Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

1 / 2
Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, speaks to the media after leaving Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute on Monday, June 17, 2019. (AFP)
2 / 2
An ambulance is pictured surrounded by thousands of protesters dressed in black during a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

  • Joshua Wong is the poster child of the huge pro-democracy ‘Umbrella Movement’ protests in 2014
  • Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday to protest

HONG KONG: Leading Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong walked free from prison on Monday and vowed to join historic anti-government protests rocking the finance hub, as activists debated how to keep pressure on the city’s embattled pro-Beijing leader.

Organizers said some two million people marched in tropical heat on Sunday calling for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam, protesting a now abandoned bill that would have allowed extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

The city has witnessed unprecedented scenes as public anger boils toward the city’s leaders and Beijing, with two record-breaking rallies a week apart punctuated by violent clashes between protesters and police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Wong, the poster child of the huge pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” protests in 2014, became the latest voice to call for Lam’s resignation as he was released from a sentence imposed over his leadership of those demonstrations.

“She is no longer qualified to be Hong Kong’s leader,” he told reporters. “I will also fight with all Hong Kongers to oppose the evil China extradition law.”

Wong was sent to prison in May and was eligible for early release for good behavior — there is no indication the move was linked to the current protests.

Opposition to the extradition bill united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong in recent weeks, from influential legal and business bodies to religious leaders.

And while the spark for the last week of protests has been the threat of extradition to China, the movement has since morphed into the latest expression of public rage against both the city’s leaders and Beijing.

Many Hong Kongers believe China’s leaders are stamping down on the financial hub’s unique freedoms and culture.

They point to the failure of the “Umbrella Movement” to win any concessions, the imprisonment of protest leaders, the disqualification of popular lawmakers and the disappearance of Beijing-critical booksellers, among recent examples.

Critics feared the Beijing-backed extradition law would entangle people in China’s notoriously opaque and politicized courts and damage the city’s reputation as a safe business hub, sparking unprecedented protest turnouts.

The estimate for Sunday’s massive rally has not been independently verified but if confirmed it would be the largest demonstration in Hong Kong’s history.

Police, who historically give far lower estimates for political protests, said 338,000 people turned out at the demonstration’s “peak” — still their largest crowd estimate on record.

On Monday the massive crowds from the previous night abandoned their occupation of a highway next to the parliament.

Instead smaller groups gathered in a nearby park to discuss how to keep up pressure on Lam.

“We will have to stay here till Carrie Lam changes her mind,” said Candy, 32.

But others weren’t sure if Lam’s resignation would make a difference given Beijing’s hold on the city.

“The Chinese government will just send another Carrie Lam and there will be no change,” fumed Kok, a 21-year-old design student.

The extradition furor is just the latest chapter in what many see as a battle for the soul of Hong Kong.

Many Hong Kongers believe China’s leaders are stamping down on the financial hub’s unique freedoms and culture.

The sheer size of the last week’s crowds, and unprecedented violent clashes on Wednesday, forced Lam into a major climbdown.

On Saturday she indefinitely suspended the unpopular extradition bill and she apologized a day later for the attempt causing “conflict and disputes.”

But protesters have called on her to resign, shelve the bill permanently and apologize for police using tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday. They have also demanded all charges be dropped against anyone arrested.

In an interview with HK01 on Monday, her top adviser Bernard Chan said no chief executive would dare reintroduce the bill now.

“Everyone has forgotten what she has done. I hope people can give her another chance,” he said.

The violent crowd control measures on Wednesday, used by police as protesters tried to storm the city’s parliament to stop the bill being debated, have proved enormously costly for Lam’s government.

Political allies — and even Beijing — distanced themselves from her as public anger mounted.

“I think she has lost any remaining credibility or legitimacy to rule in Hong Kong because of her own mishandling of this whole affair,” lawmaker Charles Mok told RTHK Radio.

The massive rallies — which come 30 years after the Tiananmen crackdown — also create a huge headache for president Xi Jinping, the most authoritarian Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

Under the 1997 handover deal signed with Britain, China agreed to allow Hong Kong to keep unique liberties such as freedom of speech and its hugely successful independent common law courts for 50 years.

But the huge crowds this week illustrate that many of Hong Kong’s 7.3 million inhabitants believe China is already reneging on that deal and fear further sliding freedoms as the city approaches that 2047 deadline.

Afghans react angrily to Trump’s boast that the US could ‘wipe Afghanistan off the face of the Earth’

Updated 24 July 2019

Afghans react angrily to Trump’s boast that the US could ‘wipe Afghanistan off the face of the Earth’

  • Trump made his remarks at the White House ahead of a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
  • “I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump tells Pakistani PM

KABUL: The Afghan government demanded clarification from Washington on Tuesday after President Donald Trump said that the country “would be wiped off the face of the Earth” if he decided to win the conflict there.

Trump made his remarks at the White House ahead of a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday in which he sought to mend ties with Islamabad and seek its help to end the war in Afghanistan, the longest and most unpopular conflict in US history.

“I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump said, referring to what he claimed were prepared military plans in Afghanistan.

“If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth, it would be gone, it would be over in literally 10 days.”

The US leader’s comments could be a blow for President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which signed a security pact with Washington in late 2014 allowing US-led troops to stay in Afghanistan and, in 2017, hailed the US after it dropped the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb in the east of the country.

Trump’s remarks come amid rising violence in Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of Taliban, government troops and civilians in recent months. Many Afghans are asking why the world’s leading superpower has failed to defeat the insurgents 18 years after the ouster of the Taliban regime.

"Trump’s comments highlight Washington’s failure to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan” 

Political analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail

The Afghan government, which relies heavily on US troops and funding in the war against the Taliban, has sought official clarification over Trump’s comments.

“Our partnership and cooperation with the world, and in particular with the US, is based on mutual interest and respect,” a statement issued by the presidential palace said on Tuesday.  

“The Afghan nation has never allowed and will not permit any foreign power to choose its destiny,” it added.

Many Afghans, including former government officials, reacted angrily to Trump’s comments.

Rahmatullah Nabil, a presidential candidate who served as Afghanistan’s spy chief, said in a tweet that Trump’s comments should prompt Afghan leaders to set aside their differences.

“In reply to the insults of #Afg by @realDonalTrump, all Afg politicians, including Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leaders, should drop their selfishness and announce that we will make peace among ourselves & there is no need for mediation for US/Pak,” he said.

Modaser Islami, a leading Afghan religious scholar, said that Trump’s remarks showed “hostility toward Afghans” and questioned if Trump was “fighting the Taliban, as terrorists or as Afghans? His recent remarks show he is enemy of latter.”

Veteran journalist Bilal Sarwary described the comments as “offensive, stupid and arrogant,” while another senior journalist called the remarks an “insult to the entire Afghan nation.”

Political analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail told Arab News that Trump’s comments “highlight Washington’s failure to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.” 

“Obviously, the US wants to strike a deal with the Taliban and Pakistan’s role is key in the peace process,” he said.