Jimmy Lai among eight more Hong Kong democracy activists jailed

Jimmy Lai among eight more Hong Kong democracy activists jailed
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai was among eight democracy activists handed new prison sentences. (AP)
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Updated 28 May 2021

Jimmy Lai among eight more Hong Kong democracy activists jailed

Jimmy Lai among eight more Hong Kong democracy activists jailed
  • Media tycoon is already behind bars for taking part in earlier protests
  • More than 10,000 people were arrested during Hong Kong’s democracy protests

HONG KONG: Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was among eight democracy activists handed new prison sentences on Friday for attending protests on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China that were followed by a sweeping crackdown.
Lai, who is already behind bars for taking part in earlier protests, must now serve a total of 20 months after pleading guilty to organizing an unlawful assembly on October 1, 2019.
Seven other leading activists, including 25-year-old youth campaigner Figo Chan, as well as former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Kwok-hung, were also given new jail sentences.
Many flashed “victory” hand signals on their way to court in a police van.
The new sentences are the latest in a relentless and successful campaign by China to smother dissent and dismantle Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
Hong Kong was convulsed by months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 in the most serious challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s 1997 handover.
The clashes with police on China’s October 1 National Day were some of the worst of that period.
It was a vivid and embarrassing illustration of how huge swathes of Hong Kong’s population seethe under Beijing’s rule as the government celebrated 70 years since communist China’s founding.
While President Xi Jinping oversaw a huge military parade in Beijing, clashes between hardcore protests and police raged across Hong Kong that day.
The march attended by the activists who were jailed on Friday remained largely peaceful. But it did not have official police permission, a requirement in Hong Kong.
“It was naive to believe a rallying call for peaceful and rational behavior would be enough to ensure no violence,” district judge Amanda Woodcock said as she handed down jail sentences to the eight activists.
China has responded to the democracy rallies with a broad clampdown on Hong Kong, including the imposition of a sweeping national security law that outlaws much dissent.
Hong Kong authorities on Thursday banned the annual June 4 vigil marking Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, with security minister John Lee warning the security law could be used against those who defy the ban.
More than 10,000 people were arrested during Hong Kong’s democracy protests, with around 2,500 convicted for various offenses.
Most of the city’s prominent democracy leaders are either under arrest, in jail or have fled overseas.
More than 100 people, including Lai, have been charged under the security law, which carries up to life in jail.
Those handed jail terms on Friday are from the more moderate wing of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. Four were already serving jail sentences for taking part in protests.
Many of them have spent decades advocating non-violence in their ultimately fruitless campaign for universal suffrage.
Figo Chan, for example, was a key figure in the Civil Human Rights Front, the coalition that organized some of the largest rallies of 2019 when hundreds of thousands turned up.
Supporters chanted “Add oil!” — a Chinese phrase of encouragement — as the group were led into court on Friday.
At a mitigation hearing earlier in the week, Chan accused Hong Kong’s unelected leaders of failing to give citizens an avenue to voice their dissatisfaction.
“If the government listened to people’s demands, then it would not be necessary for the people to use violence to get the government to respond,” he told the court.
Lee Cheuk-yan, 63, said he had no regrets about the prospect of going to jail.
“For over 40 years I have strived for democratic reform in China,” he told the court.
“This is my unrequited love, the love for my country with such a heavy heart.”
China says the clampdown and security law is needed to return stability.
It has dismissed the democracy demands and says the protests were instigated by “foreign forces” who want to undermine China.
Many Western nations say Beijing has shredded its promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain freedoms and autonomy under a “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement agreed before the city’s 1997 handover.


Afghan survivors of US drone strike: Sorry ‘is not enough’

Afghan survivors of US drone strike: Sorry ‘is not enough’
Updated 18 September 2021

Afghan survivors of US drone strike: Sorry ‘is not enough’

Afghan survivors of US drone strike: Sorry ‘is not enough’
  • The driver of the targeted vehicle, Zemerai Ahmadi, was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization
  • US Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, called the strike a ‘tragic mistake’

KABUL, Afghanistan: Sorry is not enough for the Afghan survivors of an errant US drone strike that killed 10 members of their family, including seven children.
Emal Ahmadi, whose 3-year-old daughter Malika was killed on Aug. 29, when the US hellfire missile struck his elder brother’s car, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the family demands Washington investigate who fired the drone and punish the military personnel responsible for the strike.
“That is not enough for us to say sorry,” said Ahmadi. “The USA. should find the person who did this.”
Ahmadi said the family is also seeking financial compensation for their losses and demanded that several members of the family be relocated to a third country, without specifying which country.
The AP and other news organizations in Kabul reported after the strike that the driver of the targeted vehicle, Zemerai Ahmadi, was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and cited an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon’s assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.
The missile struck as the car was pulling into the family’s driveway and the children ran to greet Zemerai.
On Friday, US Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, called the strike a “tragic mistake,” and after weeks of denials, said that innocent civilians were indeed killed in the attack and not a Daesh extremist as was announced earlier.
The drone strike followed a devastating suicide bombing by the Daesh group — a rival of the Taliban — that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel at one of the gates to the Kabul airport. For days, desperate Afghans had swarmed the checkpoints outside the airport, trying to leave the country amid the chaotic US and NATO troops pullout, fearing for their future under the Taliban.
McKenzie apologized for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims.
Emal Ahmadi, who said he heard of the apology from friends in America, insisted that it won’t bring back members of his family and while he expressed relief for the US apology and recognition that his family were innocent victims, he said he was frustrated that it took weeks of pleading with Washington to at least make a call to the family.
Even as evidence mounted to the contrary, Pentagon officials asserted that the strike had been conducted correctly, to protect the US troops remaining at Kabul’s airport ahead of the final pullout the following day, on Aug. 30.
Looking exhausted, sitting in front of the charred ruins of Zemarai’s car, Ahmadi said he wanted more than an apology form the United States — he wanted justice, including an investigation into who carried out the strike “and I want him punished by the USA.”
In the days before the Pentagon’s apology, accounts from the family, documents from colleagues seen by The AP and the scene at the family home — where Zemerai’s car was struck by the missile — all sharply contradicted the accounts by the US military. Instead, they painted the picture of a family that had worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the US, fearing for their lives under the Taliban.
Zemerai was the family’s breadwinner had looked after his three brothers, including Emal, and their children.
“Now I am then one who is responsible for all my family and I am jobless,” said Emal Ahmadi. The situation “is not good,” said Ahmadi of life under the Taliban. International aid groups and the United Nations have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis that could drive most Afghans below the poverty level.
McKenzie said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief” — based on a standard of “reasonable certainty” — that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at the Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said.
But Ahmadi wondered how the his family’s home could have been mistaken for a Daesh hideout.
“The USA. can see from everywhere,” he said of US drone capabilities. “They can see that there were innocent children near the car and in the car. Whoever did this should be punished.”
“It isn’t right,” he added.


Indonesia's most wanted militant killed in shootout

Indonesia's most wanted militant killed in shootout
Updated 18 September 2021

Indonesia's most wanted militant killed in shootout

Indonesia's most wanted militant killed in shootout
  • The East Indonesia Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several killings of police officers and minority Christians
  • Security operations in Central Sulawesi have intensified in recent months to try to capture members of the network

PALU, Indonesia: Indonesia’s most wanted militant with ties to Daesh was killed Saturday in a gunbattle with security forces, the military said, in a victory for the counterterrorism campaign against extremists in the jungles of Sulawesi island.
Ali Kalora was one of two militants killed in the shootout, said Central Sulawesi’s regional military chief Brig. Gen. Farid Makruf. He identified the other suspected extremist as Jaka Ramadan.
The two men were fatally shot during a raid late Saturday by a joint team of military and police officers in Central Sulawesi province’s mountainous Parigi Moutong district, Makruf said. It borders Poso district, considered an extremist hotbed in the province.
“Ali Kalora was the most wanted terrorist and leader of MIT,” Makruf said, referring to the Indonesian acronym of the East Indonesia Mujahideen network, a militant group that claims allegiance to Daesh. He said that security forces were searching for the four remaining members of the group.
The East Indonesia Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several killings of police officers and minority Christians.
Security operations in Central Sulawesi have intensified in recent months to try to capture members of the network, particularly targeting Ali Kalora, the group’s leader. 

Kalora had eluded capture for more than a decade. He took over from Abu Wardah Santoso, who was killed by security forces in July 2016. Dozens of other leaders and members of the group have been killed or captured since then.
In May, the militants killed four Christians in a village in Poso district, including one who was beheaded. Authorities said the attack was in revenge for the killing in March of two militants, including Santoso's son.
Makruf said that rugged terrain and darkness have hampered efforts to evacuate the two bodies from the scene of the shootout in the forested village of Astina. He said the bodies of Kaloran and his follower will be taken by helicopter on Sunday morning for further investigation and identification.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has kept up a crackdown on militants since bombings on the tourist island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
Attacks on foreigners have been largely replaced by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, police and anti-terrorism forces.

 


At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media

At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media
Updated 18 September 2021

At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media

At least 2 dead in blasts in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad: health official, media

JALALABAD: At least two people were killed and 19 more were wounded in separate explosions in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, according to a health official and local media.
The attacks, which targeted Taliban vehicles, are the first deadly blasts since the new government was established in Afghanistan.
A health official at a hospital in the city confirmed the death toll to AFP.

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France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’

France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’
Updated 18 September 2021

France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’

France says Australia-US submarine deal ‘huge mistake’
  • The deal scraps a 90 billion Australian dollar contract with French majority state-owned Naval Group,

CANBERRA, Australia: France’s ambassador to Australia has described as a “huge mistake” Australia’s surprise cancelation of a major submarine contract in favor of a US deal, as the diplomat prepared to leave the country in an unprecedented show of anger among the allies.
French envoy Jean-Pierre Thebault delivered his comments Saturday as he left his residence in the capital of Canberra.
“This has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership,” Thebault said, explaining that the arms agreement between Paris and Canberra was supposed to be based “on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity.”
Paris recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States on Friday to protest a deal among the United States, Australia and Britain to supply Australia with a fleet of at least eight nuclear-power submarines.
The deal scraps a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) contract with French majority state-owned Naval Group, signed in 2016, to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.
“I would like to be able to run into a time machine and be in a situation where we don’t end up in such an incredible, clumsy, inadequate, un-Australian situation,” the French ambassador added.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office earlier had issued a statement responding to the diplomat’s recall and noting Canberra’s “regret” over its ally’s withdrawal of its representative.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,” the statement said. It added that Australia values its relationship with France and looked forward to future engagements together.
Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their US counterparts and their first with President Joe Biden’s administration.
Before he was recalled, French envoy Thebault said on Friday he found out about the US submarine deal: “Like everybody, thanks to the Australian press.”
“We never were informed about any substantial changes,” Thebault said. “There were many opportunities and many channels. Never was such a change mentioned.”
After the US deal was made public this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he told French President Emanuel Macron in June that there were “very real issues about whether a conventional submarine capability” would address Australia’s strategic security needs in the Indo-Pacific.
Morrison has not specifically referred to China’s massive military buildup which had gained pace in recent years.
Morrison was in Paris on his way home from a Group of Seven nations summit in Britain where he had talks with soon-to-be-alliance partners Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Thebault said he had also been at the meeting with Macron and Morrison.
Morrison mentioned “there were changes in the regional situation,” but gave no indication that Australia was considering changing to nuclear propulsion, Thebault said.
“Everything was supposed to be done in full transparency between the two partners,” he added.
Thebault said difficulties the project had encountered were normal for its scale and large transfers of technologies.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday that recalling the two ambassadors, on request from Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.
Le Drian said Australia’s decision to scrap the submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with US technology is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
Senior opposition lawmaker Mark Dreyfus called on the Australian government to fix its relationship with France.
“The impact on our relationship with France is a concern, particularly as a country with important interests in our region,” Dreyfus said.
“The French were blindsided by this decision and Mr. Morrison should have done much more to protect the relationship,” he added.


Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270
Updated 18 September 2021

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270

Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270
  • In Sydney, riot squad officers, highway patrol, detectives and general duties police were deployed

MELBOURNE: Australia’s police arrested 235 people in Melbourne and 32 in Sydney on Saturday at unsanctioned anti-lockdown rallies and several police officers were injured in clashes with protesters.
Victoria police said six officers required hospitalization. Several officers were knocked to the ground and trampled, the police said and television footage showed.
About 700 people managed to gather in parts of Melbourne, as 2,000 officers made the city center virtually a no-go zone, setting up checkpoints and barricades. Public transport and ride shares into the city were suspended.
In Sydney, riot squad officers, highway patrol, detectives and general duties police were also deployed to the streets, preventing large gatherings.
Australia has been grappling with an outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus since mid-June, with both Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, in strict lockdowns for weeks now. On Saturday, there were 1,882 new coronavirus cases reported, most of them in Sydney.
Most of the restrictions in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra are to remain until at least 70 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, which based on the current pace of inoculations could be in late October or early November.
A high rate of compliance with public health orders has helped Australia keep the number of infections relatively low, with just under 85,000 total cases and 1,145 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The vast majority of Australians support vaccinations and the public health measures, but there have been sporadic and sometimes violent protests against the management of the pandemic.
“It was extremely disappointing to see another example of a small minority of the community showing a complete disregard for the health and safety of not only police, but each and every other Victorian,” Victoria Police said in a statement.