, using tear gas to try disburse the crowds around the legislative council.
We have CNN’s Ivan Watson standing by. Ivan, this is, as you said, a very fluid situation. Describe what’s happening right now.
WATSON: Yes, we’re not standing by. We’re moving because the riot police are clearing this traffic flyover right now. They have shields. They have batons. They are not hitting anybody thus yet, but the warning is get out of here.
And this is part of the network of highways and roadways around here where protesters had set up makeshift barricades around the legislative council. And the security forces have made it clear it’s time to go. And some of the protesters here are voicing their opposition to it, Kristie.
[05:05:10] These very same roads were occupied for close to 80 days five years ago during the occupy sit-in. Judging by what we’re seeing here today by the use of tear gas and pepper spray, the city authorities do not want a repeat of that kind of sit-in. And this is part of what we see right now, large numbers of security forces.
And what’s really striking about this, Kristie, compared to 2014, most of these protesters today are quite young. In fact, some of them have told me they were children during the sit-in five years ago and thus they didn’t participate. And now this is their first time standing up and showing their disapproval with the policies of the city government.
STOUT: Ivan, that is something that struck me as well when you look at the protesters out and about today. They are young men and women in their 20s. They would have been teenagers or students five years ago at the height of the umbrella movement and yet we see them out in force.
Today, we have Andrew Stevens also standing by at another vantage point where all this is unfolding. Andrew, tear gas was deployed not far from where you are. What’s the state of play where you are?
STEVENS: Yes, a lot of tear gas was deployed round after round. It was fired into a dense crowd just behind me, Kristie. And you’ll also see the police have advanced. They are forming a thick barrier across the road and on the other side of that barrier, they are facing a crowd perhaps of 100-150 meters away so far.
Yes, a lot of tear gas, as you say, has been fired. It’s hanging quite heavy in the air which makes it fairly uncomfortable for everybody here at the moment. The protesters, though, have not completely dispersed. They have been pushed back. They appeared to be holding their ground.
In fact, when the first capsules of tear gas were fired, some were actually have been picked up and thrown back by protesters. Now this—what we’ve seen so far this afternoon, is the police massing like this behind their riot shields, a volley of tear gas has been fired. And as the crowd retreats, the police move forward. It has been about—it has been this situation for about the past five minutes or so. But obviously the police want to clear this area now completely.
We have walked down to the legislative council building, the Hong Kong parliament. I’m now standing right beside it and all around, as far as I can see around the building, it has been cleared of protesters. This would appear to be one of the last remaining holdouts. And the police, as you can see, are here in numbers with the equipment and ready to make a move.
There are some protesters here who have come prepared. They have gas masks. They have eye goggles or they have very sophisticated masks, they’ve also cover themselves and with protective clothing as well. But it’s very difficult for most of these young Hong Kongers to be able to deal with any contact with this tear gas.
And the police have confirmed they’ve been using tear gas which was being fired. It has made hand thrown. They’ve been using rubber bullets, this is according to the police commissioner at the press conference a few moments ago. They’ve also been using water cannon and pepper spray.
STOUT: Yes. And just to repeat what we learned from the police commissioner just over half an hour ago saying what you had just said just now, they’re using a number of tools right now to push these protesters back. They’re using tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets as well, pepper spray. That was from a statement from the Hong Kong police commissioner who also called the situation a riot situation.
We’re looking at CNN’s Ivan Watson, who’s also on the move from where he is around the legislative council building. And, Ivan, could you describe what’s happening there? Unfortunately, he can’t hear us right now but you can see him in vision there with the riot police. We know that 5,000 riot police are out and about trying to secure the area, to push the protesters away.
We’ve also learned that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, will issue a statement at about 7:30 p.m. local time. We’re going to be monitoring that very closely as well.
So just a reset what is happening this day. An intensifying political situation, fluid unrest in the heart of the central business district next to the Legislative Council Building here in Hong Kong, a standoff between riot police of Hong Kong and protesters. Early in the day, 10,000 protesters, mainly young people gathering there to challenge a controversial extradition bill that would allow the extradition of suspected criminals into Mainland China.
There are a lot of critics of the bill but there are also supporters of that as well. The Hong Kong government and Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive, saying she will not scrap the bill despite seeing the intense opposition towards it. I’m referring to those scenes that we saw play out on Sunday.
[05:10:11] But let’s focus on what’s happening this day. We have CNN’s Andrew Stevens, who is there next to the legislative complex where he has been witnessing the Hong Kong police response responding with tear gas, responding with pepper spray, batons and water cannon.
And, Andrew, when you look at what the riot police are trying to do, what is their objective here? Are they just trying to move the protesters away from the streets to prevent an occupation or to move them away from the legislative complex?
STEVENS: It looks like they are going to completely—the plan is to completely remove all protesters from around the Legislative Council Building and to reopen the roads to traffic better and to bring things back to normal as much as they can. Just—while you were speaking to me, Kristie, I’ve just noticed behind us a police line has formed. And if you look across to my right here, you’ll see a very, very, heavy presence of police and also there are somewhat looks like a special force or special ops team going in there dressed all in black with riot shields wearing gas masks. It looks like they are holding some pepper spray canisters as well.
But they are moving away from where this line of police is now facing off against the protesters. You can see maybe a hundred meters or so away. And I don’t know if you can—we can’t get a great shot there, but you can see the umbrellas first of all. This obviously is very, very emblematic of protests in Hong Kong in recent years stemming from the Umbrella Movement in 2014, which paralyzed the city for nearly 80 days.
But that crowd, which we saw with these umbrellas, moves right up the hill. It’s difficult to see the full extent, but there are still thousands of people that I can see standing their ground against the police. This standoff—this most recent standoff has been going on for maybe 10 minutes or so. But what we’ve seen so far this afternoon is the police group shots or fired—tear gases fired and then they move. And where we were standing, there were thousands of protesters and they were moved and the area cleared very, very quickly, I would say within 15 to 20 minutes.
STOUT: Andrew Stevens reporting live from the scene there. Andrew, to you and the crew, please take care. We know that you have your gas mask ready if needed, hard hats as well. Please take care. We will talk with you soon.
I’m joined on the line by James To. He is a Senior Democratic Party Lawmaker. He joins us now. And, James, I just want to confirm. Can you hear me?
JAMES TO, SENIOR DEMOCRATIC PARTY LAWMAKER: Yes. Yes.
STOUT: OK. James, thanks for joining us once again.
TO: Yes, I can hear you.
STOUT: Last night was the last time we talked. And last night you were expressing how furious the people of Hong Kong were. That’s why we saw, according to organizers, over a million people come up to march against this proposed extradition law.
People are also angry because of the reaction from the Chief Executive, the top leader of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, saying despite the display of people power, she is not going to scrap this legislation. How are you? How are the people of Hong Kong reacting to the scenes that are playing out right where we see 5,000 riot police using tear gas, using rubber bullets on these protesters who have gathered outside the legislative council?
TO: Well, first, let me clarify. It’s not a rubber bullet, it’s a lead bullet because it’s a plastic mixed with lead. Small bullets. OK. That can be legal.
Well, I can only say people are very furious. And, well, this morning, because the pro-Communist legislature cannot go in the chamber, the parliament, to rush through the bill. So in the afternoon, the government just wished to clear the path of the pro- Communist legislature to rush in the parliament, to rush through the bill.
I think there’s absolutely no need for the government to be so impatient. I think now the government over in China use tear gas and lead bullets against the crowd. I think people will come back and more people will come back.
STOUT: The Hong Kong police say that rubber bullets were used. You’re saying because lead was mixed in with the rubber bullets, that these are lead bullets. That debate aside, do you feel that the Hong Kong police are using disproportionate force on these protesters outside the Legislative Council building?
TO: Well, I think if the government can withdraw the bill, of course, or at least to defer the bill, I think they can solve the crisis at least for awhile.
[05:15:01] But I don’t know why our government is so impatient to rush through the bill. Because the Taiwan authority already says that they would—President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has already reiterate today and yesterday that they will not extradite a person under the amendment bill.
TO: So the government has absolutely no need to rush through the bill.
STOUT: Right. Right. There was a feeling earlier in the day that because of the blockade by the protesters around the Legislative Council building and the second reading of this extradition bill was delayed that that would buy some time. That would diffuse the tension, but that is clearly not the case as we’re seeing with this very intensified political situation with the Hong Kong police calling a riot situation in the heart of the city.
James To, as senior Democratic Party lawmaker, I have to ask you. Are you scared about what could come next?
TO: I can tell you that people will come back and more people will come back. And I have a genuine fear that it will escalate to the whole territory wide uncooperative movement. And there may be blockade everywhere and certainly, will lead Hong Kong into a totally ungovernable state.
STOUT: Are you calling for more protesters to assemble out on the streets to join the protesters who are already out there?
TO: Yes. More people is coming back. Coming back. And tomorrow, when the legislative council may resume the meeting, I assure you that people will come back and more people will come back. Because, well, if our government will not listen and just ignore the voice of the people, of over one million Hong Kong people, I think they have totally lost their credibility and legitimacy to rule Hong Kong.
STOUT: But why act and why call for more protests when the government has said it won’t budge? The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, we’re waiting to hear from her. She will speak later today at 7:30 p.m. local time. She said does not plan to withdraw the legislation.
We know inside the legislature the majority of seats are held by pro- Beijing lawmakers. So it’s very likely that the bill is going to pass anyway. Why fight this?
TO: Well, because in the afternoon it seems that the pro-Beijing legislature cannot go in the parliament building. But I think even if the bill is deferred for several days, I think that they can still pass the bill. But I don’t know why our government wished to rush through today because they may—well, they may lose their faith.
And they may have any instructions from Beijing that, I think, they must seem to be a strong government. And I think they totally lose their credibility now.
STOUT: Got it. James To, Senior pro-Democratic Lawmaker, thank you very much for joining me on the line.
You’re watching CNN’s special breaking news coverage of the ongoing political unrest taking place in the heart of the city, a situation that Hong Kong police are calling a riot. They’re urging residents to stay away from the area as Hong Kong police deploy tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on the thousands of protesters who have gathered there earlier today forcing the delay of the discussion of that controversial extradition bill.
I’m Kristie Lu Stout. We will continue our coverage after the break.
[05:20:58] STOUT: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage of the ongoing situation in Hong Kong. The political unrest has intensified with what Hong Kong police are describing a riot situation outside the legislature of Hong Kong where tens of thousands of protesters were gathering earlier.
Hong Kong police have deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and water cannon to push them back from the legislative council building. All these taking place near the central business district of this major international financial city.
We have CNN’s Ivan Watson standing by on the ground, as well as Andrew Stevens and other teams. We’ll go to Ivan right now.
And, Ivan, you’ve been monitoring the situation there. The police response but also looking at individuals being taken away by stretchers. Have there been casualties due to this unrest and these clashes?
WATSON: We just saw two people taken away by emergency services to ambulances here, carried on gurneys through the police lines here. In the last half hour, we’ve seen these riot police moving to clear demonstrators, pedestrians and journalists off of the traffic arteries, the flyovers where people had been assembled, part of a much larger push that used dozens of rounds of tear gas to clear some of the tens of thousands of demonstrators who had made a wall of humanity around the headquarters of the city government here in Hong Kong. Clearly not wanting to see a repeat of similar scenes that I saw on this same streets five years ago during the occupy sit-in, not wanting the demonstrators to be able to occupy this same streets.
The demographic here is mostly young. I’ve talked to 20, 21-year-old Hong Kongers who said they were children during the Umbrella Movement sit-in five years ago, who did not participate in that protest movement but have joined into this one for the first time. One of the takeaways from the turmoil we’ve seen in the streets over the course of the last several hours is that the protesters have accomplished one short-term goal, Kristie. They succeeded in postponing the second reading of this extradition law which has put people up in arms here in Hong Kong by using effectively unlawful actions, encircling the headquarters of the city government.
On Sunday, organizers say more than a million protesters were out in the same streets calling for that law to be scrapped. The city officials said we’re going to move forward the way we’ve planned. And two days later, these are the scenes that we’ve seen here. Tear gas in the streets of this financial hub again, injured people being taken away in ambulances, and an entirely new generation of Hong Kongers apparently radicalized and calling for the resignation of the Hong Kong’s chief executive.
STOUT: Ivan, there is a bit of deja vu here because it was five years ago in 2014, you were there when the Umbrella Movement, the pro- democracy movement was sparked when tear gas was initially deployed there. Have you seen Hong Kong police tactics evolve or change since 2014?
WATSON: They’ve been far more assertive, I think, in the last hour. They have used a lot of tear gas, pepper spray as well, and been unflinching in trying to push people out. That said, you know, demonstrators and some of these folks over here have been swearing and kind of yelling at the riot police haven’t exactly been standing up with fists or throwing things in areas where I’ve seen. So we haven’t seen real violence and a clash between the security forces and the protesters in the areas.
We may have seen similar—different scenes in other parts of this, and it is a very fluid situation. But from what I’ve seen thus far, the security forces do not want a repeat of the giant protesting encampment that occupied these same roads for close to 80 days five years ago.
[05:25:16] STOUT: Yes. And Ivan, is it your sense that Hong Kong police at this movement have the upper hand on the situation or are you seeing more protesters file in despite the police use of tear gas and pepper spray and rubber bullets?
WATSON: You know, in one of these fluid situations, Kristie, you can only see what’s directly in front of you. So as you can see, it’s pretty calm right now. The police have cleared the highways and roads that they wanted protesters off of. They’ve moved in the—that black building in a distance there is the headquarters of the city government.
So they’ve succeeded in pushing back the demonstrators, clearing the makeshift barricades that the protesters had made. And for now, appear on this side to have the upper hand. The question of what happens in this test of wills between a substantial portion of the population and the city authorities over this controversial extradition law and what happens in the hours and days ahead, that’s entirely up in the air.
But some of the protest movement have learned lessons from five years ago when the sit-in, the occupy movement essentially fizzled out after about three months. And the riot police, it seems to me, have also learned some lessons from the last time we saw this kind of protest movement in the streets of this port city. Kristie.
STOUT: A very fluid situation. Anything can change. Ivan Watson and his team reporting live. Ivan, thank you so much. And to you and the crew, please do take care.
As Ivan was saying there, this is a very fluid situation. Two stories taking place here, a test of wills in the political realm over this controversial extradition bill and a test of wills between protesters and riot police playing out right now on the streets of Hong Kong near the central business district next to the legislative complex. We will continue to monitor the situation.
This is breaking news. You are watching CNN.
STOUT: Breaking news from Hong Kong with an intensifying situation unrest near the central business district. The flash point being the legislative council building where we have seen these clashes between Hong Kong riot police and 10,000 protesters earlier in the day.
We heard from Ivan Watson before the break. From is vantage point, he was able to see that Hong Kong riot police were able to get an upper hand on the situation there.
They have, according to the Hong Kong police commissioner, been using tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon, pepper spray to hold them at bay and to prevent an occupation of the roads which would be a repeat of the scenes that we saw in 2014 and the Umbrella Movement where major ardeways (ph) and throughways, highways in Hong Kong were occupied for over two months. We have CNN’s Nic Robertson standing by who’s been monitoring the video, the messages coming through from authorities from Hong Kong to provide more international perspective on events this day.
And Nic, just wanted to ask you how are you interpreting what’s happening here in Hong Kong? They’re stunning residents of Hong Kong who have been urged by police to stay away from the Admiral T (ph) are, to stay away from legislative council building. How are viewers outside Hong Kong likely viewing these events?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, I think, you know, when you see it form a distance and the picture that you get from the ground is all the information that you need. The details from the police commissioner are just the things that you need to analyze this. And when you stand back, the picture that emerges today of the crowds congregating around the legislative buildings for several hours, the police, it seems, taking that time to get reinforcements ready and to bring those reinforcements on the street and the police commissioners you’ve reported giving a legitimacy to the police actions.
Number one, defining the protesters not as protesters, but actually rioters, and our reporters on the ground have reported that the protesters are protesting rather than rioting, that they have been there in a peaceful capacity.
So the police commissioner describe then now as rioters. He says that the police have been tolerant. He says, however, that the police now have no choice but to use force legitimizing the use of force against people he now calls rioters. He says that these rioters continue to push forward.
So the bigger picture emerges here that the police commission is legitimizing the use of these additional resources that have been brought in now with a very clear mandate and we heard it from our reporters there, firing the tear gas into the middle of the crowd. When your fire tear gas at crowds, police often in other cities around the country will fire it at the front of the crowd to move the crowd back. Clearly here there’s an effort to disperse rapidly to avoid a repeat of that 79 day sit in of 2014.
This seems to be the lesson that the police have, but I think the carroloy (ph) of that, which is what some of your guests have been talking about, is that this will have a counterproductive effect on Hong Kong residents, particularly the young people who are coming out now, particularly the young people who didn’t come out in 2014 but now recognize this as a legitimate way to come out and protest for what they want but by peaceful means. Will this change the dynamic? So I think from and outside perspective, the police have now given themselves the legitimacy to take whatever forceful actions these require against people they now describe as rioters rather than protesters.
STOUT: Got it. Nic Robertson, that was some very key a crucial analysis on how Hong Kong police are trying to frame this situation, describing the protesters not as protesters, not as anti-extradition demonstrators, but as rioters. Nic, thank you. And I’m joined now on the line by Steve Vickers. He is the CEO of Steve Vickers & Associates, a specialist political and corporate risk consultancy.
And Steven just want to get your additional thoughts on what we heard from Nic Robertson just then about how the Hong Kong police are trying to react to, respond to, and also characterize this event, calling it not a protest but a riot?
STEVE VICKERS, CEO, STEVE VICKERS & ASSOCIATES: Well I think when I hear all of Nic’s comments, I’ve been monitoring this since about 0800 hours this morning, clearly even it started off as a demonstration. They moved very quickly the demonstrators. The police I think were caught slightly off - a little there on the reverse as it’s kicked off.
So earlier, I mean, I was there myself in the traffic a bit. I hate to talk this morning (ph) when they sealed off roads around not just the government headquarters but as far as the center of town a couple of arterial roads which perhaps shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
You know, obviously this is very sad day for Hong King and I’m sorry to see that this is - it’s got to this, but I think the other side of the coin is once you decide to shut down the government complex, which essentially what happens when you surround it, and there were a series of charges aimed at breaking through the proof lines (ph), the situation was going to escalate. Clearly the declaration of a riot makes it very serious if you get arrested you can go to jail for a long time, so that is a fact to turn to Nic’s comments.
VICKERS: They’ve made heavy use of CS gas, bean bags, and the like aimed at the protesters. The other side of the equation if you’re trying to be fair and equitable is that this is - doesn’t seem - it seems to be pretty well organized from the protesters’ or demonstrators’ point of view. Many of them have come equipped with high-quality goggles, masks, and de-tear gas (ph) equipment, helmets and the like, so it’s not as spontaneous clearly as it looks.
Clearly, I personally think it’s sad that this has escalated as a consequence of this immigration bill. I think once the - again, we’re going to blame the police but of course it’s a government decision that’s gone here. This will go on I think for a week or so until the - until the bill it either voted ahead or otherwise.
STOUT: Steve, you’re a well-known security risk consultant. You were also a former Senior Officer with the Royal Hong Kong Police, and you called this a sad day for Hong Kong. How should the Hong Kong Police force reacted to the scenes of protests that we saw earlier today?
VICKERS: Well again, it really - the police are the agents of the government so if you’re looking for the evil person behind this, it’s not he police. The police were given instructions to clear the area around the government headquarters. In doing so, they were being attacked - they were being attacked by people metal fences ironically which belong to the government, but whatever.
And the bit that they’ve used the - they’ve used the incremental levels of force with a little bit of pushing and shoving, then the CS smoke and batons and they made use of some bean bags. So they have followed the traditional graduated level - levels of - levels of response to a riot.
When I was in - I was in New York when they cleared the occupied people from New York and I can tell you that it was a lot more violent than this. Perhaps not as colorful with the CS smoke, but they have - the police have to be fair to them followed on graduated approach but it is just a sad chain that I think an issue like this is having to be decided by the police and demonstrators rather by the government in negotiation.
STOUT: All right, and presumably the objective of this ongoing police operation here in Hong Kong deploying all these tools that you mentioned just now - rubber bullets, tear gas - to push the protesters away, protesters who they describe as rioters. The objective here is to avoid and occupation of these major road ways in Hong Kong to avoid what we saw in 2014 during the Umbrella Movement with that occupation lasting over two months here in Hong Kong.
VICKERS: Yes. I mean, quite clearly the goal is not to let the centrist town be taken over as was achieved previously. And to be honest, if the protesters’ goals are to shut down the government headquarters, I mean, I don’t think that is a very viable ojective in the longer term.
The difference between now - between occupy central which is a civil disobedience campaign and what is occurring today is that if this is a lot more proactive and the timeline on this is much tighter, I mean, I believe that Ledge Co. (ph) set aside 60 hours or so for debate on this would suggest to me that this situation will be over one way or the other within six days.
STOUT: Yes, but as you said a sad day for Hong Kong. A matter that could have been handled politically is now being handled with test of wills playing out live on our screen in the Central Business District and Multi District (ph) of Hong Kong. Steve Vickers on the line with us. We thank you for joining us.
Now, there out and about on the scene where all of this is taking place we have multiple CNN teams including Andrew Stevens who has been there since the early hours of this morning watching what started as a very large protest movement that prevent lawmakers from entering the legislative council building to take part in that second reading of the extradition bill to this major and dramatic police response pushing them away. Andrew, very fluid situation. What are you seeing right now?
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: OK Kristi, we’re actually looking at a protesters who is being restrained at the moment. He’s just been dragged through the cordon or police and is now being inspected by the police, but if we look further out you’ll see more clouds of tear gas and the sound of the tear gas canisters being fired are echoing around this concrete canyon. This is about as central as Hong Kong as you will get. This is the heart of the financial district around there. The police are slowly and steadily moving forward.
Just before they started moving, the protesters had advanced on them, and there are only about 20 minutes separating. The police started moving towards them and they have - they are now retreating and the police are going - continuing operations with tear gas and as you can see it’s virtually covering a wave of those protesters now as the push back.
There is still a big contingent of protesters there. I would estimate they’re in the thousands, and you can see them now hurrying back, running back as the police advance at a trot. We don’t know where they’re going to be pushing them back to, Kristie, but obviously the police are very key on clearing out this area. This area is Central Hong Kong. It wants to get this area back under control as quickly as possible, forcing the protesters into still further west of Hong Kong, but at this stage I can’t see how far back the protesters go, but as I said, there is still a lot here.
And these pictures - remember Kristie, these pictures are being beamed around Hong Kong and this protest, which has been described as a riot by the Hong Kong Police, I have certainly myself seen no evidence of behavior that I would equate with a riot, but these picture are being beamed around Hong Kong. This was a movement that had broad appeal. Those million people - the million people that was according to the sponsors of the march on Sunday, as you know Kristie, they were across the board. They were people of all ages. So how this affects the people of Hong Kong who marched peacefully on Sunday and what it might galvanize them to do remains to be seen.
STOUT: Yes, Andrew, many people watching these scenes were shocked also with sadness as we heard from Steve Vickers, a well-known security consultant who was also a Senior Official on the Royal Hong Kong Police Force stunned by seeing the police response this day. Andrew Stevens reporting live on the scene. Andrew Stevens describing the protests that he’s been witnessing all day leading up to this dramatic police response did not, to him qualify as a riot but as a protest.
I’m joined now on the line by Civic Party lawmaker, Dennis Kwok. Sir, thank you for joining us. I want to get your reaction to these scenes that are playing out on T.V., online, on social media. How are you reacting? How are you processing this?
DENNIS KWOK, CIVIC PARTY LAWMAKER: I think the government had obviously done their part in provoking orders because after a million people marched on Sunday, two hours later they issued a statement saying that they would not budge and inch on the extradition bill and that they’re going to solider on, ignoring the protest of the million people.
So what we’re seeing today is really the natural consequences of the government’s approach and attitudes (ph), and the Hong Kong people will not be bullied. They will not stand idly by and let the government railroad through a extremely controversial piece of legislation that will do huge damage to one country, two systems, and the rule of law in Hong Kong.
STOUT: Hong Kong Police are calling this situation not a protest this day but a riot. I wanted to get your thoughts on that and whether by calling these protesters rioters won’t that offer just very serious legal implications for the young people involved in this action today?
KWOK: Of course it will carry a lot of consequences for the young people. They’re calling these young people who I see are largely university students or people in their early 20s who come out since this morning to protest. By calling them rioters, the police are - as so far as I know are using tear gas, rubber bullets and other guns to - on the students and on the young people.
I think that this was a deliberate escalation of the conflict. At the end of the day, I think the Hong Kong people will keep coming to Admiralty and I think they will not go away no matter how strong the police put up with.
STOUT: At the moment, our reports including Ivan Watson who’s saying that it appears that Hong Kong Police have an upper hand on the situation there successfully pushing back what they call rioters or the protesters away from the scene. Hong Kong Police also urging residents to stay away from the area. Dennis Kwok, as a Civic Party lawmaker, a pro-democracy advocate, are you encouraging people to join the protest there around the legislative council, the Admiralty District at this moment?
KWOK: A lot of people will be coming after work because a lot - as I’m seeing on social media is that a lot of people are responding to the scenes they have seen on the news and right now what you have are mostly young people, but I think a lot of professional business people will be coming after 6 o’clock as they get off work to join these young protesters.
STOUT: Noted. Civic Party lawmaker, Dennis Kwok, on the line. Thank you so much for joining us.
KWOK: Thank you.
STOUT: Dennis Kwok mentioning there that despite these very, very tense scenes playing out in the heart of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Police encouraging residents to stay away, he believes that more residents will come out in the later hours to join the protest against this controversial extradition bill which as we saw in those scenes on Sunday there was widespread political opposition to this bill. That political debate has now turned into this tense street standoff between riot police and young protesters this day. We will continue to monitor the situation. You’re watching CNN. This is breaking news. We’ll be back after this.
Breaking news from Hong Kong where political protests have intensified, we have been reported ongoing unrest between riot police and protesters near the central business district of Hong Kong next to the legislative council building where Hong Kong Police have been using tear gar, rubber bullets, and pepper spray to push back tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered earlier in the day fighting a proposed extradition legislation.
They did manage to get the lawmakers to not be able to access the building, so debate was postponed, but what was a political debate is now turning into a test of wills playing out on the streets of Hong Kong. You’re looking at live pictures on your screen. We have various CNN teams spanning out across the area and effective areas. We have Ivan Watson standing by, and Ivan, this continues to be just a very, very fluid situation. How is it playing out at this moment?
IVAN WATSON, SENIOR INTERNATINOAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, well we’re on the move right now because roads have been blocked by protesters and by riot police. From this overpass, you can see it’s rush hour in Hong Kong, a densely packed city, and there is a trickle of vehicular traffic coming through on one of - what is normally one of the busiest roads in this city, Kristie, and we’re going to pan over just to let you see on this side as well. So this is not a normal day in this international financial hub.
In one of the areas east of the legislative council, of the headquarters of the city government we saw riot police moving in force I would say, hundreds and hundreds of helmeted, baton-wielding riot police with shields firing volleys of tear gars and successfully pushing aside makeshift barricades and moving out thousands of demonstrators and setting up a perimeter in that area, but we’re getting reports of ongoing tensions and more tear gas being fired in other parts of Hong Kong’s central district.
So it is still a fluid situation, and as we just heard from a lawmaker speaking to you coming from the opposition camp, he predicts that people will be joining in as they get out of their offices. It may be tough to move around this city right now. As you can see vehicular traffic on this important artery here apparently cutoff doing to - due to the turmoil over this very controversial piece of legislation that the city authorities have insisted they will see through and see its enactment. Kristie -
STOUT: Ivan, Hong Kong Police have characterized the protest this day as a riot. Before Hong Kong Police dramatically responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, did you see evidence of rioting?
WATSON: I did not see personal property being destroyed. I saw a very similar atmosphere to the occupy protest movement of five years ago where demonstrators were peaceful and kind of helping pedestrian bystanders. We’ve seen signs for first aid and we’ve seen demonstrators, the one thing they are moving around are the traffic barriers that they’ve used as de facto barricades.
That said, we also saw signs of some protesters picking up pavement - paving stones that could theoretically be hurled to cause some damage, but when I saw the face-to-face encounters when the riot police pushed in to clear away demonstrators, I didn’t see fists flying. I didn’t see the police using their batons.
So unlike other countries I’ve reported from, though there - I have seen some people taken away on gurneys and taken out in ambulances, and clearly tear gas fired into thousands into people creates panic stampedes where people can get hurt, I haven’t seen the security forces and the protesters exchanging blows yet.
STOUT: Ivan Watson reporting live to you in the crew. Do take care. I know you’re on the move there. We’ll talk again soon. Now, we have Helena Wong Pik-wan, a member of the legislative council with the democratic party joining us on the line, and Helena, these images and video of the Hong Kong Police response in riot gear, responding with tear gas in the heart of Hong Kong, this is airing all around the world. It’s also resonating with the people of Hong Kong and yourself. What is your reaction to the vents this day? HELENA WONG PIK-WAN, MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL, DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Obviously it is very upset to see the situation rising again, but I think it is absolutely (inaudible) as the chief executive who need to take all these - all these responsibility because over a million of Hong Kong people took to the streets to have a peaceful demonstration on Sunday, but the government refused to listen to their opinion and then insists on passing through the extradition law and we see that a lot of people coming to the legical (ph) area and try to block the other poor (ph) establishment and government officials that are coming back to attend the meetings. And this is the last means that they can help to stop and prevent this piece of legislation pass in the ledge pool (ph).
And a lot of them insist on the very peaceful demonstration and resistance, but now we can see that the police are using tear gas and perhaps also bullets and pepper spray, and then they are trying to expel all those people. And we cannot see when all of this conflict can be settled, and I earnestly hope that the chief executive can just suspend such legislation so that we can return to a peaceful environment.
STOUT: Yes, it’s very difficult to see in the near future a resolution to what’s happening given the just the violent response and these scenes playing out on our screens this day. Helena, I want to ask you more about the chief executive of Hong Kong, the top leader here, Carrie Lam.
The march that took place on Sunday was seen as a rebuke of her leadership. Many protesters were holding signs saying Carrie Lamstep down in both English and in Chinese. She has given a statement since then saying that she will not withdraw the controversial extradition legislation. CNN earlier this day reached out to her for comment. She and her office did not give us comment. I understand according to local media she will be giving and address later this evening at 7:30 p.m. What can she say to diffuse the situation? Helena, what do you want to hear from the Chief Executive of Hong Kong?
PIK-WAN: I really - I really want Carrie Lam to have some passion and to try to save Hong Kong. And now it is only Carrie Lam who can issue a (inaudible) saying that the government will withdraw the extradition legislation, then all this conflict will just stop around the Ledge Co (ph), but I feel very upset that Carrie Lam seems not to be willing to listen to all the voices and grievances, and she’s very determined to push it through.
So I think she actually has already lost all this legitimacy. And even though she was manage to pass all the legislation that she wants, she will not get any respect from the entire population. And the government would not be accepted. And without legitimacy, I think it would be even more difficult to govern Hong Kong.
Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive, and her supporters as she does have many supporters, they are holding their ground. They’re saying that they’re not going to withdraw this controversial extradition bill even though we saw that massive turnout on Sunday that had widespread opposition across the board, many different elements of Hong Kong’s society taking part.
Helena, I want to ask you about the protesters who took part in the demonstration today that led to this dramatic police response that we’re still seeing live on our screens at this moment. These were much younger protesters, young men and women. It looks like they’re in their early 20s wearing black t-shirts, white t-shirts, symbols of a resistance here in Hong Kong. What do you think mobilized and energizes them to go out and to protest this day and to confront riot police in this way?
PIK-WAN: Yes, your observation is very correct. When I just go around and see a lot of the protester students and young people and that they just have a very pure heart that is to save Hong Kong. And they are the future of Hong Kong. Obviously they would not want Hong Kong to become another mainland city and they would not want Hong Kong One Country, Two Systems just scrapped away because of this extradition law. So they are very bold and then are ready to sacrifice. A lot of them, we can see that they are very determined to stop the meetings and to stop this piece of legislation.
So I pay my very high respect to them and hope that they will not be hurt, but I feel very upset that the government just didn’t have any compassion and the police is very determined as well just like Carrie Lam to clear and to evacuate the - all the people gathering around. So I think the only positive sign is that we have so many young people. They love Hong Kong and they are willing to sacrifice, and for most of the time they are very peaceful - have a peaceful resistance, but they don’t want to leave.
Helena Wong Pik-wan, member of the legislative council with the democratic party, thank you very much, indeed, for joining me. And I want to reiterate that CNN has reached out to the office of the Chief Executive Carrie Lam in Hong Kong this day for comment. We have yet to receive word back. We hope to hear from Carrie Lam or from her office.
It is very critical to get her perspective as well as the perspective of those who support her. We will continue to monitor this situation here in Hong Kong, a day of just intensifying political unrest as you see on your screen. I’m Kristie Lu Stout. Our continuing coverage of the protest will continue with CNN New Day from New York. Keep it here.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Much later, but you can see there’s been tear gas, water cannons, all kinds of arrests and the demonstrations are going on.