China Blames ‘Foreign Forces’ For Inciting Hong Kong Protests

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures during an interview with AFP in Paris on October 21, 2019. GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP

 

China’s foreign minister on Monday denounced months of pro-democracy unrest in Hong Kong as “violence pure and simple”, accusing foreign forces and the international media of fuelling the political crisis.

The comments, in an exclusive interview with AFP, were the most direct condemnation from a top Chinese official of the protests that erupted five months ago and have seen millions of people take to the streets calling for greater democracy.

“What is happening in Hong Kong today are in no way peaceful protests,” Wang Yi said during the interview with AFP during a trip to Paris on Monday.

“It’s violence pure and simple. These are unacceptable acts in any country,” he added, accusing the protesters of attacking police, members of the public and paralysing transport.

Hong Kong has been riven by seething protests for the past 20 weeks, with violence spiralling on both sides of the ideological divide.

While huge crowds have regularly marched peacefully, clashes have repeatedly broken out between smaller groups of hardcore protesters and riot police.

The hardline protesters have thrown molotov cocktails and bricks at police, as well as vandalised businesses perceived as being pro-China. Police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

With no political solution in sight the clashes have intensified with each passing month.

China has run Hong Kong under a special “one country, two systems” model, which allows the city liberties not seen on the mainland, since the financial hub’s handover from the British in 1997.

But public anger has been building for years over fears that Beijing has begun eroding those freedoms, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

This summer’s protests were initially sparked by opposition to a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions of criminal suspects to mainland China.

They quickly snowballed into a wider anti-government movement after Beijing and local leaders in Hong Kong took a hard line.

‘Foreign forces and media’

China has regularly accused “external forces” of fuelling unrest in Hong Kong, often citing comments by some western politicians supportive of the protests.

In his interview with AFP,  Wang again alleged foreigners were involved.

“There are foreign forces which are encouraging this sort of violence in the streets with the aim of destabilising Hong Kong, sowing chaos… to wipe out the historic progress made since the one-country-two-systems policy was applied,” said Wang.

“Such action will never succeed,” he added, insisting that the Hong Kong government would be able to re-establish “social order and respect for the rule of law”.

With “support from Beijing, Hong Kong will continue to apply the one-country-two-systems formula”, Wang stressed.

Wang also took aim at foreign media, complaining that some of them “call this violence democratic and peaceful, in total disregard to reality”.

These media outlets “do not hesitate to describe the actions of the police as violence. If such allegations can be perceived as reality, how can we imagine that there is still justice in this world?”

Chinese state media — which is controlled by the Communist Party — has churned out condemnations of the rallies, both domestically but also internationally through its global TV channels and official accounts on social media.

These have included Twitter and Facebook, which are banned inside mainland China.

Wary of crackdown

There have been concerns that China could send in troops to put an end to the unrest.

Last week Xi warned that any attempts to split China would result in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”, words that were seen a clear reference to the unrest in Hong Kong.

But Chinese officials have also repeatedly said it believes Hong Kong’s police force is capable of handling the protests.

Few analysts believe Xi would risk international condemnation by repeating its 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, when it deployed tanks and troops to quash the uprising, leaving hundreds, perhaps more than 1,000, dead.

 

AFP

Pound Drops As Johnson Faces Battle To Pass Brexit Bill

Sterling fell Friday as investors fret over Boris Johnson’s chances of pushing his Brexit deal through parliament, while Asian markets were mostly down after data showed China’s economy expanded at its slowest pace in nearly three decades.

The pound rallied almost to $1.30 on Thursday following news that negotiators had hammered out an agreement that would avoid Britain’s leaving the EU without a divorce deal, a move many warn would be economically catastrophic.

However, the joy was soon tempered by the realisation that the British prime minister faces an uphill task in getting it past lawmakers, with opposition MPs and even some in his own Conservative party saying they were against it.

Most importantly, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Johnson’s government, said it was “unable to support these proposals”.

Forex traders sold sterling, pushing it back down below $1.29, and it extended losses in Asia.

Focus is now on a crucial vote on the deal pencilled in for Saturday.

“Much will depend on the PM’s ability to get some if not all DUP and (Scottish National Party) MPs onside, in addition to also getting the backing from the 21 ex-Conservative MPs he expelled from the party last month,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“Rejection of the deal might well see more political brinkmanship around a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but the most likely scenario would be yet another extension of the 31 October Brexit date.”

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said whichever way the vote goes, “traders should prepare themselves for some severe volatility on Monday morning, with multiple big-figure moves a strong possibility”.

China growth slows further

Asian equity markets were mostly lower after China said its economy expanded six percent in the third quarter, marking the slowest pace in 27 years, as leaders struggle to address weak domestic demand and the long-running US trade war.

The reading was a drop from the previous three months but in line with an AFP forecast and the government’s 6.0-6.5 percent target for the year.

While the National Bureau of Statistics said the economy “maintained overall stability”, it added that it “is under mounting downward pressure” from weakness at home and abroad.

In early trade Hong Kong and Shanghai each fell 0.1 percent, while Sydney shed 0.6 percent and Singapore eased 0.2 percent.

Wellington, Taipei and Manila were also lower but Tokyo went into the break with gains while Seoul was slightly higher.

Hopes for the China-US trade talks were given a lift after Beijing’s commerce ministry said negotiators have “accelerated efforts” to hammer out details of last Friday’s mini deal and were holding talks on moving on to the next phase of a wider agreement.

Donald Trump said Wednesday he hopes to sign the deal with President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Chile next month.

“A meaningful de-escalation in US-China trade frictions would help alleviate some of the market’s most bearish concerns, and at a minimum, it could ease the… headwinds,” said AxiTrader’s Stephen Innes.

A sense that tensions are easing provided a lift to high-yielding, riskier currencies such as the South Korean won and Australian dollar.

And the Turkish lira jumped more than one percent after Ankara said it would halt military operations in northern Syria and US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington would not impose any fresh sanctions.

Key figures around 0230 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2862 from $1.2891 at 2050 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.51 pence from 86.31 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1129 from $1.1127

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.66 yen from 108.62 yen

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.6 percent at 22,576.96 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 26,811.90

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 2975.82

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN six cents at $53.87 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 21 cents at $59.70 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 27,025.88 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,182.32 (close)

Angry Emojis Flood Hong Kong Leader’s Facebook Live Chat

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (C-on screen) is pictured on an internal broadcast as she holds a question and answers session (below) at the Legislative Council (Legco) in Hong Kong on October 17, 2019. PHOTO: PHILIP FONG / AFP

 

Hong Kong’s embattled leader took to Facebook Live late Thursday in a bid to reach out to citizens after months of political unrest — and the emoji count was far from kind.

Carrie Lam — the city’s unelected chief executive — currently boasts record-low approval ratings as the financial hub convulses with more than four months of huge, increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.

Backed by Beijing, her administration has refused to grant any major concessions to protesters, who are demanding greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

Angry faces significantly outnumbered hearts and likes left by viewers on the hour-long Facebook Live broadcast, while critics also used the comments section to pile on.

By the end of the session, in which a host chose from a series of pre-selected questions and some live ones, the angry face count stood at more than 9,400 compared to 2,100 likes and 632 hearts.

Lam defended her record and stuck to her oft-repeated talking points that she cannot give in to violent protesters and won’t be resigning.

“We need more dialogue and communication, more mutual understanding and tolerance,” she said.

She added that she was taken aback by the huge rallies.

“Nobody could predict that we would be facing such a huge storm,” she said.

Millions have taken to the streets this summer, initially against a now-dropped bid by its leaders to allow extraditions to the authoritarian Chinese mainland.

But after Beijing and Lam took a hard line, the movement snowballed into a broader push for democracy and police accountability.

Lam has previously stated a willingness to hold dialogue sessions with the public, but they have also got off to a rocky and limited start.

In late September she sat down with some 150 randomly selected members of the public for a live forum where questions critical of her government dominated.

Protesters also surrounded the venue and she was unable to exit for hours until the crowds dispersed.

AFP

Hong Kong Protest Leader Left Bloodied In Street Attack

Blood is seen beyond a police cordon, where Jimmy Sham, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), was assaulted by four to five people wielding hammers in the Mongkok district of Kowloon in Hong Kong on October 16, 2019. / AFP

 

A leading face of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement was rushed to hospital covered in blood late Wednesday after being attacked by unidentified thugs with hammers, his protest group said.

The Civil Human Rights Front said leader Jimmy Sham was assaulted by four to five people wielding hammers in the district of Mongkok in what they described as an act of “political terror”.

“He received a bloody head wound and was sent to Kwong Wah hospital,” the CHRF said in a statement, adding Sham was conscious when paramedics arrived.

Photos posted online showed Sham in a red t-shirt, sprawled on the street in a pool of blood.

“It is not hard to link this incident to a spreading political terror in order to threaten and inhibit the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights,” CHRF added.

Sham is the main spokesman of the CHRF, a group that advocates non-violence and organised a series of record-breaking, peaceful marches earlier this summer that were opposed to a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China.

Hong Kong’s four months of huge and increasingly violent protests were initially sparked by the now-scrapped bill.

But they have since snowballed into a wider movement calling for greater democracy and police accountability after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line.

Multiple pro-democracy activists have been attacked by pro-Beijing supporters in recent months, and Sham was also assaulted in August.

As the violence has escalated, hardcore pro-democracy protesters have also begun meting out their own street justice, beating people who vocally disagree with their goals or are viewed to be government loyalists.

Multiple Arrests In Hong Kong As ‘Flashmob’ Protests Hit Pro-Bejing Targets

 

Riot police clashed with anti-government protesters across Hong Kong Sunday as masked activists vandalised businesses deemed sympathetic to Beijing in another weekend of chaos in the financial hub.

Rallies erupted in multiple neighbourhoods, with some protesters blocking roads, sabotaging train tracks, and trashing pro-China businesses.

Police said an officer was taken to hospital after his neck was slashed. Local television networks also broadcast footage of a man beaten bloody by protesters after they found a baton in his bag and suspected him of being an undercover officer.

Police have increasingly posed as protesters, scoring some tactical successes and sparking widespread paranoia among frontline demonstrators.

During cat-and-mouse encounters on Sunday officers made dozens of arrests, but there were fewer protesters than have taken to the streets more recently during the four-month long protest movement.

In Mongkok, a bustling shopping district on the Kowloon peninsula, officers burst from an unmarked van over a blockade of bamboo scaffolding and quickly chased down multiple protesters.

Later, an AFP reporter in the neighbourhood saw protesters beat a woman earlier accused of helping police clear barricades.

The woman was struck with fists and umbrellas, and also had her face smeared with mud.

Protesters have increasingly turned on their ideological opponents in recent weeks, while Beijing loyalists have attacked democracy activists throughout the summer.

‘Blossom Everywhere’

Online forums used to organise the largely leaderless movement advertised Sunday as a “blossom everywhere” day, encouraging activists to gather in malls across the city.

Protests and clashes were reported in half a dozen neighbourhoods, with police saying they fired tear gas during two incidents.

While the crowds were thinner, the flashmob tactics stretched police resources and still brought chaos to parts of the city for a 19th consecutive weekend.

Throughout the day, police found themselves berated and heckled by bystanders as they made arrests, highlighting how the force has become loathed and pilloried by large parts of the population.

“I’m furious,” a female protester, who gave her surname as Chan, told AFP. “I want the government to disband the entire police force.”

Hong Kong has been shaken by four months of massive democracy protests which have seen increasingly violent clashes between hardcore demonstrators and police, as well as regular transport disruptions.

The protests were sparked by opposition to a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, but have since morphed into a larger movement for democracy and police accountability.

Spiralling Violence

The city enjoys unique rights under the terms of its handover to China by Britain in 1997 — including freedom of expression and an independent judiciary — but many believe these are under threat from an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Street battles between riot police and small groups of protesters have become a weekly occurrence, hammering the already struggling economy, spooking tourists and undermining Hong Kong’s reputation for stability.

The beginning of October saw a particularly fierce period of unrest with protesters upping their violence as Communist China celebrated its 70th birthday party.

Clashes further intensified after the city’s leader invoked colonial-era emergency laws to ban face masks at protests.

Over the course of a week, protesters went on a vandalism spree, much of it targeting the city’s subway network and pro-China businesses.

Police also increased their response, firing tear gas and rubber bullets with renewed ferocity. Two teenagers were wounded with live rounds during clashes with police.

But the last few days have seen a comparatively calmer period.

Protesters are pushing for an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 2,500 people arrested and universal suffrage.

Beijing, and city leader Carrie Lam, repeatedly rejected those demands.

Protesters Erect ‘Lady Liberty’ Statue On Hong Kong Mountain Top

 

Pro-democracy protesters hauled a four-metre statue known as “Lady Liberty” to the top of a famous Hong Kong mountain early Sunday, announcing the peak would be its “final resting place”.

The statue depicts a female protester in a gas mask, protective goggles and helmet, an umbrella in one hand and a black flag in the other, proclaiming the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”.

It was a regular feature at larger, more peaceful rallies this summer, eliciting cheers when it was wheeled in by volunteers and transported around the city on the back of a truck.

But on Sunday organisers said Lady Liberty had made her final journey as they unveiled her at the top of Lion Rock, a 495-metre peak overlooking a forest of skyscrapers, intimately linked to the city’s democracy movement.

Alex, a 32-year-old protester who created the statue, said volunteers used the cover of night to carry the 80 kilogram (180 pound) artwork up the steep path to the summit.

“We had a team of 16 climbing professionals carrying her in two main pieces all the way to the summit while another 16 members carried equipment and supplies,” he told AFP, only giving his first name.

“Lion Rock will be the final resting place of the Lady Liberty of Hong Kong,” the team said in a statement, adding it would be up to authorities to remove it.

Named because its shape resembles the big cat, Lion Rock has been a symbol of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement for years with large banners demanding freedoms or criticising Beijing frequently unfurled by hardy protesters.

‘Lion Rock Spirit’

“Lion Rock Spirit” is used by Hong Kongers to summarise the city’s can-do attitude — as well as its reputation for liberty compared to the authoritarian mainland.

The mountain overlooks Kowloon’s densely packed working-class districts where many escaping communist China during the worst excesses of the Mao-era first settled.

During 2014’s large pro-democracy protests, demonstrators unfurled a huge yellow banner down one of the rock’s cliff faces, linking the mountainside to modern-day acts of civil disobedience.

In September, during a mid-Autumn festival, hundreds of protesters gathered on Lion Rock and other peaks surrounding the city shining laser pens and lanterns.

Alex, Lady Liberty’s creator, said it was inspired by the “Goddess of Democracy” statue that pro-democracy protesters erected in 1989 inside Tiananmen Square before China crushed the movement.

A version of the Goddess of Democracy is a feature of the annual 4 June Tiananmen vigils in Hong Kong, the only place in China where commemorations of the crackdown can still be held.

But with the international finance hub rocked by its own unprecedented protests aimed at halting sliding freedoms under Beijing’s rule, activists wanted to create a Hong Kong version of the Goddess of Democracy.

Much like the protests themselves — which are leaderless and organised online — the design for Lady Liberty was crowd-sourced.

“We invited design proposals on LIHKG, organised a universal vote asking people to pick their favourite design,” Alex said, referencing the most popular forum for Hong Kong protesters.

Asked why they had chosen Lion Rock to be the statue’s final journey, he said it was “a symbolic gesture to infuse a refreshed mindset for the fight for democracy”.

The mountain and the statue, he added, represented “the fundamental values and beliefs” of the protest movement.

Police Make Arrests As Flashmob Protests Erupt In Hong Kong

Protesters (C) walk on a street after setting up a barricade in the Mongkok district in Hong Kong on October 13, 2019. DALE DE LA REY / AFP

 

 

Hong Kong riot police spent much of Sunday afternoon skirmishing with small groups of masked pro-democracy protesters who held flashmob gatherings in multiple locations — although crowds were smaller and less violent than recent weekends.

Rallies erupted in multiple neighbourhoods with some protesters blocking roads, spraying graffiti on pro-China businesses, smashing windows and erecting barricades.

Police made multiple arrests as they rushed to intercept activists but the clashes were less heavy than earlier this month when the city was virtually shut down by the most intense unrest of the four-month protest movement.

READ ALSO: Turkey Assault Could Displace 400,000 In Syria, Says UN

In the district of Mongkok, riot police burst from an unmarked van that had screeched up to a blockade made of bamboo scaffolding poles and quickly chased down multiple protesters who were pinned to the ground and detained.

In Tai Po district, officers charged into a mall where protesters had tagged a number of businesses with slogans with at least two arrests made.

Similar flashmobs and brief clashes were witnessed in at least three other locations with bystanders often heckling police as they made arrests.

Hong Kong has been shaken by four months of massive democracy protests which have seen increasingly violent clashes between hardcore demonstrators and police, as well as regular transport disruptions.

The wave of protests in the international finance hub was sparked by opposition to a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China but has since morphed into a larger movement for democracy and police accountability.

The city enjoys unique rights under the terms of its handover to China by Britain in 1997, including freedom of expression and an independent judiciary, but many believe these are under threat from an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Street battles between riot police and small groups of protesters have become a weekly occurrence, hammering the already struggling economy, spooking tourists and undermining Hong Kong’s reputation for stability.

The beginning of October saw a particularly fierce period of unrest with protesters upping their violence as Communist China celebrated its 70th birthday party.

Clashes further intensified after the city’s leader invoked colonial-era emergency laws to ban face masks at protests.

Over the course of a week, protesters went on a vandalism spree, much of it targeting the city’s subway network and pro-China businesses.

Police also increased their response, firing tear gas and rubber bullets with renewed ferocity. Two teenagers were wounded with live rounds during clashes with police.

But the last few days have seen a comparatively calmer period.

Protesters are pushing for an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 2,500 people arrested and universal suffrage.

Beijing and city leader Carrie Lam have repeatedly rejected those demands.

AFP

German Shooter Video Stays Online Despite Crackdown

A special unit of the police examines on October 9, 2019 on a road in Werschen, eastern Germany, a taxi that was involved in the case of a shooting in Halle an der Saale, eastern Germany./ AFP

 

Video of a deadly shooting in Germany was easily accessible on 4chan, BitChute and other sites Thursday, attracting tens of thousands of views, despite efforts by tech companies to curb the spread of violent content.

Roughly 24 hours after the attack, video and links to an anti-Semitic “manifesto” published a week earlier by the gunman were also still available online using a simple keyword search on popular anonymous online forum 4chan.

The assault in city of Halle, which left two people dead Wednesday, took place as Jews marked the holy day of Yom Kippur, with the gunman streaming the attack live online.

The assailant’s 35-minute video was originally livestreamed on Twitch, an Amazon-owned, gaming-focused streaming platform.

Twitch said it was viewed live by just five users and a recording was seen by 2,200 people before it was flagged and removed.

But the full video was still available Thursday on multiple sites promoting violent and sexual content.

Two video links found by AFP had been viewed more than 90,000 times, according to the sites’ visitor counters.

One of them, BitChute, is a video-hosting service which enables peer-to-peer sharing.

It has become popular with the global “alt-right” as it avoids content restrictions on social media platforms like YouTube by relying on user donations rather than advertising.

BitChute has hosted content from prominent conspiracy theorists who have been banned from YouTube, including US vlogger David Seaman, who promoted conspiracies about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Users of 4chan have also repeatedly shared links to the full video from Halle since it was first uploaded on Wednesday.

A keyword search for “Halle” on the forum led to multiple posts with links to the footage.

One 4chan user posted a link to a downloadable copy of the gunman’s manifesto and the full video — with English subtitles added.

“After seeing a lot of non-german speaking anons always asking for what is being said in the Halle Synagogue Shooting Video,” they wrote, “I decide to translate it with subtitles.”

On another online forum, kiwifarms.net, AFP found at least one user offering a link to download the full video using torrent software, along with full instructions.

Christchurch Call

But the video was not readily available Thursday on mainstream social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

This is in contrast to the livestreamed footage of the Christchurch mosque shootings in March, which was continually re-uploaded to these platforms despite a concerted effort to remove it.

After the Christchurch attacks, governments and tech companies including Amazon signed up to a partnership known as The Call, which aims to eradicate extremism and terrorism online.

“Amazon joined the Christchurch Call in New York, so the incident protocol that we’ve developed has kicked in,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said after the Halle attack.

“Companies are communicating as I understand with one other to ensure that that video does not spread online.”

Police captured the Halle suspect after a gun battle that left him injured.

FIFA Fines Hong Kong After Fans Whistle Chinese Anthem

FIFA Bans Ex-Zambian Football Chief Bwalya Over Bribery Allegations
File

 

FIFA fined the Hong Kong Football Federation on Wednesday after local fans booed and whistled the Chinese national anthem at a World Cup qualifier against Iran.

The Disciplinary Commission of world football’s governing body handed the federation a 15,000 Swiss francs (13,700 euros) fine, reprimanding Hong Kong fans for “disturbance during national anthems; use of objects to transmit a message that is not appropriate for a sports events.”

Hong Kong fields an independent team but because it is an administrative region of China, the Chinese national anthem is played before matches.

The territory has been engulfed by anti-Beijing demonstrations for months and China’s national anthem, ‘The March of the Volunteers’, was whistled by fans on 10 September, before Hong Kong lost 2-0 Iran, FIFA said.

Hong Kong is third in Group C of the Asia zone and after playing in Iraq on Wednesday, their next home game is against Bahrain on 14 November.

AFP

Trump Calls For ‘Humane Solution’ In Hong Kong

File photo:
PHILIP FONG / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Monday urged a “humane solution” in Hong Kong but noted that the crowds protesting against Chinese authorities were smaller than before.

“We just want to see a humane solution,” Trump said in comments to reporters. “I think they have to do that in a peaceful manner.”

He remarked on the “great people over there” and said “they’re flying the American flag.”

But Trump avoided expressing support for the protesters’ unprecedented show of defiance against Chinese communist rule and questioned whether they were losing steam.

At the start, “I saw two million people. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Trump said. “The crowd size is much smaller now, so maybe that’s saying something.”

Hong Kong: China Slams EU For ‘Criminal’ Support Of Protesters

 

China’s embassy in Paris on Monday slammed the European Union for what it termed its “criminal” support for Hong Kong protesters and criticism of the police clampdown.

China’s embassy in Paris on Monday slammed the European Union for what it termed its “criminal” support for Hong Kong protesters and criticism of the police clampdown.

Accusing the EU of having “publicly glorified the abuses of rioters”, the embassy said the EU’s call for de-escalation and restraint was “criminal and very dangerous” and amounted to an attack on the Hong Kong police’s right to self-defence.

The embassy was reacting to a EU statement on October 1 expressing concern over the use by police of live rounds against the Hong Kong protesters.

“More than three months since the protests began, the right to assembly and the right to protest peacefully must continue to be upheld in line with the (Hong Kong) basic law and international commitments,” the EU added, emphasising the need for “dialogue, de-escalation and restraint”.

The Chinese embassy called the statement “irresponsible” and expressed “our strong discontent and profound contempt” in the face of what it called Europe’s “hypocrisy and the darkness of some people’s intentions with regard to China”.

The statement, tweeted by the embassy on Monday and attributed to the mission’s spokesman, also took aim at France, which echoed the EU’s statement of concern last week over the police’s actions in Hong Kong.

“France too has been grappling with long periods of violent protest,” the embassy said, referring to the anti-government “yellow vest” protesters who have demonstrated every week for the past year.

Noting that French police too had been criticised over their handling of the protests, the embassy asked that France show it the same “empathy” it had received from Beijing.

China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye made headlines earlier this year with an equally virulent attack on Canada, where he was posted before his move to Paris this summer.

In January, he accused Canada of “white supremacy” for calling for the release of two Canadians detained in China, days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the request of the US.

AFP

Hong Kong May Shut Down Internet Over Violent Protests

Protesters burn items at the Causeway Bay metro station entrance in Hong Kong on October 4, 2019, as people hit the streets after the government announced a ban on face masks.  Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP

 

Hong Kong’s government may curb access to the internet in a bid to contain months of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests, a cabinet member told AFP on Monday, after an emergency-law ban on demonstrators wearing face masks failed to quell the unrest.

The warning came as the international financial hub remained partly paralysed from three days of protests in which the city’s rail network and business outlets seen as pro-China were badly vandalised.

The surge in protests was in response to the Hong Kong government’s announcement on Friday it would invoke colonial-era emergency laws not used for more than 50 years to ban demonstrators from wearing face masks.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the ban was needed to contain the unrest, which began nearly four months ago and has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding China stop strangling their freedoms.

Ip Kwok-him, a veteran pro-Beijing politician and member of Hong Kong’s executive council, fuelled those concerns when he said controls on the internet could be introduced.

“As long as there are possible ways to stamp down on the riots, the government will not rule out the possibility of placing a ban on the internet,” he told AFP.

Ip said the internet has been crucial to protesters, who have no public leaders and use online forums and encrypted messaging apps to mobilise.

But he said the government recognised any online shutdown could have a knock-on effect.

“I think a condition for implementing the Internet ban would be not to affect any businesses in Hong Kong,” he said.

The executive council is Hong Kong’s cabinet, an advisory body to Lam.

She announced the ban on face masks immediately after meeting with the council on Friday.

First mask arrests in court 

On Monday morning, a male university student and a 38-year-old woman were the first people to be charged with illegally wearing masks as supporters packed the courtroom, many wearing face coverings.

They were both charged with unlawful assembly, which carries up to three years jail time, and with defying the mask ban, which has a maximum one-year sentence. Both were released on bail.

Outside the court, demonstrators queued to get in, some chanting slogans like “Wearing a face mask isn’t a crime” and “The law is unjust”.

Many said they feared the mask ban was just the first of more emergency orders to come.

“It’s an excuse to just introduce other totalitarian laws, next is martial law,” one protester outside the court, who gave his surname Lo, told AFP.

 Few concessions 

The protests were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions of criminal suspects to the mainland.

This fuelled  fears of an erosion of liberties promised under the 50-year “one country, two systems” model China agreed to ahead of the 1997 handover by Britain.

After Beijing and local leaders took a hard stance to the initial protests, the demonstrations snowballed into a wider movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability.

Lam has refused major concessions, but struggled to come up with any political solution.

The past week has seen a particularly intense stretch of protests.

The worst clashes to date erupted on Tuesday as China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule, with a teenager shot and wounded by police as he attacked an officer.

Over the weekend largely peaceful flash mob rallies and marches featured people wearing masks.

But more hardcore protesters also went on the rampage, trashing subway stations, ransacking government offices and vandalising businesses with mainland ties.

Large parts of the railway network closed over the weekend because of the vandalism, while many shops and malls were shuttered. Some subways stations and shops remained closed on Monday, a public holiday in Hong Kong.

Unsanctioned gatherings of masked protesters took place at multiple malls across the city on Monday afternoon.

 PLA warning 

Sunday witnessed the largest protests, with police firing tear gas to disperse tens of thousands of people marching on the main island. Clashes broke out at multiple other locations throughout the day, with dozens injured.

A warning flag was even raised on the roof of a People’s Liberation Army barracks after protesters shone laser pens at the building, the first time Chinese troops in the city have made such a move.

On the mainland, Beijing flexed its muscles by pulling a top US basketball team’s games from state broadcaster CCTV after its manager posted a tweet featuring the message “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong”.

The Houston Rockets tried to calm the waters, issuing apologies from players and the manager.

AFP