Hong Kong’s Leader Warns ‘No Options Ruled Out’ If Protests Continue

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Hong Kong’s Leader Warns ‘No Options Ruled Out’ If Protests Continue

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she still believes that the people of Hong Kong “should find solutions ourselves.”

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hong Kong’s leader has issued a veiled warning that Beijing could intervene with force to quell the territory’s violent anti-government protests, but after months of unrest, she said she still believes “we should find solutions ourselves.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam spoke at a news conference on Tuesday days after invoking a colonial-era law to prohibit the wearing of face masks during protests, which are now in their 18th week. She said she has no plans to enact further emergency powers despite “limitless and lawless” acts of violence by demonstrators over the weekend.

“I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves,” Lam said.

“That is also the position of the central government that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own but if the situation becomes so bad, then no options could be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance,” she said.

Thousands of Chinese troops are stationed throughout Hong Kong but so far have not left their barracks, allowing instead the territory’s police to put down the protests.

Although Lam’s statement on Tuesday is the closest she’s come in the weeks of protest to a direct warning about the possibility China could use force to restore order, a spokesman for Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council has been less reticent. In August, Yang Guang issued a stark admonishment, saying China has “tremendous power” to put down the protests and that “those who play with fire will perish by it.”

Most of the protesters have worn masks as a way to hide their identities from video surveillance cameras. Although the protesters appear to have almost universally ignored the anti-mask law put in place on Friday, Lam said it was too early to gauge whether the law would work.

“For any new … legislation, it would take time for it to be effectively implemented,” she said.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China 22 years ago on a promise of “one country, two systems” that was to have granted it substantial control over its own affairs. However, protesters have accused Beijing of reneging on those promises.

The protests, which began peacefully in June, have increasingly become violent, with pro-democracy activists clashing with police, who have responded with tear gas and batons. One week ago, an officer shot and seriously wounded a protester.

The demonstrations began ostensibly as a protest against a law that would have allowed some in Hong Kong accused of crimes to be extradited to mainland China to face justice there. Although the controversial extradition bill has since been scrapped, the demands of the mostly student-led movement have expanded to include a freely elected legislature and the right to choose a replacement for Lam, who was appointed by Beijing. They are also demanding an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality in their handling of the protests.

The economy of Hong Kong, a vital international financial hub, has taken a beating during the months of protests, which have been exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade war.

CNN reported last week that during a private phone call in June between China’s President Xi Jinping and President Trump, Trump had promised his administration would stay silent on the situation in Hong Kong as long as trade talks continued.

On Monday, however, Trump urged Xi to ensure a “humane solution” in the territory.

“If anything happened bad, I think that would be a very bad thing for the negotiation[s],” Trump said. “I think politically it would be very tough, maybe for us and maybe for some others and maybe for [Xi].”

More Than 100 Killed And Thousands Injured In Anti-Government Protests In Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

More Than 100 Killed And Thousands Injured In Anti-Government Protests In Iraq

Anti-government protesters set fires and close a street during a demonstration in Baghdad on Sunday after nearly a week of unrest throughout Iraq.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

Iraqi authorities say at least seven more people were killed in clashes between protesters and police in eastern Baghdad on Sunday, bringing the death toll from nearly a week of anti-government rallies throughout Iraq to more than 100 with thousands of others injured.

Protesters, who took to the streets on Tuesday frustrated over joblessness and corruption, have been met with live ammunition from security forces attempting to break up the mass demonstrations that have convulsed Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq for days.

So far, 104 people have been killed and 6,107 have been wounded in the unrest, according to figures released by Iraqi security officials. More than 1,200 security members are among the injured.

Demanding better basic public services like electricity and water and renouncing corruption, a small group of protesters assembled seemingly spontaneously last week before being dispersed by security forces.

Then the protesters put out a call to re-converge on social media and the response took observers and government officials aback: Thousands of mostly young adults in their 20s, outraged over inadequate services and poor job prospects in the oil-rich country, came out to push for more opportunity and an end to corruption.

The Iraqi army and police have responded by firing live rounds, tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds. As protests spread to other parts of the country, the bloody clashes continued.

The six days of street demonstrations mark the most serious challenge Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has faced since he assumed office last October. He has committed to meeting with protesters without armed forces to have a dialogue about their demands.

“I will go and meet them without weapons and sit with them for hours to listen to their demands,” Abdul-Mahdi said on Saturday in remarks on state television.

Anti-government protesters run for cover while Iraqi security forces fire live ammunition in the air during a demonstration in Baghdad on Sunday.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

Abdul-Mahdi announced a plan to pay out unemployment assistance and provide government-backed housing for low-income residents in an attempt to satisfy the demonstrators who have set buildings aflame and sparred with authorities.

The United Nations envoy for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, took to Twitter on Saturday to denounce the violence, saying: “This must stop.”

“I call on all parties to pause and reflect. Those responsible for violence should be held to account. Let the spirit of unity prevail across Iraq,” wrote Hennis-Plasschaert.

Protesters called for top government officials to step down, as authorities cut of Internet service in Baghdad and across much of the country.

Demonstrators on Sunday also called for Iran to stop meddling in Iraqi politics.

Amid growing unrest, Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, urged the Iraqi government to allow citizens to peacefully assembly and exercise their rights to freedom of expression without fear of a violent crackdown.

“The use of force should be exceptional, and assemblies should ordinarily be managed without resort to force,” Hurtado said in a statement.

All incidents in which security forces killed or injured protesters should be promptly and transparently investigated by the government, Hurtado said.

Hurtado also said reports that three journalists covering the protests were detained and the government cutting off Internet service were alarming and should be examined.

“Blanket internet shutdowns are likely to contravene freedom of expression, unduly restricting the right to receive and impart information and may exacerbate tensions,” she said.

NPR’s Daniel Estrin contributed to this report.

Hong Kong’s chief executive vows greatest resolve to end violence

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

 

HKSAR chief executive vows greatest resolve to end violence

Xinhua

Chief Executive of China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Carrie Lam said Saturday that the government will take the greatest resolve to end violence, after rampant rioters Friday wreaked havoc in various areas of Hong Kong.

Lam said in a video address that Hong Kong witnessed “a very dark night” on Friday and the society was half-paralyzed, describing the extreme acts as “unprecedented and appalling.”

Violent and disruptive acts were staged again in Hong Kong on Friday as masked rioters blocked roads, set fires, damaged public facilities, and assaulted police officers and passersby, leaving the transport network paralyzed and forcing numerous shops to close.

“The extreme violence is a clear indication of the widespread danger to public security in Hong Kong,” Lam said.

Given the escalating violence recently, the HKSAR government has invoked the power under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance and put in place the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation. The anti-mask law, designed to end violence and restore order, came into effect on Saturday, Lam said.

The move has received support from 40 Legislative Council members and many chambers of commerce, media outlets and social organizations, she said.

Lam reiterated the legality of the action and said the HKSAR government adopted appropriate measures using the power conferred by the existing law.

Lam urged foreign officials and lawmakers to understand the nature of the violent incidents. “Hong Kong is facing unprecedented violence and the government needs to adopt resolute legal measures to stop violence, restore peace and order, and protect the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents from the threats of rioters.” She said anti-mask legislations were also adopted in a number of Western countries.

Lam also called on Hong Kong residents to support the HKSAR government in stopping the violence, make a clean break with rioters, and work together to bring back peaceful lives as soon as possible.

Iraq protests: Death toll rises to 20 as unrest spreads

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

Iraq protests: Death toll rises to 20 as unrest spreads

Authorities impose curfew and cut internet access in many cities as death toll from three days of mass protests hits 20.

Iraq protests: Death toll rises to 20 as unrest spreads
Demonstrators burn tyres during a curfew in Baghdad [Wissm al-Okili/Reuters]

The death toll from three days of mass anti-government protests in Iraq has risen to 20, with hundreds more wounded as authorities imposed curfew in several cities and cut internet access across much of the country to quell unrest.

The protests, which began in the capital, Baghdad, on Tuesday, are mostly spontaneous and without political leadership, staged by disenchanted youth demanding jobs, improved services, such as electricity and water, and an end to Iraq’s endemic corruption.

The demonstrations have since spread to cities across the mainly Shia south, making it the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s year-old government.

In Baghdad, authorities imposed a round-the-clock curfew early on Thursday, saying the measure was meant to “protect general peace” and protesters from “infiltrators” who committed attacks against security forces and public property.

But dozens of protesters defied the order early on Thursday and attempted to gather at the Tahrir Square, prompting security forces to use live rounds and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

“We slept here so the police don’t take the place,” one demonstrator told AFP news agency before riot police fired into the air.

Youths carry away a protester injured during clashes with riot police amidst demonstrations against state corruption, failing public services, and unemployment, in the Iraqi capital Baghdad's central
A protester injured during clashes with riot police during demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square is carried away [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

Early on Thursday, some cars and civilians were seen in the capital’s streets. Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the capital, said there was an “eerie quiet over Baghdad” but “sporadic gunfire towards Tahrir Square” could be heard.

“The curfew does seem to be working,” he said. “The protesters have been trying to gather in different areas of Baghdad throughout the day, but every time they reach crowds of 50 to 60 people, the security forces disperse them. The government hasn’t indicated when the curfew will be lifted.”

Authorities said travellers to and from Baghdad airport, ambulances, government employees in hospitals, electricity and water departments, and pilgrims were exempt from the restrictions.

Curfew was also imposed in the holy city of Najaf and the southern city of Nasiriya, the site of the deadliest protests so far with a total of 10 people, including one police officer, killed. In the city of Amarah, medics and security forces have confirmed the killing of four protesters on Thursday, bringing the death toll over the past three days to 20.

More than 1,000 others have been wounded in the nationwide protests, while 62 people have been arrested, according to figures from Iraq’s Human Rights Commission.

Meanwhile, approximately 75 percent of Iraq is “offline” after major network operators “intentionally restricted” access, according to cybersecurity monitor NetBlocks.

Residents are wary that more protests could erupt after powerful Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for “a general strike”. His political bloc, Sairoon, which came first in last May’s parliamentary elections, is part of the ruling coalition.

Demonstrations over similar issues engulfed the southern city of Basra last summer and effectively ended previous Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s chances of a second term.

Demonstrators gesture at a protest over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, in Baghdad
Demonstrators at a protest rally over unemployment, corruption and poor public services in Baghdad [Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters]

Anger over high rates of youth unemployment – which is approximately 25 percent, or double the adult rate, according to the World Bank – appears to have set off the latest round of demonstrations.

“We want jobs and better public services. We’ve been demanding them for years and the government has never responded,” said Abdallah Walid, a 27-year-old protester.

The protesters are mostly “angry young people who are not aligned to any political or religious party”, said Al Jazeera’s Khan. “They are simply very frustrated at the fact that they don’t have jobs.”

After a small protest was quickly dispersed by security forces on Tuesday, a social media call went out which resulted in thousands of people taking to the streets, he added. Since then, the protests have spread to other cities in the country’s south.

Meanwhile, two border crossings into Iraq – including one widely used by Iranian pilgrims – have been closed because of unrest in Iraq, Iranian border guards said.

Demonstrators block a road during a curfew, two days after the nationwide anti-government protests turned violent, in Baghdad, Iraq October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili
Demonstrators block a road in Baghdad during curfew, two days after nationwide anti-government protests turned violent [Wissm al-Okili/Reuters]

According to Iran’s semi-official news agency Mehr, Iranian border guards commander General Qasem Rezaei said the Khosravi and Chazabeh crossings had been closed since late Wednesday but other crossings were open in the run-up to an annual Shia Muslim pilgrimage in Iraq.

The tension has been exacerbated by a near-total internet shutdown, the closure of government offices and at least one overnight explosion that hit the Green Zone, where some ministries and embassies are located.

A security source in the area told AFP there were two blasts, likely caused by indirect fire a little over a week after two rockets hit near the US embassy there.

Demonstrators run as they take part in a protest over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, in Basra, Iraq October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
Demonstrators run as they take part in a protest rally over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, in Basra [Essam al-Sudani/Reuters]

The apparent attack came hours after security forces sealed off the Green Zone “until further notice”, fearing angry protesters would swarm state buildings or foreign missions.

The Green Zone had been inaccessible for most Iraqis since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq but had reopened to the public in June.

It has often been the focal point for public anger, including in 2016 when al-Sadr’s supporters stormed it and paralysed state institutions.

Why are Iraqis protesting against the government?

INSIDE STORY

Why are Iraqis protesting against the government?

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Hong Kong society strongly condemns act of flinging Chinese national flag into sea

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

 

Hong Kong society strongly condemns act of flinging Chinese national flag into sea

Xinhua

People from all walks of life in Hong Kong have expressed their indignation over the act by some radicals of flinging the Chinese national flag into the sea.

They strongly condemned the act as a flagrant trampling on the national dignity and the principle of “one country, two systems,” calling on the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to hold the perpetrators accountable.

A video posted online on Saturday showed some black-clad radicals scaled a flagpole near Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, and removed from it the Chinese national flag, while some accomplices used umbrellas to keep the whole act from public view.

With playful laughters, they later flung the flag into the water, according to Hong Kong media.

Leung Chun-ying, vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, issued three posts on the social media to express his “strongest condemnation” of the act.

He also offered a reward of 1 million Hong Kong dollars (about 128,000 U.S. dollars) for those who offer useful information leading to the capture of whoever committed the crime.

Chan Man Ki, founding president of the Small and Medium Law Firms Association of Hong Kong, also expressed her strongest condemnation of the act, saying that it is punishable for fines and a jail term of three years according to relevant Hong Kong regulations.

Chan said from storming and vandalizing the Legislative Council (LegCo) building, storming the institution of the central government in Hong Kong and defacing the Chinese national emblem, to throwing the national flag into the sea, some radicals have been escalating their behaviors in an attempt to abuse the principle of “one country, two systems” and trample on the national dignity.

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions issued a statement to express strong condemnation of the crime.

Noting that the misdeed of the perpetrators is an outrage and has crossed the bottom line, the statement denounced the “wirepullers” for inciting young people to undermine Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.

A statement issued by the Friends of Hong Kong Association condemned the act and called on the SAR government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The New People’s Party also slammed the act as being “lawless” and “an insult and challenge to state sovereignty.”

Kaizer Lau Ping-cheung, a Chinese national political advisor, said the extremist act was an “outrage” and a “serious crime” and must be punished.

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.

Protesters Fill Prague Square Again, in New Struggle for Country’s Soul

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Protesters Fill Prague Square Again, in New Struggle for Country’s Soul

Tens of thousands rallied in the Czech capital on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Credit David Josek/Associated Press

PRAGUE — In the square in the heart of Prague, where crowds gathered three decades ago in their bid to wrest freedom from Communist rule and where independence was proclaimed seven decades before that, protest songs rang out again on Tuesday night.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children, coming from across the Czech Republic, waving flags and carrying signs attacking the government, gathered for what they said was yet another struggle for the soul of their democracy.

What started six weeks ago as a relatively contained protest — over the appointment of a justice minister many believe will protect Prime Minister Andrej Babis from potential fraud charges — has grown into something broader and possibly harder to control. Organizers said Tuesday that as many as 120,000 people had attended the protest, a count that would make it one of Prague’s largest demonstrations since 1989.

“This is about more than just corruption,” said Tomas Peszynski, 44, holding the corner of an oversize European Union flag. “This is about an abuse of the system of government and a fight to protect the institutions of democracy.”

Mr. Babis has responded with his characteristic bravado — he said the large crowd size was a reflection of the nice weather — and he has condemned those leading investigations into his business dealings as being part of vast political conspiracy.

“We have Babis hysteria again,” he recently told lawmakers. “Try to do something for the people instead, don’t just take a swipe at Babis.”

Mr. Babis has been battling accusations of corruption for years and, in an interview last year, he did not hide his anger, saying it was impossible to defend himself from the constant stream of attacks. But he has proved resilient, having already survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

However, the large demonstrations — with organizers promising more in the weeks to come — present a different challenge.

In neighboring Slovakia, months of protests fueled by anger over corruption forced the government to collapse and paved the way for a newcomer, Zuzana Caputova, to win the presidential election this year. The success of the movement there was closely watched by organizers in their brother nation, as the two countries have called themselves since their peaceful separation in 1993.

In fact, Mr. Babis was elected to Parliament in 2013 in part because of a promise to battle corruption.

With a net worth estimated at around $4 billion, he presented himself as someone who could not be corrupted. And as a businessman who came from outside the familiar cast of political elite tainted by years of scandal, he promised a new era.

The voters agreed. In 2017 parliamentary elections, Mr. Babis and his party won a resounding victory, and he was named prime minister.

Image
Mr. Babis in Parliament last week. “Try to do something for the people instead, don’t just take a swipe at Babis,” he has told his critics.Credit Martin Divisek/EPA, via Shutterstock

Now, many accuse him of betrayal, and worse, engaging in an effort to bend the legal system to protect himself as he faces increased scrutiny over how his sprawling conglomerate — which includes more than 200 businesses, from agriculture to media — used funds provided by the European Union.

“We believed what he was saying when he was first elected,” said Dagmar Pavelkova, 27. “But there were just too many stories about his corruption and now he is trying to manipulate the legal system to get off.”

She traveled three hours from Hranice na Morave with her husband, who carried a sign with the famous words of the anti-Communist hero Vaclav Havel: “Truth and Love Will Prevail.”

Mr. Babis has been dogged by accusations of corruption for years, but the recent protests began in April, shortly after the police recommended that he face fraud charges in connection with a European Union subsidy to finance construction of a resort near Prague, called the Stork’s Nest.

The next day, the justice minister, Jan Knezinek, resigned. He was replaced by Marie Benesova, who is close to the country’s president, Milos Zeman, an ally of Mr. Babis. The move set off immediate outrage.

Under the Czech system, while the police can recommend an indictment, only the state’s prosecutor, who is appointed by the justice minister, can file charges.

For his part, Mr. Babis dismissed the police investigation as a politically orchestrated attack.

An audit by the European Commission made public last week has been harder to ignore. It found that Mr. Babis’s company, Agrofert, has benefited from European Union funds. Since he stands to gain from the success of his company — even though he maintains he has divorced himself from its operation — the audit found that his impartiality was compromised, first when he served as finance minister and later when he became prime minister.

“I strictly reject this opinion and I will fight for it to be changed,” Mr. Babis said. “The Czech Republic certainly won’t have to return any subsidies. There’s no reason for that, because I’m not violating any Czech or European legal norms.”

Speaking in a session of Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Babis stepped up his attacks on his opponents.

“I consider the audit an attack on the Czech Republic, an attack on the interests of the Czech Republic,” he thundered. “It is a destabilization of the Czech Republic.”

While the crowd of protesters on Tuesday was large, Mr. Babis’s Anos party still has a solid base of support. In the recent European Parliament election, affiliated candidates got some 20 percent of the vote, the highest of any party.

But more than anything else, the results showed how fractured the political landscape in the country has become.

The Social Democrats, who were at the center of Czech politics for a quarter-century, are now just one of a handful of parties fighting for the vote of an angry and disillusioned electorate.

Many of those on the square on Tuesday rejected party labels.

Jitka Cvancarova, a famous Czech actress who spoke from the stage in front of the National Museum, said that values should be at the core of any decent society.

“Mr. Babis,” she said, addressing the prime minister directly. “You can probably buy a lot, but you cannot buy our honor, our hearts or our freedom.”

Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Crowds Fill Prague Again, Provoked by Corruption. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe