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Hong Kong: A summer of discontent

A protester rests behind barricades before clashes with security forces in the district of Kwun Tong, on August 24, 2019. ©Antoine Védeilhé

Our reporters have been following the wave of protests gripping Hong Kong for the past four months. This unprecedented movement is set to last and is deeply dividing society, between those who aspire to more democracy and those who remain loyal to Beijing.

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For almost four months, Hong Kong has been the scene of protests that are unprecedented in the former British colony’s history. Every weekend, hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to demand - among other things - the withdrawal of an extradition law to mainland China and the implementation of universal suffrage. But with the large-scale popular and peaceful movement of the first weeks obtaining few concessions from the government, more and more young demonstrators are now turning to violence.

Clashes break out regularly with Hong Kong’s security forces. With the police firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and protesters setting up barricades at the foot of skyscrapers, Hong Kong has witnessed scenes of urban warfare. To date, more than 900 people have already been arrested by the authorities.

Hongkongers more divided than ever

Twenty-two years after its handover to China, Hong Kong appears at a crucial turning point in its history, deeply divided between those who aspire to more democracy and those who swear allegiance to Beijing. The latter also want to make their voices heard. This summer, they received the support of the triads, Hong Kong mafia gangs who run protection rackets for drug trafficking, weapons and prostitution.

Our reporters gained rare access to a repentant triad who led a particularly violent attack on pro-democracy protesters on July 21 in the town of Yuen Long. The footage of the scene, of a violence rarely seen in Hong Kong, shocked the whole of society and cemented the divide between those who are pro- and anti-China.

The division has also reached the homes of Hongkongers. Today, many families are torn apart because the conflict is also generational. Parents, who experienced the 1997 handover as a proud moment, do not wish to experience fresh upheaval.

Our reporters Antoine Védeilhé and Thomas Blanc followed young Hong Kong insurgents during the summer when they decided to lead what they call "the revolution of our time".

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