Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

Hong Kong police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march, saying previous marches have turned violent. (AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

  • Hong Kong police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march
  • The protests had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks

HONG KONG: Police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who gathered in a central Hong Kong park, but later spilled onto the streets in violation of police orders.
Out in numbers before the demonstration began, police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march. Several units of police in riot gear were seen chasing protesters and several arrests were made.
A water cannon truck drove on central streets, flanked by an armored jeep, but was not used.
Organizers initially applied for a permit for a march, but police only agreed to a static rally in the park, saying previous marches have turned violent.
Once protesters spilled onto the streets, some of them, wearing all-black clothing, barricaded the roads with umbrellas and street furniture, dug up bricks from the pavement and smashed traffic lights.
The “Universal Siege Against Communism” demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of protests against the government since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The protests, which have since broadened to include demands for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police handling of the demonstrations, had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks.
In an apparent new tactic, police have been showing up ahead of time in riot gear, with officers conducting “stop and search” operations near expected demonstrations.
“Everyone understands that there’s a risk of stop-and-search or mass arrests. I appreciate Hong Kong people still come out courageously, despite the risk,” said organizer Ventus Lau.
On Jan 1, a march of tens of thousands of people ended with police firing tear gas to disperse crowds.
The gathering in the park was initially relaxed, with many families with children listening to speeches by activists.
In one corner, a group of volunteers set up a stand where people could leave messages on red cards for the lunar new year to be sent to those who have been arrested. One read: “Hong Kongers won’t give up. The future belongs to the youth”.
Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,000 people, many on charges of rioting that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years. It is unclear how many are still in custody.
Anger has grown over the months due to perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city, which was handed over to China by Britain in 1997 in a deal that ensured it enjoyed liberties unavailable in the mainland.
Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for fomenting unrest.


Japan to let off last healthy cruise travelers, isolate rest

Updated 21 February 2020

Japan to let off last healthy cruise travelers, isolate rest

  • The ship docked at a Yokohama port has the most COVID-19 cases outside of China, with 634 confirmed by late Thursday
  • Six government quarantine workers contracted the virus, raising questions about the protective measures used

TOKYO: Japan’s health minister said the last cruise ship passengers who tested negative for a new virus will leave the Diamond Princess on Friday after a much-criticized quarantine of the vessel ended.

The ship docked at a Yokohama port has the most COVID-19 cases outside of China, with 634 confirmed by late Thursday. Two former passengers have died.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference the mass disembarkation into Japan of passengers from the ship is set to end Friday, while dozens of foreign passengers are flying back to their home countries on flights chartered by their governments.

Most crew members and other passengers who have not completed their 14-day quarantines because they had more recent contact with infected people are staying on the ship for now, but they will be transported to a government facility to be quarantined in isolation.

Japan is discussing with the ship operator and home countries of foreign crew members over their future movements, he said.

Japan’s government has been questioned over its decision to keep people quarantined on the ship, given the tight quarters and the difficulty of isolating sick people from the healthy.

Six government quarantine workers contracted the virus, raising questions about the protective measures used.

The two fatalities, a man and woman who were both Japanese and in their 80s, were believed to have been infected before health checks and a Feb. 5 quarantine began on the ship, Health Ministry official Masami Sakoi said. It was not immediately known if they had any roommates on the ship.

The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has sickened tens of thousands of people, mostly in central China’s Hubei province.

The US and other countries have put former Diamond Princess passengers in second quarantines.

Australia said two passengers tested positive after they returned home. Kato said Australia, like the US, brought home a mixture of passengers who tested negative and others who were not tested and had an unknown status, therefore it was difficult to know when or how they had contracted the virus.

Kato said passengers who returned home on the US and Australian flights did so before completing the Japanese quarantine process, and that Japan’s ongoing disembarkation of passengers is still adequate.