Climate change protesters halt London street blockade

Extinction Rebellion climate change activists lie on the floor as they perform a mass "die in" in the main hall of the Natural History Museum in London on April 22, 2019, on the eighth day of the environmental group's protest calling for political change to combat climate change. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Climate change protesters halt London street blockade

  • Extinction Rebellion took over the heart of the UK capital in a bid to focus global attention on rising temperatures and sea levels
  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that protests were starting to overstretch the police

LONDON: Some of London’s busiest streets re-opened Monday for the first time in a week as climate change protesters regrouped and plotted a new course after police made over 1,000 arrests.
The so-called Extinction Rebellion took over the heart of the UK capital in a bid to focus global attention on rising temperatures and sea levels caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
The grassroots group was established last year in Britain by academics and has used social media to become one of the fastest-growing environmental movements in the world.
But it abandoned four of the five main protests sites over the weekend in response to a more forceful police approach and an outcry from local businesses that claimed a heavy loss in sales.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan also warned Sunday that protests were starting to overstretch the police and limiting their ability to respond to daily crime.
“It simply isn’t right to put Londoners’ safety at risk like this,” Khan said.
Extinction Rebellion organizers retreated by Monday to Marble Arch — a monument on the edge of Hyde Park that allows limited protests to continue without disrupting traffic.
The site has been sanctioned by the police.
“After leaving four of five locations in good order, rebels will meet at Marble Arch on Monday to decide where they go next,” the group said in a statement.
It added that its seven-day campaign has helped it raise nearly £300,000 ($390,000, 345,000 euros) and gain 30,000 new members.
The police said they had made 1,065 arrests and charged 53 people since the first protests took over a bridge and renowned London intersections such as Piccadilly and Oxford Circus.
“We remain in frequent contact with the organizers to ensure that the serious disruption to Londoners is brought to a close as soon as possible and that only lawful and peaceful protests continue,” the police said in a statement.
The London campaign has no formal leaders and its immediate plan of action remains unclean.
Some of the organizers said Sunday they wanted formal talks with the London mayor and the UK government.
The group’s list of demands includes a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to a net level of zero by 2025 and a halt to biodiversity loss.
The group has previously said that it wants the UK government to “create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.”
But it said Monday that its strategy was still under discussion — and that it may yet decide to resume the street blockades.
“A proposal has been circulated for entering a ‘negotiations’ phase,” it said in a statement.
“Despite being presented otherwise in the media, this idea remains only a proposal,” it added.
“Where we go with Phase Two is up to us.”


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 20 July 2019
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.