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China calls Hong Kong protesters ‘criminals,’ threatens retaliation

A day after a strike disrupted public transportation and blocked major roads in Hong Kong, China’s central government strongly condemned the protesters, whom it called “criminals.” It did not address the grievances of the pro-democracy forces or propose solutions, but rather warned them not to “mistake our restraint for weakness.” Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: China's central government strongly condemned today what it calls extreme violence from protesters in Hong Kong.

    The condemnation came after a day of clashes and a general strike that disrupted public transportation and blocked major roads.

    Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News has the story.

  • Jonathan Miller:

    The most violent, most sustained popular challenge to the Communist Party of China in decades was today met with Beijing's strongest denunciations in nine weeks of turmoil. Don't play with fire, the spokesman for China's state council warned.

    He branded the ringleaders deranged, as he threatened a blow from the sword of the law lay in store for them. Their insurrection was doomed, he said.

  • Yang Guang (through translator):

    I must warn all criminals not to misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness.

    They must not underestimate the firm determination and tremendous strength of the central government and the people of the whole country to safeguard Hong Kong's prosperity and stability and to safeguard the fundamental interests of the country.

  • Jonathan Miller:

    Yang Guang offered no solutions and didn't address grievances. Instead, he reminded Hong Kongers who was boss.

  • Yang Guang (through translator):

    The People's Liberation Army is an incomparably strong and powerful force and is safeguarding the security of every inch of the sacred territory of the motherland.

  • Jonathan Miller:

    Last week, the PLA's Hong Kong garrison released this video, showing its troops training to confront protesters. Asked today if he could rule out intervention, Yang Guang said China would never allow any turbulence that would threaten national unity.

    Hong Kong law provides for the PLA to deploy if the territory's semiautonomous government hits the panic button. Yesterday's disturbances alone resulted in 148 arrests, police firing 800 tear gas canisters and 140 rubber bullets. Rubber bullets were not used by the PLA at Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, when the army killed thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators.

    Today, three masked Hong Kong protesters held a press briefing to decry what they called the lack of self-discipline by police. They apologized for the inconvenience yesterday's day-long strike had caused.

  • Man:

    The pursuit of democracy, liberty and equality is the inalienable rights of every citizen. We, therefore, call on the government to refrain from exterminating our right to pursue these universal values.

  • Jonathan Miller:

    As Hong Kong cleaned up after yet another long weekend of chaos, many returning to work spoke of their enduring support for protesters.

  • Matthew Yung:

    Chaos is caused by the government, not the protester. I think they will try every peaceful means with the largest march since Hong Kong returned the sovereignty to China. We had two million people marching on the street. And government still doesn't listen.

  • Jonathan Miller:

    It's true. Less than two months ago, a third of Hong Kong's population marched peacefully in protest against a reviled extradition bill. And now it's transformed into a fully-fledged civil resistance movement, defiantly rejecting the lengthening reach of Beijing, who is deaf to Hong Kongers' demands, unsympathetic, and whose patience has now worn thin.

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