Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

Hong Kong police officers stand guard at a candlelight vigil on June 3 ahead of the 31st anniversary of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 June 2020

Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

  • Hong Kong cancels annual candlelight vigil for the first time in 30 years
  • Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday

BEIJING: China tightened controls over dissidents while pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and elsewhere sought ways to mark the 31st anniversary Thursday of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
That came after authorities in Hong Kong took the extraordinary move of canceling an annual candlelight vigil in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s Victoria Park for the first time in 30 years.
Authorities cited the need for social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite the recent reopening of schools, beaches, bars and beauty parlors. Hong Kong has had relatively few cases of the virus and life has largely returned to normal in the city of 7.4 million.
However, China has long detested the vigil, the only such activity allowed on Chinese territory to commemorate victims of the crackdown, which remains a taboo subject on the mainland. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops assaulted the center of Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 to break up weeks of student-led protests seen as posing a threat to authoritarian Communist Party rule.
Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday. Police and armored vehicles stood sentry on the vast surface the square. Few pedestrians lined up at security checkpoints where they must show ID to be allowed through as part of mass nationwide surveillance measures aimed at squelching any dissent.
The cancelation of the vigil also comes amid a tightening of Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong, with the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, moving to pass national security legislation that circumvents Hong Kong’s local legislature and could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity.
In Hong Kong, a law is being passed to make it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem and 15 well-known veteran activists were arrested and charged with organizing and taking part in illegal demonstrations. Those actions are seen as part of a steady erosion of civil rights Hong Kong was guaranteed when it was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Despite the ban on the vigil, the Asian financial hub was bracing for “pop-up” protests of the type that raged around the city during months of anti-government protests last year that often led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
Thousands have been arrested over the demonstrations, which were sparked by proposed legislation that could have seen suspects extradited to mainland China where they could face torture and unfair, politically biased trials.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China that organizes the annual vigil has called on people around the city to light candles at 8 p.m. and plans to livestream the commemorations on its website www.64live.org.
Alliance Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said protesters still planned to gather at the park to mourn victims of the massacre and show their support for the democratic cause in China. It wasn’t clear what form the activity would take or how many would attend. The entrance to the park was blocked by police barriers on Thursday.
“Hong Kong government tried to please or show loyalty to Beijing and ban our gathering before even the national security comes in. But we are determined,” Lee said at a kiosk set up by the group to distribute flyers in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district near the park.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, are planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government called again this year for Beijing to own up to the facts of the crackdown.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the crackdown anniversary on Tuesday, a day after federal forces used tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House.
Pompeo tweeted criticism of China and Hong Kong for banning the vigil before meeting privately with a group of Tiananmen Square survivors at the State Department. That too drew criticism from China.
Alongside the exchanges of rhetoric, China’s small, beleaguered dissident community has again come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Many have been placed under house arrest and their communications with the outside world cut off, according to rights groups.
China has released the last of those arrested for directly taking part in the Tiananmen demonstrations, but others who seek to commemorate them have been rearrested for continuing their activism.
They include Huang Qi, founder of website 64 Tianwang that sought to expose official wrongdoing. Reportedly in failing health, he is serving a 12-year-sentence after being convicted of leaking state secrets abroad.


Biden’s transition gets green light as Trump at last relents

Updated 24 November 2020

Biden’s transition gets green light as Trump at last relents

  • Trump tweeted that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition

WASHINGTON: The federal government recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election on Monday, formally starting the transition of power after President Donald Trump spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. He relented after suffering yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud.
Trump still refused to concede and vowed to continue to fight in court after General Services Administrator Emily Murphy gave the green light for Biden to coordinate with federal agencies ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration. But Trump did tweet that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition.
Monday’s fast-moving series of events seemed to let much of the air out of Trump’s frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people in what has amounted to a weekslong stress test for American democracy. But Trump’s attempts to foment a crisis of confidence in the political system and the fairness of US elections haven’t ended and are likely to persist well beyond his lame-duck presidency.
Murphy, explaining her decision, cited “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.”
She acted after Michigan on Monday certified Biden’s victory in the battleground state, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.
It also comes as an increasing number of Republicans were publicly acknowledging Biden’s victory, after weeks of tolerating Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. The president had grown increasingly frustrated with the flailing tactics of his legal team.
“With Michigan’s certifying (its) results, Joe Biden has over 270 electoral college votes,” tweeted Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. “President Trump’s legal team has not presented evidence of the massive fraud which would have had to be present to overturn the election. I voted for President Trump but Joe Biden won.”
Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”
He added: “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”
Murphy, a Trump appointee, has faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Biden’s team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration. The delay denied Biden access to receive highly classified national security briefings and hindered his team’s ability to begin drawing up its own plans to respond to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Murphy insisted she acted on her own.
“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official— including those who work at the White House or GSA— with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” she wrote in a letter to Biden.
Trump tweeted moments after Murphy’s decision: “We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”
Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, criticized the delay but said Biden’s team would be able to overcome it.
“Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help President-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country’s greatest challenges,” he said. “The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the GSA action “is probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue.″ Noting that the nation “faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition,″ Schumer urged Democrats and Republicans to “unite together for a smooth and peaceful transition that will benefit America.″
Murphy’s action came just 90 minutes after Michigan election officials certified Biden’s 154,000-vote victory in the state. The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, confirmed the results on a 3-0 vote with one GOP abstention. Trump and his allies had hoped to block the vote to allow time for an audit of ballots in Wayne County, where Trump has claimed without evidence that he was the victim of fraud. Biden crushed the president by more than 330,000 votes there.
Under Michigan law, Biden claims all 16 electoral votes. Biden won by 2.8 percentage points — a larger margin than in other states where Trump is contesting the results like Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Some Trump allies had expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors in states that do not certify. That long-shot bid is no longer possible in Michigan.
“The people of Michigan have spoken. President-elect Biden won the State of Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, and he will be our next president on January 20th,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said in a statement, saying it’s “time to put this election behind us.”
The Trump legal team dismissed the certification as “simply a procedural step” and insisted it would continue to mount legal challenges.
Trump’s efforts to stave off the inevitable — formal recognition of his defeat — have faced increasingly stiff resistance from the courts and fellow Republicans with just three weeks to go until the Electoral College meets to certify Biden’s victory. Time and again, Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread conspiracy and fraud have been met with rejection as states move forward with confirming their results.
Trump was increasingly frustrated by his legal team, led by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose erratic public performances drew bipartisan mockery in recent weeks. Still, the legal challenges were expected to continue, as Trump seeks to keep his supporters on his side and keep his options open for opportuntities post-presidency.
In Pennsylvania on Saturday, a conservative Republican judge shot down the Trump campaign’s biggest legal effort in the state with a scathing ruling that questioned why he was supposed to disenfranchise 7 million voters with no evidence to back their claims and an inept legal argument at best.
But the lawyers still hope to block the state’s certification, quickly appealing to the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which ordered lawyers to file a brief Monday but did not agree to hear oral arguments.
The campaign, in its filings, asked for urgent consideration so it could challenge the state election results before they are certified next month. If not, they will seek to decertify them, the filings said.
Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.
Pennsylvania county election boards were voting on Monday, the state deadline, about whether to certify election results to the Department of State. The boards in two populous counties split along party lines, with majority Democrats in both places voting to certify. After all counties have sent certified results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, she must then tabulate, compute and canvass votes for all races. The law requires her to perform that task quickly but does not set a specific deadline.
In Wisconsin, a recount in the state’s two largest liberal counties moved into its fourth day at a slow pace, with election officials in Milwaukee County complaining that Trump observers were hanging up the process with frequent challenges. Trump’s hope of reversing Biden’s victory there depends on disqualifying thousands of absentee ballots — — including the in-person absentee ballot cast by one of Trump’s own campaign attorneys in Dane County.
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Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, Jonathan Lemire in New York, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta and John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this report.
Summary :
The federal government has recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election. That formally starts the transition of power after President Donald Trump has spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. The move came after Trump suffered yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud. Trump still has refused to concede the election. But Monday’s fast-moving series of events seems to let much of the air out of Trump’s frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people.