Anger soars over vicious mob attack on Hong Kong protesters

Protesters pour liquid onto a tear gas canister after police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters following a march against a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong on July 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2019

Anger soars over vicious mob attack on Hong Kong protesters

  • Footage from the attack broadcast live on Facebook showed people screaming as the men beat multiple protesters and journalists in Yuen Long station and inside subway trains
  • The clashes have ratcheted up fears that the city’s feared triad gangs are wading into the political conflict

HONG KONG: Anger soared in Hong Kong on Monday over a vicious assault against pro-democracy protesters by suspected triad gangsters that left dozens wounded, in a dramatic escalation of the political turmoil plaguing the Chinese city.
The financial hub’s roiling unrest took a dark turn late Sunday when gangs of men — most wearing white T-shirts and carrying bats, sticks and metal poles — set upon anti-government demonstrators as they returned from another huge march earlier that day.
Footage from the attack broadcast live on Facebook showed people screaming as the men beat multiple protesters and journalists in Yuen Long station and inside subway trains, leaving pools of blood on the floor.
Hospital authorities said 45 people were wounded in the attack, with one man in critical condition and five others with serious injuries.
Critics rounded on the city’s embattled police force, accusing officers of taking more than an hour to reach the station despite frantic calls from those under attack and then failing to arrest the armed men who stayed in the streets around the station into Monday morning.
Some men in white shirts were later filmed leaving the scene in cars with Chinese mainland number plates.
Lam Cheuk-ting, a pro-democracy lawmaker, was one of those wounded in the melee, sustaining lacerations to his face and arms.
He criticized police for their response and accused “triad members” of being behind the attacks.
“Their very barbaric and violent acts have already completely violated the bottom line of Hong Kong’s civilized society,” he told reporters early Monday.
Nathan Law, a prominent pro-democracy activist, added on Twitter: “When the Chinese mobs are attacking the citizens, no law enforcement are there. Shame on the government.”
The clashes have ratcheted up fears that the city’s feared triad gangs are wading into the political conflict.
Yuen Long lies in the New Territories near the Chinese border where the criminal gangs and staunchly pro-Beijing rural committees remain influential.
Similar assaults by pro-government vigilantes against demonstrators during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests were blamed on triads.
Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history by weeks of marches and sporadic violent confrontations between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.
The initial protests were lit by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
But they have since evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.
The city’s parliament was trashed by protesters earlier this month, as Beijing’s authority faces its most serious challenge since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.
As the mob rampage unfolded in Yuen Long police were simultaneously battling hardcore democracy protesters in the middle of the city’s commercial district.
Riot officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-government protesters, hours after China’s office in the city was daubed with eggs and graffiti in a vivid rebuke to Beijing’s rule.
Wang Zhimin, the head of the office, blasted the protesters on Monday, saying they had insulted “all Chinese people” as he called on Hong Kong’s government to pursue the “rioters.”
Xinhua added the demonstration “blatantly challenged the authority of the central government” and was “absolutely intolerable.”
Earlier in the day, another huge and peaceful anti-government march had made its way through the city — the seventh weekend in a row that residents have come out en masse.
Six weeks of huge protests have done little to persuade the city’s unelected leaders — or Beijing — to change tack on the hub’s future.
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 those provisions are 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.
Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until their core demands are met such as an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested, a permanent withdrawal of the bill, universal suffrage and Lam’s resignation.
There is little sign that either Lam or Beijing will budge.
Beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill there have been few other concessions and fears are rising that Beijing’s patience is running out.


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.