(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)
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.
Authorities impose curfew and cut internet access in many cities as death toll from three days of mass protests hits 20.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES
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.
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.
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.”
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