Hong Kong protesters throng streets peacefully in pouring rain

Anti-government protesters attend a rally in the Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on Saturday, August 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2019
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Hong Kong protesters throng streets peacefully in pouring rain

  • Anger over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China erupted in June

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied peacefully in Hong Kong on Sunday, filling major thoroughfares under torrential downpours in the eleventh week of what have been often violent demonstrations in the Asian financial hub.
Sunday's turnout showed that the movement still has broad-based support despite the ugly scenes witnessed in recent days when protesters occupied the Chinese-ruled city's airport, a move for which some activists apologised.
It was the calmest weekend protest since the latest demonstrations against perceived creeping Beijing influence in the former British colony began.
"They’ve been telling everyone we're rioters. The march today is to show everyone we are not," said a 23-year-old named Chris, who works in marketing and was dressed all in black, including a scarf covering his face and baseball cap.
"It does not mean we won’t keep fighting. We will do whatever is necessary to win, but today we take a break, then we reassess."
One protester shouted at others who were jeering at police, "Today is a peaceful march! Don’t fall into the trap! The world is watching us," prompting the group to move on.
Late in the evening, some demonstrators were urging others to go home and rest.
Anger over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China erupted in June, but the unrest has been fuelled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place after Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997, including an independent judiciary and right to protest.

SENSITIVE TIME FOR BEIJING
The protests present one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012, with the ruling Communist Party preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1.
Protesters held aloft placards with slogans including "Free Hong Kong!" and "Democracy now!" and umbrellas to shield them from the sometimes heavy rain.
Some aimed green lasers at police and government buildings. The crowd in Causeway Bay's leafy Victoria Park, where the rally started, included elderly people and young families, with some parents carrying toddlers.
Despite rally organisers not having permission to march, the park could not accommodate the crowd, which thronged nearby streets. Many protesters headed towards the city's financial centre, chanting for the city's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, to step down.
It was impossible to put an exact figure on the number of protesters. The organisers put the number at 1.7 million, adding they had applied for permission to march to the Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing's main representative body in the city, on the last day of the month.
Police estimated there were 128,000 in Victoria Park at the height of the protest.
"It's bloody hot and it's raining. It's a torture just to turn up, frankly. But we have to be here because we have no other choice," said a 24-year-old student named Jonathan.
"We have to continue until the government finally shows us the respect that we deserve."
A government spokesman said the protests were generally peaceful, but they had disrupted traffic badly.
"The most important thing at present is to restore social order as soon as possible," he said. "When everything is calm, the government will engage in a sincere dialogue with the public to fix the social rifts and rebuild social harmony."
Aside from Lam's resignation, demonstrators are seeking complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting", a waiver of charges against those arrested, an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.

"WE WILL STILL FIGHT"
"When we were young, we didn’t think about it. But my son tells me: After 2047, what will happen to me?," said a history teacher named Poon, referring to the year when the 50-year agreement enshrining Hong Kong's separate system will lapse.
"I will come again and again and again. We do not know how any of this is going to end. We will still fight," she said.
Police have come under criticism for using increasingly aggressive tactics to break up demonstrations and on Sunday some people handed out balloons resembling eyeballs, a reference to the injury suffered by a female medic hit by a pellet round in the eye.
On Saturday, however, a demonstration in support of the government attracted what organisers said was 476,000 people, although police put the number of attendees at 108,000.
Beijing has struck an increasingly strident tone over the protests, accusing foreign countries including the United States of fomenting unrest. Scenes of Chinese paramilitary troops training this past week at a stadium in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, gave a clear warning that mainland intervention by force is possible.
Last week, protesters who occupied the terminal at Hong Kong's airport forced the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights and detained two men they thought were pro-government sympathisers, prompting Beijing to liken the behaviour to terrorism.
"We are Hong Kongers. We are here for our future. We feel for the teenagers," said Frances Chan, 60, a retired journalist attending Sunday's rally.
She said only a few protesters had used violence, sparingly, brought on by pressure from the authorities.
"Actually, we want peace and freedom," she said.


Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

Updated 19 September 2019

Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

  • Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela
  • Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup

CARACAS/WASHINGTON: Venezuela’s rival political factions will take their power struggle to New York next week, where representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition chief Juan Guaido will each try to convince a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations that their boss is the country’s legitimate head of state.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the rightful president. Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency to Maduro, arguing the socialist president’s May 2018 re-election was a sham.
But the 193-member UN General Assembly still recognizes Maduro, who retains the support of the UN Security Council’s veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China, setting the stage for the two sides to air their public grievances as they battle for international backing.
A round of negotiations brokered by Norway in recent months, aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis, has failed.
Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela, as the United States has done.
Maduro, who has overseen a collapse of the OPEC nation’s once-prosperous economy and has been accused by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights of rights violations, wants to heap pressure on the United States to lift sanctions on state oil company PDVSA and members of his inner circle.
Critics say his government’s decisions this week to free a jailed opposition lawmaker and reform Venezuela’s electoral body, long accused of bias, were aimed at improving Maduro’s image before the UN gathering.
“They want to use the UN meeting to wash their face, because they are not reaching any real solutions for the Venezuelan people,” Carlos Valero, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, and blames Washington’s sanctions for Venezuela’s economic woes. Maduro himself said he will not attend the UN gathering, but he tasked two cabinet members with presenting a petition condemning the sanctions to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“The UN Secretary General and all the UN agencies should raise their voice to condemn the aggression Venezuela is being subjected to, to condemn the illegal blockade,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Geneva last Friday. “We believe that a lot more can be done from the United Nations.”
’Until Maduro is gone’
Guaido has not yet decided whether he will attend, according to his US envoy Carlos Vecchio. Julio Borges, an exiled opposition lawmaker recently named Guaido’s chief diplomat, will be in New York for side events aimed at spotlighting Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and Maduro’s alleged support for armed rebels in Colombia.
The events include a likely meeting of the signatories of the Rio Treaty, invoked earlier this month by a dozen members of the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States. The treaty is a Cold War-era mutual defense pact that the countries said they had invoked in response to what they called Maduro’s threat to regional stability. The OAS, unlike the UN, recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
Maduro’s government denies supporting the Colombian rebels and says the Rio Treaty is a precursor to military intervention.
In April, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the UN to revoke the credentials of Maduro’s government and recognize Guaido, but Washington has taken no action to push the measure at the General Assembly. Diplomats said it was unlikely Washington would get the support needed.
Both Washington and Venezuela’s opposition are seeking to counter perceptions that their efforts to oust Maduro have stalled.
Though differences over Iran and Afghanistan policy were the main reasons for US President Donald Trump’s firing of his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton last week, Trump had also grown increasingly impatient with the failure of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro from power.
Despite Trump’s vows that all options were on the table, he had resisted Bolton’s push for more military planning, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump’s aides have made clear that he is likely to impose further sanctions but the economic weapons at Washington’s disposal appear to be dwindling.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday that the United States continued to stand with Guaido and that sanctions “will not be lifted until Maduro is gone.”
“We look forward to coming together with regional partners to discuss the multilateral economic and political options we can employ to the threat to the security of the region that Maduro represents,” she said.