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

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Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, speaks to the media after leaving Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute on Monday, June 17, 2019. (AFP)
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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.


Pakistan takes steps to turn locust infestation into farming benefit

Updated 04 August 2020

Pakistan takes steps to turn locust infestation into farming benefit

  • Pakistan’s worst locust infestation in about 30 years started in June 2019

ISLAMABAD: First the idea was to feed them to chickens, now the plan is to grind them into fertilizer — as more locust swarms threaten Pakistan’s crops, a project aims to test ways of killing and using the voracious pests for the benefit of local communities.
Pakistan’s worst locust infestation in about 30 years started in June 2019, when the insects came over from Iran in a surge climate experts link to changing conditions conducive to the spread of the insects.
This summer, the locusts are breeding locally, says the Pakistani government, which is trying to head off another attack by spraying pesticides on newborn locusts — called hoppers because they cannot fly — in desert areas on the Indian border.
But worries that the pesticides could be harmful to plants, animals and people have motivated researchers to seek chemical-free methods of cutting the locust population.
“We wanted to come up with a locust control project that would be environmentally friendly and sustainable,” said biotechnologist Johar Ali.
For Ali and his colleague Muhammad Khurshid, who was working for the food ministry at the time, the answer was chicken feed.
In February, the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) sent Ali and Khurshid, now with the privatization ministry, to implement a three-day trial in Punjab province in eastern Pakistan.
During an infestation this spring, villagers in Okara district plucked locusts — which are largely immobile at night — off trees in a nearby forest, gathering about 20 tons of the flying insects.
The project team bought the bugs for 20 Pakistani rupees a kilo, then sold them to a nearby processing plant, which dried them and mixed them into chicken feed, Ali said.
The aim was to help control the locust surge in forested and heavily populated areas, where widespread pesticide spraying is not possible, while also generating income for communities hit by the swarms.
“It’s an out-of-box solution,” Ali said. “It could easily be scaled up in our populated rural areas. Yes, in our desert areas where locusts breed, chemical sprays make sense — but not in areas where we have farms with crops, livestock and people.”
In June, the government shifted the focus from chicken feed to compost, after PARC decided fertilizer was a safer and more feasible use for the insects.
Last month, communities living in the desert areas of Cholistan, Tharparkar, Nara and Thal were trained on how to catch locusts as they head there to breed for the season.
The next step is to look at how to turn the pests into organic fertilizer, explained PARC chairman Muhammad Azeem Khan.
By providing a “slow and continuous” release of nutrients, the compost could help farmers increase their yields by 30 percent and cut their use of chemical fertilizer in half, he said.
Pakistan’s current locust problem started with what Muhammad Tariq Khan, technical director of the food security ministry’s plant protection department, called a “climate change-induced international locust crisis” in Yemen and East Africa.
“Two big cyclones in 2018 dumped enough water in a desert area called the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula for three generations of locusts to grow undetected,” he said.
Torn by civil war, Yemen was unable to focus on exterminating the pests, which lay their eggs beneath the soil, and so “they came up like a bomb,” Khan said.
July’s monsoon rains arrived 10 days earlier than usual in Pakistan, creating moist soil conditions favorable for the locusts to breed in the border desert area, Khan said.
Swarms are also expected to arrive soon in Pakistan from Somalia, he said.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates losses to agriculture from locusts this year could be as high as 353 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) for winter crops like wheat and potatoes and about 464 billion rupees for summer crops.
“You can’t eradicate locusts, but you can control them. In this situation we have to rely on chemicals,” Khan said.
So far, insecticide-spraying operations have been carried out in 32 affected districts — both desert and cropping areas — spread over about 1 million hectares.
Pakistan’s pesticide-spraying operations had made it impossible to ensure the locusts eaten by poultry would be chemical-free, said PARC’s Azeem Khan.
“Sprayed locusts, if used as feed, are a threat to human health,” he said.
The new project, which has been approved by the National Locust Control Center, will entail buying living and dead locusts from local communities at 25 rupees per kilo.
The bugs will then be mixed with bio-waste such as manure and vegetation to turn them into compost, Azeem Khan said.
PARC is now analyzing samples of dead and decomposing locusts that have been sprayed with insecticide to assess the levels of chemical residue on them, he noted.
The PARC chairman said the government had earmarked $15 million for the project, with just over half going to the communities and the rest toward compost-processing.