Iran’s top leader warns ‘thugs’ as protests reach 100 cities

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO NEWS)

 

Iran’s top leader warns ‘thugs’ as protests reach 100 cities

The government recently raised gasoline prices by 50 percent.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday cautiously backed the government’s decision to raise gasoline prices by 50% after days of widespread protests, calling those who attacked public property during demonstrations “thugs” and signaling that a potential crackdown loomed.

The government shut down internet access across the nation of 80 million people to staunch demonstrations that took place in a reported 100 cities and towns. That made it increasingly difficult to gauge whether unrest continued. Images published by state and semiofficial media showed the scale of the damage in images of burned gas stations and banks, torched vehicles and roadways littered with debris.

Since the price hike, demonstrators have abandoned cars along major highways and joined mass protests in the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere. Some protests turned violent, with demonstrators setting fires as gunfire rang out.

It remains to be seen how many people were arrested, injured or killed. Videos from the protests have shown people gravely wounded.

Iranian authorities on Sunday raised the official death toll in the violence to at least three. Attackers targeting a police station in the western city of Kermanshah on Saturday killed an officer, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Sunday. A lawmaker said another person was killed in a suburb of Tehran. Earlier, one man was reported killed Friday in Sirjan, a city some 500 miles southeast of Tehran.

In an address aired Sunday by state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “some lost their lives and some places were destroyed,” without elaborating. He called the protesters “thugs” who had been pushed into violence by counterrevolutionaries and foreign enemies of Iran.

Khamenei specifically named those aligned with the family of Iran’s late shah, ousted 40 years ago, and an exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. The MEK calls for the overthrow of Iran’s government and enjoys the support of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“Setting a bank on fire is not an act done by the people. This is what thugs do,” Khamenei said.

The supreme leader carefully backed the decision of Iran’s relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani and others to raise gasoline prices. While Khamenei dictates the country’s nuclear policy amid tensions with the U.S. over its unraveling 2015 accord with world powers, he made a point to say he wasn’t an “expert” on the gasoline subsidies.

Khamenei ordered security forces “to implement their tasks” and for Iran’s citizens to keep clear of violent demonstrators. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said the “key perpetrators of the past two days’ riot have been identified and proper action is ongoing.”

That seemed to indicate a crackdown could be looming. Economic protests in late 2017 into 2018, as well as those surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election, were met with a heavy reaction by the police and the Basij, the all-volunteer force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The semiofficial Fars news agency, close to the Guard, put the total number of protesters at over 87,000, saying demonstrators ransacked some 100 banks and stores in the country. Authorities arrested some 1,000 people, Fars reported, citing unnamed security officials for the information.

The protests have put renewed pressure on Iran’s government as it struggles to overcome the U.S. sanctions that have strangled the economy since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal over a year ago.

While representing a political risk for Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, the demonstrations also show widespread anger among the Iranian people, who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency, the rial.

Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Gasoline in the country remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping 50% to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. costs $2.60 by comparison.

Iranian internet access saw disruptions and outages Friday night into Saturday, according to the group NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access. By Saturday night, connectivity had fallen to just 7% of ordinary levels. It was mostly unchanged on Sunday.

NetBlocks called it the most severe shutdown the group had tracked in any country “in terms of its technical complexity and breadth.” On Twitter, NetBlocks said the disruption constituted “a severe violation” of Iranians’ “basic rights and liberties.”

The internet firm Oracle called it “the largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran.”

The semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Sunday that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council ordered a “restriction of access” to the internet nationwide, without elaborating.

In a statement issued Sunday, the Trump administration condemned “the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators.”

“Tehran has fanatically pursued nuclear weapons and missile programs, and supported terrorism, turning a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power and riches,” the White House statement said.

In Dubai, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates told The Associated Press that America was “not advocating regime change. We are going to let the Iranian people decide for themselves their future.”

“They are frustrated. They want freedom,” Ambassador John Rakolta said at the Dubai Airshow. “These developments that you see right now are their own people telling them, ‘We need change and to sit down with the American government.’”

China suspends ties with Rockets after GM shows support for Hong Kong protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHINA’S ‘SHINE’ NEWS NETWORK)

 

Chinese businesses suspend ties with Rockets after GM shows support for Hong Kong protests

CGTN

The general manager of the NBA Houston Rockets team, Daryl Morey has embroiled himself into trouble due to his tweet on last Friday supporting Hong Kong’s protests. Some Chinese companies stated their actions even before officials.

Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Credit Card Center was the first to speak out, saying on Sunday that it “opposes and protests against” Morey’s “erroneous” remarks and has suspended all marketing and publicity activities related to the Rockets.

Following the bank, sports brand Li Ning denounced the post and said it had stopped all forms of cooperation with the Rockets. Meanwhile, Shanghai Jiayin Finance Technology notified the Rockets that all partnerships between the two sides have been halted.

Tencent Sports, which signed a five-year, 1.5-billion-U.S.-dollar deal with the NBA in July, announced that all live streaming and news reporting of the Rockets will be suspended. It also gave customers, who bought a subscription to watch the Rockets games online, a chance to opt for another team.

Starbuck’s China rival Luckin Coffee and smartphone maker Vivo also announced they would suspend cooperation with the NBA on Tuesday.

A small tweet can bring big trouble

Morey’s tweet, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” was quickly deleted last Friday, but not before it generated huge controversy in China. China’s consulate general in Houston urged the team to “clarify and immediately correct the mistakes” in a statement last Sunday. Beijing repeatedly said that some protesters in Hong Kong were mobs and rioters, instead of the so-called “peaceful pro-democracy protesters” described by the Western media.

But, the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement Tuesday on how NBA will not “put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues,” concerning Morey’s improper remarks.

On the same day, the China Central Television (CCTV) Sports channel of China Media Group (CMG) announced that it will suspend the NBA broadcasting because Silver supported improper remarks. Before that, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) had already announced the termination of cooperation with Houston Rockets.

Basketball is one of the most popular sports in China. Here are some facts and figures showing how vital China and its 500-million-fan base is to the NBA:

The NBA has had a presence in China for almost three decades. It now has relationships with a number of television and digital media outlets throughout China, including a long-standing partnership with CCTV.

The Houston Rockets is widely followed especially in China. That’s because the franchise drafted Chinese player Yao Ming in 2002. The eight-time NBA All-Star was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

NBA China was launched in 2008. Seventeen NBA teams have played 26 games in Beijing, Guangzhou, Macao, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Taipei in the past five years. NBA China alone is now worth over 4 billion U.S. dollars, according to Forbes.

Deaths Mount as Iraq Goes to War With Itself

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Deaths Mount as Iraq Goes to War With Itself

ImageAntigovernment protesters behind a burning barricade in Baghdad on Friday. There have been been protests against government corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services.
Credit Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

Iraq is at war again, but this time with itself.

Security forces have repeatedly turned their weapons on fellow Iraqis this past week, killing at least 91, and wounding more than 2,000, as of Saturday.

This past week, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Baghdad and across southern Iraq to protest widespread government corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services such as electricity.

The Iraqi authorities lifted a multi-day curfew in Baghdad on Saturday that many anti-government protesters had ignored. Parliament was set to meet to discuss protesters’ demands, while senior Iraqi officials, including the prime minister and Parliament speaker, were set to meet with protesters.

The harsh response by the security services suggested, however, that they had been given leeway by the leadership to take any steps necessary to halt the protests, signaling how ill-prepared the government was to respond to the demands of its own citizens.

It was also a reminder that Iraq, which never experienced an Arab Spring-like rebellion with people pouring into the streets, had security forces that were trained to deal with terrorism but were a loss to find less lethal ways to control crowds.

“I came out to the streets to ask for reform in my country and to find salvation from the mafias who have stolen my country and was greeted brutally by the security forces,” said Ibrahim Ahmed Yusuf, 34, who was wounded in the neck while demonstrating in Tahrir Square in Baghdad.

ImageProtesters on Tuesday holding a poster that reads “We are all Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi,” referring to the general whose dismissal helped set off the protests.
Credit Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

“We are peaceful protesters, but the security forces treated us with brutality, as if we were animals, not humans demanding our rights,” he said.

There have been protests in Iraq before, and some seemed more violent, including those in 2016, when crowds entered the Parliament and demanded an end to corruption, which is a core demand of the protesters now. This time, however, the protests have come with a broader and deeper sense of the government’s incompetence, and draw support from Iraqi youth, intellectuals and educated people, as well as from some political parties trying to make the most of it.

Many Iraqis are jobless, and despite the end of the largest part of the fight against the Islamic State, as well as the government’s increased oil revenues, little money is being put into jobs programs or improving services, at least not enough that people feel a significant difference in their daily lives.

Iraqis are continuing to protest despite a more violent, at times deadly, response on the part of the security forces, who in some cases have been firing directly at the protesters rather than into the air to disperse them, according to multiple reports from protesters. This itself suggests desperation, even a willingness to risk everything.

“This reflects a broad realization that the system is incapable of reforming itself,” said Randa Slim, a senior fellow and director of conflict resolution at the Middle East Institute.

“But then what is the path forward?” said Ms. Slim, who was in Iraq recently to meet with people from different backgrounds and political orientations. “I don’t think anyone has a clue.”

Image

Credit Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

The protests, which began on Oct. 1, seemed to come out of nowhere, but were apparently sparked by a recent, disturbing political event: the removal in September of a highly respected general, Abdul-Wahab Al-Saadi, from the leadership of the counter-terrorism command.

General Al-Saadi, who was widely believed to have done a good job in fighting the Islamic State, especially on the difficult battlefields of Mosul and Falluja, was peremptorily removed from his job and assigned to the ministry of defense.

General Al-Saadi’s profile — he is a Shiite but not aligned with any party — made him something of an Every-man soldier-hero. His dismissal was explained on the street as linked to his lack of corruption, in contrast to other senior figures, and his refusal to kowtow to the Popular Mobilization Forces, military entities within the Iraqi security forces, some of which have links to Iran.

Whether people knew General Al-Saadi was less important than what he stood for, said Abbas Kadhim, the director of the Iraq Initiative and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who was visiting southern Iraq when demonstrations started.

“This was just a spark that unleashed all built-up grievances,” he said.

“Many of the grievances are not about Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s government,” he added, referring to the prime minister of Iraq. “But when you are the prime minister, you have to pay for your mistakes and those of previous leaders.”

At first, the demonstrations were small, but as the police and security forces responded with violence, they grew in size and quickly spread. The government made little effort to curb the security forces’ violence, and by Friday the Iraqi Federal Police had warned in a statement that snipers who were not part of the security forces were shooting at both the protesters and the police.

Image

Iraqi police officers standing guard in front of torched government buildings south of Baghdad on Friday.
CreditEssam Al-Sudani/Reuters

It was unclear whether these were shadowy entities within the Iraqi security establishment or elements linked to political parties or to neighboring countries seeking to promote instability in Iraq.

Caught off guard by the demonstrators, the government at first met the protesters’ anger with silence, allowing repressive actions by the security forces to dominate the narrative. The prime minister, Mr. Mahdi, put a curfew in place, shut down the internet and called in additional police forces. Then he made a brief statement that backed up the security forces.

Only on Friday — as criticism rained down from the senior Shiite clerics, the United Nations and rights groups, and the repression seemed to have little effect — did the government began to reach out to those among the demonstrators whom they called the “peace protesters.”

The Parliament speaker, Mohammed Al-Halbousi, invited representatives of the protesters to meet with him, offering a laundry list of concessions. Mr. Mahdi also was planning to meet with protesters on Saturday.

The problem is that political parties now smell blood and believe they can topple Mr. Abdul-Mahdi and gain ground for themselves. Already, the leaders of two sizable political parties, Sairoon and Al Hikma, openly criticized the government and called for reform. The former is led by Moktada al-Sadr, the nationalist Shiite cleric who has been a thorn in the side of whoever has been in charge in Iraqi since 2003.

Mr. al-Sadr called for his bloc to stop participation in the Parliament and for the government to resign. If he decides to call his followers to the streets, he has broad influence in Sadr City, a sprawling, largely poor neighborhood of Baghdad that is home to more than a million people, as well as in Iraq’s second largest city, Basra, and elsewhere in southern Iraq.

Unlike the 2016 protests, when many participants were followers of the cleric, these protests include a cross-section of Iraqis, many without ties to political parties.

Different provinces have different demands, however. The disparate goals that drove people into the streets mean that, at least for now, there are no clear leaders to negotiate on behalf of the aggrieved.

Falah Hassan contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 4 of the New York edition with the headline: Iraqi Security Forces Kill Dozens in Week of Protest. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

China version: 63 arrested over riots in Hong Kong on Saturday

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS AGENCY ‘SHINE’)

 

63 arrested over riots in Hong Kong on Saturday

Xinhua

Hong Kong police said on Sunday that 63 people had been arrested during the riots on Saturday.

According to the police, 54 men and nine women, aged between 13 and 36, were arrested for offences including criminal damage, possession of explosives and offensive weapons, and unlawful assembly.

Speaking here at a press conference, Acting Senior Superintendent Tsui Suk-yee of Kowloon West Regional (Crime) said that during the arrest operations, the police seized evidences including petrol bombs, gas masks, laser guns, steel balls, armors, helmets and umbrellas.

According to Tsui, two petrol bombs and lighters were found among the belongings of a 13-year-old suspect. A batch of petrol bombs were also seized by police on the platform of Prince Edward MTR Station.

In the above-mentioned cases, suspects had posed a severe threat to public safety and social order, said Tsui.

After obtaining legal advice from the Department of Justice, some arrested suspects would be prosecuted, said Tsui, adding that the police did not rule out more arrests in coming days.

The police had rejected the application of a public procession on Hong Kong Island on Saturday to ensure the safety of residents and public order after several similar events turned extremely violent since early June.

However, protesters on Saturday defied the police ban by occupying downtown roads. During their marches, some radical protesters smashed traffic lights and dismantled roadside railings to set up barricades to confront the police.

Black-clad rioters who wore mask and helmet attempted to storm the headquarters buildings of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and the Legislative Council, using sling shots to fire petrol bombs and other objects into the buildings before they set fires on a main street near the Hong Kong police headquarters.

Rioters confronted police in various areas on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories, hurling petrol bombs in different places and attacking police officers with corrosive liquid and bricks.

They also set fires in different places, vandalized public property, set up barricades, and damaged facilities at MTR stations such as platform screen doors. The fire set up by arsonists at Hennessy Road was very fierce at one point, reaching the height of over bridge and posing serious danger to residents nearby.

Beijing’s Hong Kong Strategy: More Arrests, No Concessions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Beijing’s Hong Kong Strategy: More Arrests, No Concessions

ImageProtesters and riot police officers clashed in the Tsuen Wan district of Hong Kong on Sunday. Officials say many more demonstrators will be arrested.
Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

HONG KONG — The arrests on Friday of prominent democracy lawmakers and activists in Hong Kong reflect a tactical escalation by China’s leaders to curb the recent street violence, but which could prolong the protests for many months.

Officials in Beijing, along with the Hong Kong government that answers to them, have decided on a policy of stepped-up arrests of demonstrators, who would be publicly labeled the most radical of the activists, according to Hong Kong cabinet members and leaders of the local pro-Beijing establishment.

In interviews over the past two weeks, these local political figures stressed that China wants the Hong Kong police to carry out the arrests — not Chinese soldiers, whose intervention in the city’s affairs would be unprecedented.

Video

4:08 Foreign Agents and Terrorists: How China Is Framing Hong Kong’s Protests
For more than two months, anti-government protests have gripped Hong Kong, with anger rising over China’s growing influence. Here are tactics the Chinese government is using to frame the narrative.

Beijing has also ruled out making concessions to the demonstrators, they said. With protest leaders also vowing not to back down, the officials acknowledged that the price of the strategy could be months of acrimony, possibly stretching into 2020.

“I hope we can start the process of reconciliation before the end of the year,” Ronny Tong, a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, or cabinet, said in an interview last week.

Image
Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Beijing and Hong Kong officials are betting that the protests will gradually die down as the police detain the most hard-line demonstrators, and that public opinion will turn more decisively against the use of violence, said Lau Siu-kai, a longtime adviser to the Chinese government on Hong Kong policy.

The Hong Kong police said on Friday that they had arrested more than 900 people this summer in connection with the protests. Some of the local political figures estimated that as many as 4,000 protesters were seen by the authorities as radicals, but that it was unclear how many would eventually face legal action.

The police, who have been accused by demonstrators and international rights groups of using excessive force, have “not used their capacity to suppress the protests” until very recently, said Mr. Lau, who ran the city’s policy planning agency for a decade until 2012.

With broad public backing from mainland China, “the mood of the police was lifted up and they became even more ferocious in putting down the protests,” said Mr. Lau, who is now vice chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semiofficial advisory body set up by Beijing.

With China’s hard-line leader, Xi Jinping, dealing with a trade war with the United States, a strategy of attrition in Hong Kong could be seen as preferable to a rash approach that might risk spiraling into a major crisis.

But it is far from clear how much success the authorities will have with their strategy of arresting protesters, resisting concessions and delaying negotiations. The arrests have begun to draw criticism from around the world.

Image

Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

The handful of democracy activists and lawmakers who were arrested on Friday have relatively moderate reputations. They include Joshua Wong, who rose to global prominence with the so-called Umbrella Movement protests in 2014, and who has publicly called this summer for protesters not to use violence. Mr. Wong and another activist, Agnes Chow, were later released on bail.

Demonstrators have contended that at least some of the violence attributed to them may have been instigated by undercover police agents. The police have acknowledged infiltrating the protests with officers dressed to look like demonstrators.

Protesters also suspect the authorities of involvement in a spate of attacks on democracy activists by men armed with sticks, baseball bats and even meat cleavers. Similar incidents in Hong Kong over the years have been linked to organized crime groups, which have a history of ties to Beijing.

The mutual distrust has become so great that not only are the authorities and pro-democracy activists not holding talks, but the informal contacts that once existed between the government and the older generation of activists — who, themselves, are mistrusted by many of the younger protesters — have essentially come to a halt.

Each side has worried that any effort to quietly negotiate a deal would be torpedoed by leaks, embarrassing anyone who might try to strike a compromise. From the government’s point of view, those fears were realized when Carrie Lam, the chief executive, met with local young people this week, only for a recording to be leaked to Apple Daily, a pro-democracy media outlet.

Democracy advocates consider Mrs. Lam a puppet of China’s leaders, but they have also ruled out talks with the Liaison Office, which represents Beijing’s interests in Hong Kong.

Image

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, two prominent pro-democracy activists who were arrested on Friday, spoke to the news media after being released on bail.
Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

“This is the situation we are in: absolutely no back channel and total distrust between the two sides,” said Alan Leong, the leader of the Civic Party, one of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy parties.

“How would I in my right mind walk into the Liaison Office — that would upset the whole unity” of the democracy movement, he added.

The democracy advocates have agreed not to criticize the violent tactics of some of the younger protesters — a turnaround for many of the older activists, who have shunned violence since Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. Some pro-democracy lawmakers with decades-long track records of opposition to Beijing say they have been characterized as sellouts by hard-line protesters when they suggested compromising or refraining from violence.

“They will not listen to us, they think we are all outdated,” said Anson Chan, a longtime campaigner for democracy who was Hong Kong’s second-highest official in the years immediately before and after the 1997 handover.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Lam announced plans for a “platform for dialogue” to find a way out of the political quagmire. But she has sought to meet with neutral community leaders, not the opposition, and she has already ruled out accepting any of the protesters’ five demands, which include universal suffrage, amnesty for protesters and an investigation of the police’s conduct.

Given how polarized the city is now, it has been hard to find neutral figures with whom Mrs. Lam could meet, said Mr. Tong, the cabinet member, who is working on the matter for the chief executive.

Image

Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Mr. Lau, the adviser to Beijing, said that democracy advocates were overestimating the extent to which Chinese leaders worried about being embarrassed internationally by the protests.

He said they paid more attention to how events in Hong Kong were seen within mainland China, adding that public perceptions there of disorder in Hong Kong had led to a nationalistic wave of support for Beijing.

The Chinese government has pushed those perceptions itself, through the state media’s misleading coverage of the protests.

The Chinese military’s police conducted large exercises just across the border from Hong Kong this month as a show of force. But those exercises were aimed at showing that China is prepared for any contingency, and were not a preamble to any plan for actual deployment in Hong Kong, Mr. Lau and others familiar with the exercises said.

The maneuvers followed plans, drafted years ago, for clearing hostile crowds who establish prolonged control of large urban areas — a tactic that Hong Kong protesters used for months in 2014, but have largely avoided this year.

Martin Lee, a veteran pro-democracy campaigner and founder of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, said that Beijing did not want anything to mar its Oct. 1 celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Beijing “won’t allow bloodshed to happen in Hong Kong before then — after Oct. 1, beginning on the 2nd, I don’t know,” Mr. Lee said.

Keith Bradsher was the Hong Kong bureau chief of The New York Times from 2002 to 2016 and is now the Shanghai bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter: @KeithBradsher.

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Chris Buckley from Beijing.

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: From Beijing, More Arrests In Hong Kong. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Twitter, Facebook accuse China of using fake accounts to undermine Hong Kong protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Twitter, Facebook accuse China of using fake accounts to undermine Hong Kong protests

Both Twitter and Facebook are blocked in mainland China by the government but available in Hong Kong

WORLD Updated: Aug 21, 2019 09:35 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent

Anti-extradition bill protesters react as they watch a documentary protest video during a protest outside Siu Hong station in Hong Kong, China, August 20, 2019.
Anti-extradition bill protesters react as they watch a documentary protest video during a protest outside Siu Hong station in Hong Kong, China, August 20, 2019.(REUTERS)

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter accused China of using fake accounts to undermine Hong Kong protests. Beijing hit back, saying it had a right to put out its own views.

‘STATE-BACKED CAMPAIGN’

■ The crackdown was rare in the way that it involved a tip-off from one social media firm, Twitter, to another; Facebook.

■ Both said they took the action after observing a coordinated state-backed effort originating in China that undermined the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement in Hong Kong

■ Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher told reporters that the bulk of the Facebook accounts were created in 2018.

■ Both Twitter and Facebook are blocked in mainland China by the government but available in Hong Kong.

COMPARISON TO COCKROACHES

■ In examples provided by Facebook, posts described the protesters as cockroaches who “refused to show their faces.”

■ Examples of posts provided by Twitter included a tweet from a user pretending to be a Hong Kong resident with the comment: “…We don’t want you radical people in Hong Kong. Just get out of here!”

■ In another post cited by Facebook, the protesters in Hong Kong were likened to extremist Islamist militants

CHINA CRIES FOUL OVER CRACKDOWN

■ A Chinese minister said on Tuesday that China had a right to put out its own views.

■ Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, while declining to directly comment on the Twitter and Facebook actions, said: “What is happening in Hong Kong, and what the truth is, people will naturally have their own judgement. Why is it that China’s official media’s presentation is surely negative or wrong?”

ADS ROW

Twitter and Facebook have come under fire from users over showing ads from state-controlled media that criticised the Hong Kong protesters. Twitter said on Monday it would no longer accept advertising from state-controlled news media

First Published: Aug 21, 2019 09:29 IST

Hong Kong airport shut down after protesters storm inside

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)

 

Hong Kong airport shut down after protesters storm inside

Hong Kong’s airport canceled all flights Monday after thousands of pro-democracy protesters stormed into the main terminal of one of the world’s busiest travel hubs to denounce police violence.

“Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted … all flights have been canceled,” the city’s airport authority said in a statement. “All passengers are advised to leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible.”

Hong Kong has been roiled by mass protests calling for democratic reforms and an independent investigation into police conduct, with both the demonstrators and police turning to more extreme tactics.

In Beijing, the Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office issued a statement saying the situation in the former British colony was “beginning to show the sprouts of terrorism” and constituted an “existential threat” to the population of Hong Kong.

“One must take resolute action toward this violent criminality, showing no leniency or mercy,” spokesman Yang Guang said in the statement.

“Hong Kong has reached an inflection point where all those who are concerned about Hong Kong’s future must say ‘no,’ to lawbreakers and ‘no’ to those engaged in violence,” he added.

Earlier Monday, police showed off water cannons that could be deployed in the case of future demonstrations, a development that Amnesty International has warned could lead to serious injuries.

“Water cannons are not a toy for the Hong Kong police to deploy as a sign of strength,” Man-kei Tam, the group’s Hong Kong director, said in a statement.

“These are powerful weapons that are inherently indiscriminate and have the potential of causing serious injury and even death.”

The slogan “an eye for an eye” was plastered all over the airport – a reference to a female protester whose eye was injured during clashes with riot police who fired tear gas and beanbags on Sunday, according to CNN.

Protesters handed out lists to arriving visitors documenting alleged police violence.

“I just don’t understand how people can tolerate that kind of police brutality. I feel like if I don’t come out now, I can’t come out ever,” said Hilary Lo, an accounting firm worker, according to The Guardian.

Enlarge ImageProtesters wave flags at the Hong Kong International Airport.
Protesters wave flags at the Hong Kong International Airport.AP

“People are starting to realize the police are out of control, especially with what has happened in the past two weeks,” she added.

A police spokesman said there wasn’t enough evidence to determine the cause of the woman’s injury and that authorities won’t investigate unless someone files a report on the incident.

The Chinese-ruled territory faces its most serious crisis in decades, as Chinese leader Xi Jinping grapples with one of his largest popular challenges since he came to power in 2012.

The demonstrations began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to the mainland but have widened to highlight other grievances.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that has provided some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.

They are demanding the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, and an independent probe into the handling of the protests.

With Post wires

FILED UNDER       

China: Protests, violence take toll on Hong Kong’s retail, tourism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHANGHAI CHINA’S ‘SHINE’ NEWS NETWORK)

 

Protests, violence take toll on Hong Kong’s retail, tourism

Xinhua
Protests, violence take toll on Hong Kong's retail, tourism

Imaginechina

Tourists take photographs on the Victoria Harbour waterfront in Hong Kong, China, on May 24, 2019.

Weeks of protests and violent incidents have started to dent Hong Kong’s retail and tourism sectors, a key part of the economy of the Special Administrative Region.

Business owners and industry insiders expressed growing worries and uncertainties as the demonstrations and violence continued to weigh on consumption sentiment.

“Protests and violent incidents have forced me to close my shop for several weekends on end,” said an owner of a seafood store in Sai Wan on the Hong Kong Island, who only gave his surname Cheung. “Sales have badly dropped and I am losing quite some money.”

Cheung hoped that the demonstrations could end quickly. “It is important that the economy stays stable. We ordinary residents just want a peaceful life.”

The Hong Kong SAR government said on Thursday that the value of total retail sales in June 2019 decreased by 6.7 percent compared with the same month in 2018, as local consumer sentiment turned more cautious and growth in visitor arrivals moderated.

A government spokesman said the near-term performance of retail sales will likely remain subdued, citing weakened global and local economic outlook and other headwinds.

The spokesman added that the recent demonstrations, if continued, would also dent the retail business further.

According to the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, large-scale rallies and protests have dampened Hong Kong’s retail performance, with most of the members of the association recording single or double digit fall since June.

Wong Ka Wo, president of Hong Kong Federation of Restaurant and Related Trades, said weeks of protests have not only hurt visitor arrivals but also dampened consumption of local residents.

“The catering business is very important to Hong Kong. A declining willing to consume will put pressure on businesses and dent Hong Kong’s economy,” said Wong.

Visitor arrivals to Hong Kong totaled around 5.14 million in June, down about 770,000 from the figure in May, according to Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Hong Kong has seen steady tourism volume in the first five months of the year, but since June, the sector has been hit hard by multiple violent protests, and safety concerns mounted, said Yiu Si-wing, a lawmaker and tourism industry insider.

“Many have delayed or even cancelled their trips to Hong Kong,” he said.

For Hong Kong’s tourism sector, immediate recovery is not likely even if violence ceases soon, Yiu said.

But if violence continues, many of the tourism-related industries, including hospitality and retailing, will be hurting, and Hong Kong’s overall economy will suffer, he added.

Michael Li, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said the demonstrations in June have had an impact on Hong Kong’s tourism, with the overall hotel occupancy rate dropping about 2 percent.

He estimated that the occupancy rate for hotels near the protest areas in the Hong Kong Island would decrease more than 10 percent in July and those in Kowloon would drop 5 percent to 8 percent.

Moscow Police Detain Hundreds At Latest Election-Related Protest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Moscow Police Detain Hundreds At Latest Election-Related Protest

Police officers detain opposition candidate and lawyer Lyubov Sobol in Moscow on Saturday. Sobol was one of more than 600 arrested in Saturday’s protests, according to an independent monitoring agency.

Dmitry Serebryakov/AP

Police detained 600 protesters in Moscow on Saturday, according to OVD-info, an independent group that monitors protests and policing in Russia.

Demonstrators in Moscow have been demanding that opposition candidates be allowed to register in city elections. Police arrested more than 1,000 people at an election-focused protest last week.

Reuters reporters in Moscow on Saturday said they witnessed dozens of arrests; OVD-info reports that police beat multiple demonstrators with clubs.

The Moscow City Duma is controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. All of its 45 seats, which carry five-year terms, are up for re-election on Sept. 8. The disagreement between protesters and election authorities hinges on the signature-gathering process for candidates. Election authorities say certain opposition candidates did not gather enough valid signatures on their nominating petitions to be eligible for the race. Opposition candidates and their supporters say signatures have been invalidated for political reasons, to hinder the democratic process and prevent anti-Kremlin candidates from getting on the ballot.

Lyubov Sobol, one of the opposition candidates who election officials say failed to qualify for the ballot, was one of the protesters arrested on Saturday. Sobol has been on hunger strike for 21 days, according to the BBC.

As NPR’s Lucian Kim has reported, the Moscow city elections have national significance; opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin are trying to use local elections to chip away at his political support in advance of Russia’s 2024 presidential election.

“Moscow is the key,” Kim told Morning Edition last month. “It’s Russia’s largest city and is probably also the place where the opposition has a potentially large support base.”

According to Kim, a Putin spokesperson has said that though the Kremlin is following the developments, local elections remain under the jurisdiction of local authorities.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Russia’s Investigative Committee plans to open a criminal case against the anti-corruption foundation of prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Navalny is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for his role in last week’s protest, and he recently raised the possibility that he had been poisoned while in custody.

Moscow’s police have been criticized for using violent methods to control protests. According to the BBC, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said protesters last week“simply compelled the police to use force, which was perfectly appropriate for the situation.”

Fontanka.ru, a local news site, reported that 2,000 people rallied in St. Petersburg on Saturday to support protesters in Moscow. Local police said 1,000 were in attendance.

China Reacts to Trade Tariffs and Hong Kong Protests by Blaming U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

China Reacts to Trade Tariffs and Hong Kong Protests by Blaming U.S.

ImageChinese officials and news outlets have accused the United States of being behind the protests in Hong Kong.
Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

BEIJING — A popular news anchor watched by hundreds of millions of Chinese poured scorn on the United States, using an obscenity to accuse it of sowing chaos. A prominent official blamed Washington directly for the anti-government protests upending Hong Kong.

Pointed hostility toward America, voiced by Chinese officials and state-run news organizations under the control of an all-powerful propaganda department, has escalated in recent weeks in tandem with two of China’s big problems: a slowing economy complicated by trade tensions and turbulence in Hong Kong that has no end in sight.

“It is, after all, the work of the United States,” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said this week of the unrest in Hong Kong. Like other Chinese officials, she presented no evidence of American involvement in the demonstrations, which stem from worries over Beijing’s encroaching influence in the semi-autonomous region.

This is hardly the first time China has responded to domestic problems with frontal assaults on outsiders. Thirty years ago, Washington was accused of fomenting the pro-democracy upheavals on Tiananmen Square.

But after decades of working together on economic, technological and even military matters, China and the United States are going through a breakdown in relations that has turned increasingly adversarial.

Now, a dramatic singling out of the United States as a bad actor is setting a new anti-American tone for a domestic audience that is worried about jobs and sees Hong Kong as an island of ungrateful citizens.

This is deliberate on the part of the Chinese government, analysts said.

“Hong Kong is part of the bigger playbook to blame the United States for everything,” said Ho-fung Hung, a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University. “The Chinese government knows the Trump administration is not popular in the United States or in China, so it’s an easy scapegoat.”

[Meet the Trump-taunting editor at China’s “Fox News” who is a key voice in the trade war.]

After trade talks with the United States broke down in May, China was relatively polite toward Washington as the two sides considered their next steps. When Hong Kong protesters began marching regularly in June, drawing crowds that organizers estimated at up to two million, the Chinese state news media made scant mention of it.

ImageHua Chunying, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, called the unrest in Hong Kong “the work of the United State.”
Credit European Press photo Agency

But now the gloves are off, with American and Chinese negotiators making little progress at talks in Shanghai this week. Just on Thursday, President Trump escalated the trade war, saying he would impose tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese imports.

Beijing also does not appear to see an end to its differences with Washington over the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which was blacklisted by the Trump administration as a security threat.

As the economic strains intensify, state news outlets are now depicting the demonstrations in Hong Kong as the work of Americans and other “foreign forces.”

In fact, Mr. Trump expressed respect for China’s sovereignty on Thursday, calling the protests “riots” when asked by reporters about the unrest. “Hong Kong is a part of China, they’ll have to deal with that themselves,” he said. “They don’t need advice.”

One of the most remarkable anti-American eruptions came last week when Kang Hui, one of China’s most recognized television news anchors, attacked the United States on-air as a hegemony that bullied and threatened others.

“They stir up more troubles and crave the whole world to be in chaos, acting like a shit-stirring stick,” Mr. Kang said on the usually stolid 7 p.m. national news program on CCTV, China’s state broadcaster. The expletive quickly became one of the most-searched-for phrases on Chinese social media.

In a follow-up video on a CCTV social media account, Mr. Kang boasted about how he had taunted the United States.

“If a handful of Americans always stir up troubles, then we are sorry,” he intoned. “No more do we talk about certain issues. We will also target you. We will bash you till your faces are covered with mud. We will bash you till you are left speechless.”

Image

A Huawei advertisement in Shanghai. The tech giant is at the center of one of China’s disputes with the United States.
Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

China began dialing up the anti-American comments after a meeting in Washington last month between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jimmy Lai, the publisher of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong. A statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused senior United States officials of having “ulterior motives.”

At the same time, prominent Chinese figures have become more public in their criticism of the Hong Kong protests, and more outlandish in their claims.

One professor accused the United States of encouraging pregnant women to appear at hot spots during demonstrations, as a tactic to confuse the police.

“They are obviously actors, not Hong Kong citizens,” said Wang Yiwei, a professor in the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing.

In recent days, the barbed language has turned to the United States economy as well.

Ms. Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said at a briefing on Wednesday that the Chinese economy was in a far stronger position because it grew 6.2 percent in the second quarter, compared with 2.1 percent growth for the United States.

“Which one is better, 6.2 percent or 2.1 percent? I believe you all have a clear judgment,” she told a room full of Chinese and foreign reporters.

While the United States figure is far short of Mr. Trump’s 3 percent target, economic growth in China — which reported double-digit growth as recently as 2010 — is at a 27-year low.

CCTV is now regularly showing video of clashes between protesters and the police that suggest Hong Kong is in the throes of permanent rebellion. Chinese-backed news outlets in Hong Kong have published photographs of foreigners taken at or near the protests, including journalists, and accused them of being American government agents.

Image

Wang Huning, center, a propaganda specialist with a dim view of the United States, is on China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the highest tier of power.
Credit Wang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Such outbursts almost certainly have the blessing of China’s top leadership, analysts said.

One of President Xi Jinping’s closest confidants, Wang Huning, is a propaganda specialist who harbors a dim view of the United States and multiparty democracy in general.

Mr. Wang, the author of a book called “America Against America” about his visits to the United States in the 1980s, is one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest level of political power in China. His views are likely to permeate the propaganda apparatus as it formulates the anti-American campaign.

“Blaming the U.S. for the trouble in Hong Kong signals a deliberate policy decision rather than an instinctive reaction,” said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California. “It is highly unlikely that the use of such shrill rhetoric has not received endorsement from the top leadership.”

Beyond the specific issues of Hong Kong and trade, Mr. Pei said, the Chinese government is trying to construct a “mega-narrative” that portrays the United States as the “principal antagonist intent on not only thwarting China’s rise with the trade war but also fomenting trouble within Chinese borders.”

Media experts said that while the government rhetoric was probably effective in influencing the attitudes of Chinese people toward the United States, its precise impact was impossible to measure.

Since Hong Kong’s last sustained protest movement in 2014, the experts said, Beijing has become more sophisticated at controlling information from outside sources.

“Domestic platforms are heavily censored,” said Luwei Rose Luqiu, an assistant professor in the journalism department at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Only posts and comments in line with official ideology and rhetoric are allowed to exist.”

The propaganda machine has a powerful insulating effect on Chinese readers and viewers, said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor in the school of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Even when some Chinese people come across messaging that is contrary to the propaganda, they are inoculated enough to ‘resist’ these messages,” Mr. Tsui said.

Amber Wang contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 9 of the New York edition with the headline: As Crisis Worsens in Hong Kong, Beijing’s Leaders Say U.S. Is to Blame. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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