Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests
Police cars patrol a street in an area where a message that circulated online called on people to gather for a protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Beijing, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 November 2022

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests
  • Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong
  • Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance

BEIJING: Chinese universities sent students home and police fanned out in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent more protests Tuesday after crowds angered by severe anti-virus restrictions called for leader Xi Jinping to resign.
This is the biggest show of public dissent in decades.
Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong — but maintained they would stick to a “zero-COVID” strategy that has confined millions of people to their homes for months at a time.
Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance.
With police out in force, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major mainland cities that saw crowds rally over the weekend. Those were the most widespread protests since the army crushed the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.
In Hong Kong, about a dozen people, mostly from the mainland, protested at a university.
Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students rallied over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home. The schools said they were being protected from COVID-19, but dispersing them to far-flung hometowns also reduces the likelihood of more demonstrations. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism including the Tiananmen protests.
On Sunday, Tsinghua students were told they could go home early for the semester. The school, which is Xi’s alma mater, arranged buses to take them to the train station or airport.
Nine student dorms at Tsinghua were closed Monday after some students positive for COVID-19, according to one who noted the closure would make it hard for crowds to gather. The student gave only his surname, Chen, for fear of retribution from authorities.
Beijing Forestry University also said it would arrange for students to return home. It said its faculty and students all tested negative for the virus.
Universities said classes and final exams would be conducted online.
Authorities hope to “defuse the situation” by clearing out campuses, said Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago.
Depending on how tough a position the government takes, groups might take turns protesting, he said.
Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid drawing attention to the scale of the protests or encouraging others. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were deleted by the ruling party’s vast online censorship apparatus.
There were no announcements about detentions, though reporters saw protesters taken away by police and social media posts said people were in custody or missing.
Police warned some detained protesters against demonstrating again.
In Shanghai, police stopped pedestrians and checked their phones Monday night, according to a witness, possibly looking for apps such as Twitter that are banned in China or images of protests. The witness, who insisted on anonymity for fear of arrest, said he was on his way to a protest but found no crowd there when he arrived.
Images viewed by The Associated Press of photos from a weekend protest showed police shoving people into cars. Some people were also swept up in police raids after demonstrations ended.
One person who lived near the site of a protest in Shanghai was detained Sunday and held until Tuesday morning, according to two friends who insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution from authorities.
In Beijing, police on Monday visited a resident who attended a protest the previous night, according to a friend who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation. He said the police questioned the resident and warned him not to go to more protests.
On Tuesday, protesters at the University of Hong Kong chanted against virus restrictions and held up sheets of paper with critical slogans. Some spectators joined in their chants.
The protesters held signs that read, “Say no to COVID panic” and “No dictatorship but democracy.”
One chanted: “We’re not foreign forces but your classmates.” Chinese authorities often try to discredit domestic critics by saying they work for foreign powers.
China’s “zero-COVID” policy has helped keep case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries, but global health experts have increasingly criticized the methods as unsustainable.
Beijing needs to make its approach “very targeted” to reduce economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.
“We see the importance of moving away from massive lockdowns,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in Berlin. “So that targeting allows to contain the spread of COVID without significant economic costs.”
“Zero COVID” means few Chinese have been exposed to the virus. Meanwhile, elderly vaccination rates lag other countries as seniors decline the shots, and China’s domestically developed vaccines are less effective than those used abroad.
Public tolerance of the onerous restrictions has eroded as some people confined at home said they struggled to get access to food and medicine.
The Chinese Communist Party promised last month to reduce disruptions, but a spike in infections has prompted cities to tighten controls.
The protests over the weekend were sparked by anger over the deaths of at least 10 people in a fire in China’s far west last week that prompted angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by anti-virus controls.
Most protesters over the weekend complained about excessive restrictions, but some turned their anger at Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s.
In a video that was verified by The Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” Such direct criticism of Xi is unprecedented.
Sympathy protests were held overseas, and foreign governments have called on Beijing for restraint.
“We support the right of people everywhere to peacefully protest, to make known their views, their concerns, their frustrations,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Bucharest, Romania.
Meanwhile, the British government summoned China’s ambassador as a protest over the arrest and beating of a BBC cameraman in Shanghai.
Media freedom “is something very, very much at the heart of the UK’s belief system,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian disputed the British version of events. Zhao said the journalist, Edward Lawrence, failed to identify himself and accused the BBC of twisting the story.
Asked about criticism of the crackdown, Zhao defended Beijing’s anti-virus strategy and said the public’s legal rights were protected by law.
The government is trying to “provide maximum protection to people’s lives and health while minimizing the COVID impact on social and economic development,” he said.
Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 demonstrations who lives in exile, said the protest “symbolizes the beginning of a new era in China ... in which Chinese civil society has decided not to be silent and to confront tyranny.”
But he warned at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, that authorities were likely to respond with “stronger force to violently suppress protesters.”


Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police
Updated 28 January 2023

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

NEW DELHI: Two Indian Air Force fighter jets crashed Saturday in an apparent mid-air collision while on exercises around 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of the capital New Delhi, police at the crash site told AFP.
Both aircraft had taken off in the morning from the Gwailor air base, around 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of where they came down.
“We have located the wreckage of one of the planes and found an injured pilot in the Pahadgarh forests,” officer Dharmender Gaur told AFP from the scene of the crash.
“The other plane has likely fallen further away from the site and we have sent teams to locate it.”
The air force was investigating whether the planes had collided in mid-air, local broadsheet the Hindustan Times reported.
The Su-30 was carrying two pilots and the Mirage jet had one on takeoff, according to the report.
“I have instructed the local administration to cooperate with the air force in quick rescue and relief work,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted.
“I pray to god that the pilots of the planes are safe.”
The crash is the latest in a string of aviation accidents involving India’s military air fleet.
Five army soldiers were killed last October when their helicopter crashed in Arunachal Pradesh state, near the country’s militarised and disputed border with China.
It was the second military chopper crash in the state that month, coming weeks after a Cheetah helicopter came down near the town of Tawang, killing its pilot.
India’s defense chief, General Bipin Rawat, was among 13 people killed when his Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed while transporting him to an air force base in December 2021.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is grappling with the urgent task of overhauling India’s outdated armed forces.
Its military establishment is fretting over a growing assertiveness by China along its vast Himalayan frontier, which in 2019 sparked a lingering diplomatic freeze after a deadly high-altitude confrontation between troops of both countries.
India unveiled its first locally built aircraft carrier last year as part of government efforts to build an indigenous defense industry and reduce reliance on Russia, historically its most important arms supplier.
An effort to reform military recruitment to trim down India’s bloated defense payroll stalled last year after a backlash from aspiring soldiers, who burned train carriages and clashed with police in fierce protests.

Related


Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
Updated 28 January 2023

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
  • “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” says US Air Mobility Command chief
  • Says Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer China an excuse for military aggression

WASHINGTON: A four-star US Air Force general has warned of a conflict with China as early as 2025 — most likely over Taiwan — and urged his commanders to push their units to achieve maximum operational battle readiness this year.
In an internal memorandum that first emerged on social media on Friday, and was later confirmed as genuine by the Pentagon, the head of the Air Mobility Command, General Mike Minihan, said the main goal should be to deter “and, if required, defeat” China.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” Minihan said.
Laying out his reasoning, Minihan said Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer Chinese President Xi Jinping an excuse for military aggression, while the United States would be distracted by its own contest for the White House.
“Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025,” he added.
The memorandum also calls on all Mobile Command personnel to go to the firing range, “fire a clip” into a target and “aim for the head.”
A Pentagon spokesperson responded to an AFP email query about the memo saying, “Yes, it’s factual that he sent that out.”
Senior US officials have said in recent months that China appears to be speeding up its timeframe to seize control of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.
China staged major military exercises in August last year, seen as a trial run for an invasion after a defiant visit of solidarity to Taipei by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at the time was second in line to the White House.
The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but sells weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense.
A growing number of US lawmakers have called for ramping up assistance, including sending direct military aid to Taiwan, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the need for early preparation.
 


Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
Updated 28 January 2023

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
  • Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Friday named his former top Covid-19 aide Jeff Zients to White House chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in an administration gearing up for a likely re-election campaign.
Zients replaces Ron Klain, who saw Biden through the first two years of his term in the post, arguably the most powerful behind-the-scenes job in any US administration. The swap will take place on February 8, a day after Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
The departure of Klain, who has worked with Biden throughout his decades-long Washington career — from senator to vice president, then victor over Donald Trump in 2020 — will deprive the 80-year-old president of an especially close, trusted aide.
Chiefs of staff do everything from managing access to the president, setting his agenda, communicating with political power brokers and acting as a constant crisis manager and sounding board for ideas.
“During the last 36 years, Ron and I have been through some real battles together. And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Ron, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain is credited with masterminding the intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and lawmakers in Congress that has seen Biden get a string of landmark bills passed, often against expectations in the last two years.
Until November’s midterm elections, Democrats held a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress and Klain was instrumental in preventing the various party factions from splitting at key moments.
On Twitter, Biden described Klain as a “once in a generation talent with fierce intellect and heart.”

Zients, who oversaw the vast Covid-19 pandemic response when Biden took office, is considered a skilled technocrat, who does not have the deep political connections of Klain but will aim to make sure that the earlier legislative victories are followed through.
“A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does,” Biden said. “I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership.”
Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024.
Zients will also be taking over just as Republicans flex their muscles in the House of Representatives, where they won their own tiny majority in November. With the hard-right of the party in the ascendant, Biden is due to face a series of aggressive investigations into his policies and the business activities of his son Hunter.
Biden is also currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe after the discovery of a small number of classified documents in his house and at a former office. The White House says the documents were accidentally mislaid after Biden’s time as vice president to Barack Obama.
Trump is also under investigation for handling secret documents, although in his case they number in the hundreds and the Republican repeatedly refused to cooperate with authorities on the matter.

 


Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
Updated 28 January 2023

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
  • Jullebee Ranara’s charred remains were discovered in a desert in Kuwait on Sunday
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases

MANILA: The murder of a Filipina worker whose body was found in a desert in Kuwait has sent a shockwave through the Philippines, where a two-week vigil will begin after her remains return to the country on Friday.

Jullebee Ranara, 35, was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers — mostly women employed as domestic helpers — living in Kuwait.

Her charred remains were discovered in a desert on Sunday. Kuwaiti media reported that she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by Kuwaiti police on murder charges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople declined to comment on the causes of Ranara’s death until after the National Bureau of Investigation has conducted an autopsy.  

“There are many speculations as to the cause of death and motives behind it. The family has requested for an autopsy,” she said in a media briefing on Friday.

“What is important is the police acted quickly. The primary suspect is under the custody of the Kuwaiti police, and we are closely monitoring the case.”

A vigil for Ranara is going to begin after her remains are repatriated on Friday evening.

“We are hopeful that her wake will start by Sunday,” Ople told reporters.

“According to the husband, they would like the wake scheduled for two weeks to give time for relatives and friends who are in the province to pay their respect.”

The news of her death was “dreadful” for former OFWs like Maria Nida Dizon.

“What they did to her is inhuman. She went to Kuwait to work, carrying in her suitcase every hope for a better life, only to meet a gruesome death,” she told Arab News.     

FASTFACT

In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases.

“Based on my own experience, protection for OFWs, especially when it comes to our rights, is hardly felt by migrant workers. There is no guarantee that justice will be given to them when they get abused.”

Dizon, who used to work in the UAE, did not think that Ranara’s case would deter Philippine workers from seeking employment abroad, where they can earn much more than at home.

“Many cases of abuse have been reported, but our countrymen still want to try (to work abroad), especially women, mothers mostly,” she said.

“They think that they can help the family more if they work outside.”

While the migrant workers secretary said Philippine authorities would work with Kuwait to introduce better screening and accreditation mechanisms for employers, Rick Hernandez, a local administration worker in Manila, was now sure he would prevent his family members from working as domestic helpers abroad.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially our women, are willing to brave harsh climes and abusive employers just to provide for their loved ones,” he said.

“As a father and husband, I would rather starve here rather than send my daughter or wife to toil as menials in a faraway country.”   

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh said on Friday that Kuwaiti society was also “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ople.

“We assure you that such an incident is an isolated case.”

Ranara’s murder, however, was not the first such incident in Kuwait that shook the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment.     

The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.   

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another one, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death.   

The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.

 


Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Updated 28 January 2023

Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)

COPENHAGEN: After pledging all 19 of its French-made Caesar howitzers to Ukraine, Denmark is in talks with Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems for new mobile artillery to plug a “critical gap.”
The Defense Ministry said that negotiations were on “with the manufacturer Elbit Systems for the delivery of ATMOS artillery pieces and PULS rocket launcher systems as soon as possible.”
The equipment could be delivered this year, the government said.
“The rocket launchers complement the new artillery systems,” the ministry said.

BACKGROUND

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.
But deliveries have been delayed and only a few have arrived. All of them have been pledged to Ukraine.
The system can carry 36 155 mm shells and reach targets at distances of up to 40 km.
ATMOS can fire six shots per minute and can be mounted on most off-road 8X8 trucks.
The next acquisitions are “important for Denmark’s defense and for Denmark to be able to meet its NATO commitments,” Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said.
“The donation to Ukraine leaves a critical capability gap in defense,” he said.
According to Danish media, Nexter advised Denmark against changing suppliers, saying it could provide new artillery.
“Caesar has proven itself on the battlefield in Ukraine, Danish soldiers can use them and the parts are compatible with Danish military IT systems,” a spokesman for the group said.