Portland police arrest 11 after overnight protests

(Reuters) – Police arrested 11 people in Portland as protests continued to take place after 100 days of demonstrations in the Oregon city against racism and police brutality.

Tuesday night, a group began gathering at the site of the Saturday Market and marched in the street to the area of Transit Police Department offices, the police said in a statement.

As the crowd arrived, some stood on the train rails, which interfered with trains getting through the area. Other members of the group stood in the street, blocking vehicular traffic, the police added.

The police said they ordered the demonstrators to disperse. Some adhered while others continued to march around in the streets and threw projectiles such as eggs and water bottles toward officers.

Portland police said they used some munitions to control the crowd but no CS gas, the main component of tear gas.

The police did not mention any injuries but said they made 11 arrests on charges such as interfering with a peace officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and attempting escape.

Portland has seen nightly protests for over three months that have at times turned into violent clashes between demonstrators and officers, as well as between right- and left-wing groups.

Demonstrations erupted around the United States following the death in May of George Floyd, a Black man, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Portland Police declare ‘riot’ after officers attacked

(Reuters) – Portland Police declared a gathering of protesters as a “riot” late on Sunday after saying its officers were attacked with lasers, rocks and bottles.

In a Twitter post, the police asked the gathering in the U.S. city’s North Precinct to disperse, adding that failure to comply with the order could lead to arrests and crowd control agents including tear gas and impact weapons.

Police had also declared a riot just before midnight on Saturday after a group of about 250 people – many of them wearing black and carrying shields, helmets and gas masks – tried to march on a government building that has often been the scene of violence during nearly three months of nightly protests.

Police made 14 arrests in that event.

Demonstrations against racism and police brutality have swept the United States since the death in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

President Donald Trump’s administration in July deployed federal forces to deal with the protests in Portland.

On Friday, he denounced the demonstrations as “crazy” and said cities run by Democrats had descended into chaos. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is a Democrat.

Portland police said last week that they had declared riots 17 times between May 29 and Aug. 19.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Chopra)

After more than a week of protests, four Minneapolis police officers face charges

By Brendan O’Brien

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – A fired Minneapolis police officer will face a more serious murder charge and three other sacked officers will be charged as aiding and abetting in the death of an unarmed black man that triggered eight days of nationwide protest, court documents said on Wednesday.

George Floyd, 46, died after Derek Chauvin, a white policeman, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25, reigniting the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans five months before a presidential election.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is charging Chauvin, 44, with second-degree murder in addition to the third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges leveled against him last week, according to court documents.

The new charge can carry a sentence of up to 40 years, 15 years longer than the maximum sentence for third-degree murder.

The other three former officers who were involved in the incident – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – face charges of aiding and abetting murder and arrest warrants have been issued by Ellison, according to the documents.

Ellison, a black former U.S. congressman, has requested that bail be set at $1 million for each of the four former officers, the documents showed. Ellison was expected to hold a briefing later on Wednesday.

When reached by Reuters over the phone, Earl Gray, the attorney for Lane, said he had not received any information on the charges yet. Attorneys for the other officers who are being charged did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“This is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest,” Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Floyd family, said in a statement.

He later told CNN that Chauvin should be facing a first-degree murder charge, and that Ellison had informed Floyd’s family that the investigation is ongoing and other charges could be filed.

Protesters who have vented their anger over Floyd’s death in sometimes violent demonstrations in major U.S. cities over the past week had demanded the case be widened to include all the officers who were present during the incident.

“This is another important step for justice,” said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is from Minnesota and a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election.

Tens of thousands of people defied curfews and took to the streets of cities coast to coast for an eighth night in protest over Floyd’s death and brutality against other black Americans.

Authorities took the unusual step of ordering the curfews, and bands of police in riot gear and other heavily armed officers patrolled, ringing landmarks and shouting at protesters while helicopters roared overhead.

While most protests have been peaceful, there was less looting and vandalism overnight, and clashes between police and protesters were more sporadic.

The protests have highlighted the issues of racial inequality and excessive police force in a country that will go to the polls on Nov. 3 to decide whether to give Republican President Donald Trump another term in the White House.

Trump has said justice must be done in Floyd’s case but also touted a hard line on the violent protests, threatening to use the military to end the chaos. Biden has vowed to heal the racial divide in the nation if he is elected.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani, Rich McKay, Jonathan Allen, Sharon Bernstein, Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Nick Macfie, Howard Goller)

Residents take coronavirus surveillance into their own hands

By Thin Lei Win and Beh Lih Yi

ROME/KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A week after Malaysia ordered a partial lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, construction supervisor Hafi Nazhan saw residents in his affluent Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood jogging outside.

He took photos of people flouting the stay-at-home order and published them on Twitter, receiving hundreds of shares. Hafi’s followers informed the police, who subsequently arrested 11 joggers in his neighbourhood.

They were charged with violating the movement restriction order and each fined 1,000 ringgit ($230) in court.

“I was upset some people did not take this stay-at-home order seriously. These are well-educated people,” Hafi, 26, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that police were spurred into taking action after his tweets went viral.

As governments around the world urge citizens to stay indoors to contain the deadly virus, concerned communities are taking surveillance matters into their own hands, reporting alleged breaches of quarantine and questioning anyone they deem suspicious.

The respiratory disease – which emerged in China late last year – has infected roughly 1.2 million people and killed about 65,000, according to a global tally by Johns Hopkins University.

In Singapore, a Facebook post by a man sharing a photo of himself enjoying a bowl of bak kut teh – pork rib soup – in a restaurant when he should be self-quarantining at home was so widely circulated that officials stepped in.

Singapore’s law minister ordered an investigation and the immigration authorities told local media the man was likely to be charged, although they did not respond to requests seeking comment.

In New Zealand, which is under a one-month shutdown, a police website set up to allow residents to report their neighbours who break isolation rules crashed hours after going live.

The website has received about 14,000 reports in less than a week since its March 29 launch, New Zealand police said in an email. They reportedly include people playing frisbee and holding parties.

In Italy, which has been under lockdown for weeks, fraying tempers have led to people being insulted from balconies or photographed and put on social media.

In Spain, locals have also begun posting videos of people going for a run, walking in the park, riding a bike – all prohibited activities – on social media.

HEALTH VS. PRIVACY

Such tip-offs and videos have sparked a debate over digital ethics with some arguing that normal privacy rules do not apply in a health emergency because the information is in the public interest.

“When we are all threatened with the risk of catching a lethal, incurable disease I see no reason why individuals should not report their legitimate concerns to the authorities,” said David Watts, former privacy commissioner for Australia’s Victoria state.

“There is not much point having privacy rights when you are dead,” added Watts, who now teaches information law and policy at Melbourne-based La Trobe University.

For David Lindsay, law professor at the University of Technology Sydney, privacy is “not an absolute right and must always be balanced against other rights and interests”.

“The balance struck obviously depends upon circumstances, and a global pandemic is an extreme event,” he said.

Still, both Watts and Lindsay said the balance between privacy and surveillance should be reset when the pandemic is over.

Others, like Joseph Cannataci, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to privacy, fear surveillance measures ranging from facial recognition to phone tracking could outlast the current crisis.

“Dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.

STIGMA AND FEAR

Community surveillance could also end up being used “in a malicious way, particularly to replicate prejudice or bias”, warned Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at digital rights group Access Now.

“Often the people who might be reported on will be the least privileged, or might be belong to, in the case of India, lower caste communities or people who have to work outside,” he said.

Human rights experts worry that the tens of thousands of migrant workers who returned to Myanmar after a shutdown in neighbouring Thailand’s left them jobless will come under intense scrutiny.

In a village in central Myanmar, locals would not allow a young man who returned from Thailand to stay in his home, said Khin Zaw Win, a Yangon-based political analyst.

Foreigners have also been targeted on social media, with a Facebook video showing agitated residents in a neighbourhood in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, who described barging into a building after seeing Chinese visitors coughing.

Filmed Tuesday night, it has received more than 1 million views and 10,000 shares.

“The public is being very sensitive at the moment … when the key in this kind of situation is that you should help each other,” said Khin Zaw Win.

“Some of it have to do with the narrative that (coronavirus) was brought here from abroad. I think the panic is even scarier than the virus,” he added.

Myanmar so far has about 20 confirmed cases of the virus, with the health ministry warning of a “major outbreak” after the return of migrant workers from Thailand.

Officials have also reminded the public that failure to report people suspected of being infected could lead to jail sentences of up to a month.

“From the point of view of public health, surveillance and tracking is essential. The faster and the more effectively you can enforce it, the better,” said Sid Naing, Myanmar country director for health charity Marie Stopes International.

“But it should not be done in a way that breeds hatred and fear. It should be done based on understanding and support,” he said.

“At the moment, the state cannot provide full surveillance so people started doing it themselves because they are terrified … but there are stigma and discrimination behind the fear and those are the problems.”

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink and Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, additional reporting from Sophie Davies in Barcelona, editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Iran makes arrests over plane disaster as protests rage on

By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it had arrested people accused of a role in shooting down a Ukrainian airliner and had also detained 30 people involved in protests that have swept the nation for four days since the military belatedly admitted its error.

Wednesday’s shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, killing all 176 people aboard, has led to one of the biggest public challenges to the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers since they took power four decades ago.

In a step that will increase diplomatic pressure, Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute mechanism to challenge Iran for breaching limits on its nuclear program under an agreement which Washington abandoned in 2018.

Since the United States killed Iran’s most powerful military commander in a drone strike on Jan. 3, Tehran has faced escalating confrontation with the West and unrest at home, both reaching levels with little precedent in its modern history.

Iran shot down the airliner on Wednesday when its military was on high alert, hours after it had fired missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq. After days of denying a role in the air crash, it admitted it on Saturday, calling it a tragic mistake.

Protesters, many of them students, have held daily demonstrations since then, chanting “Clerics get lost!” and calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in power for more than 30 years.

Police have responded to some protests with a violent crackdown, video posts on social media showed. Footage showed police beating protesters with batons, wounded people being carried, pools of blood on the streets and the sound of gunfire.

Iran’s police denied firing at protesters. The judiciary said 30 people had been detained in the unrest but said the authorities would show tolerance toward “legal protests”.

‘WHERE IS JUSTICE?’

Video posts on Tuesday showed scores gathered peacefully at two Tehran universities. “Where is justice?” one group chanted.

The extent of the unrest is difficult to assess because of limits on independent reporting. Demonstrations tend to gather momentum later in the day and clashes have been at night.

President Hassan Rouhani promised a thorough investigation into the “unforgivable error” of shooting down the plane. He spoke in a television address on Tuesday, the latest in a series of apologies from a leadership that rarely admits mistakes.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had been arrested, although he did not say how many or identify them.

Most of those on board the flight were Iranians or dual nationals. Canada, Ukraine, Britain and other nations who had citizens on the plane have scheduled a meeting on Thursday in London to consider legal action against Tehran.

The disaster and subsequent unrest comes amid one of the biggest escalations between Tehran and Washington since 1979.

Missiles launched at a U.S. base in Iraq killed an American contractor in December, an attack Washington blamed on an Iran-backed group. Confrontation eventually led to the U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 that killed Qassem Soleimani, architect of Iran’s regional network of proxy militias.

Iran’s government was already reeling from the reimposition of sanctions by the United States, which quit an agreement with world powers under which Tehran would secure sanctions relief in return for scaling back its nuclear program.

SEEKING COMPLIANCE

Since Washington withdrew, Tehran has stepped back from its nuclear commitments and has said it would no longer recognize limits on enriching uranium. After months of threatening to act, European signatories to the deal, France, Britain and Germany, activated the agreement’s dispute mechanism on Tuesday.

The European Union’s top diplomat said the European move aimed to bring Tehran bank to compliance, not impose sanctions.

Iran’s leaders have been facing a powerful combination of pressure both at home and abroad.

Just two months ago, Iran’s authorities put down anti-government protests, killing hundreds of demonstrators in what is believed to be the most violent crackdown on unrest since the 1979 revolution.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, where Iran has wielded influence through a network of allied movements and proxies, governments that include powerful Iran-sponsored armed factions have faced months of hostile demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran’s president said in his address that those responsible for shooting down the plane would be punished, describing the military’s admission of its mistake “a good first step.”

Rouhani also said the government would be accountable to Iranians and those nations who lost citizens. Iranian state television said aviation officials from Canada, which had 57 citizens on the doomed flight, as well as from Iran and Ukraine, met in Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the investigation.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff)

Mexico makes arrests in massacre of American women, children – minister

Mexico makes arrests in massacre of American women, children: minister
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has made an unspecified number of arrests over last week’s massacre of three women and six children of dual U.S-Mexican nationality in the north of the country, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said on Monday.

“There have been arrests, but it’s not up to us to give information,” Durazo told reporters in Mexico City.

The women and children from families of U.S. Mormon origin who settled in Mexico decades ago were killed last Monday on a remote dirt road in the state of Sonora by suspected drug cartel gunmen, sparking outrage and condemnation in the United States.

Durazo said that prosecutors in Sonora, as well as at the federal level, were in charge of the investigation.

However, a spokeswoman for the state government of Sonora said: “We don’t have that information.”

Mexico’s government has said it believes the victims were caught in the midst of a territorial dispute between an arm of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel and the rival Juarez Cartel.

On Sunday, Mexico’s government said it had asked the FBI to participate in the investigation into the killings.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Officials arrest 338 in child porn bust on dark web

Officials arrest 338 in child porn bust on dark web
By Andy Sullivan and Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Law enforcement officials said on Wednesday they had arrested hundreds of people worldwide after knocking out a South Korea-based dark web child pornography site that sold gruesome videos for digital cash.

Officials from the United States, Britain and South Korea described the network as one of the largest child pornography operations they had encountered to date.

Called Welcome To Video, the website relied on the bitcoin cryptocurrency to sell access to 250,000 videos depicting child sexual abuse, authorities said.

Officials have rescued at least 23 underage victims in the United States, Britain and Spain who were being actively abused by users of the site, the Justice Department said. Many children in the videos have not yet been identified.

The site’s vast library – nearly half of it consisting of images never seen before by law enforcement – is an illustration of what authorities say is an explosion of sexual abuse content online. In a statement, Britain’s National Crime Agency said officials were seeing “increases in severity, scale and complexity.”

Welcome To Video’s operator, a South Korean named Jong Woo Son, and 337 users in 12 different countries, have been charged so far, authorities said.

Son, currently serving an 18-month sentence in South Korea, was also indicted on federal charges in Washington.

Several other people charged in the case have already been convicted and are serving prison sentences of up to 15 years, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Welcome To Video is one of the first websites to monetize child pornography using bitcoin, which allows users to hide their identities during financial transactions.

Users were able to redeem the digital currency in return for “points” that they could spend downloading videos or buying all-you-can watch “VIP” accounts. Points could also be earned by uploading fresh child pornography.

‘BOTTOM FEEDERS OF CRIMINAL WORLD’

“These are the bottom feeders of the criminal world,” said Don Fort, chief of criminal investigation at the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which initiated the investigation.

The Justice Department said the site collected at least $370,000 worth of bitcoin before it was taken down in March 2018 and that the currency was laundered through three unnamed digital currency exchanges.

Darknet websites are designed to be all-but-impossible to locate online. How authorities managed to locate and bring down the site isn’t clear, with differing narratives by different law enforcement organizations on the matter.

Fort said the investigation was triggered by a tip to the IRS from a confidential source. However, Britain’s National Crime Agency said they came across the site during an investigation into a British academic who in October 2017 pleaded guilty  to blackmailing more than 50 people, including teenagers, into sending him depraved images that he shared online.

In a statement, British authorities said the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit deployed “specialist capabilities” to identify the server’s location. The NCA did not immediately return an email seeking clarification on the term, which is sometimes used as a euphemism for hacking.

The U.S. Justice Department gave a different explanation, saying that Welcome To Video’s site was leaking its server’s South Korean internet protocol address to the open internet.

Experts pointed to the bust as evidence that the trade in child abuse imagery could be tackled without subverting the encryption that keeps the rest of the internet safe.

Officials in the United States and elsewhere have recently begun prodding major technology firms  to come up with solutions that could allow law enforcement to bypass the encryption that protects messaging apps like WhatsApp or iMessage, citing the fight against child pornography as a major reason.

Welcome to Video’s demise “is a clear indication that in cases like this, where there’s very low-hanging fruit, breaking encryption is not required,” said Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

He said the bust showed that law enforcement could also track criminal activity that employs cryptocurrency transactions.

“There’s a lot of a people who have this perception that bitcoin is totally anonymous,” Parsons said, “and it’s been the downfall of many people in many investigations.”

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

Hong Kong set to enact emergency laws as it struggles to contain violence

By Clare Jim and Felix Tam

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s government is expected to discuss sweeping emergency laws on Friday that would include banning face masks at protests, two sources told Reuters, as the Chinese-ruled territory grapples with an escalating cycle of violence.

Authorities have already loosened guidelines on the use of force by police, according to documents seen by Reuters on Thursday, as they struggle to stamp out anti-government protests that have rocked Hong Kong for nearly four months.

The loosening of restrictions on the use of force by police came into effect just before some of the most violent turmoil yet at protests on Tuesday, when a teenaged secondary school student was shot by an officer in the chest and wounded – the first time a demonstrator had been hit by live fire.

More than 100 people were wounded, after police fired about 1,400 rounds of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets and six live rounds as protesters threw petrol bombs and wielded sticks.

The Beijing-backed local government was set to hold a meeting on Friday morning where it was likely to enact a colonial-era emergency law that has not been used in half a century, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Media reports earlier on Thursday of an expected ban on face masks – which hundreds of thousands of protesters wear to conceal their identities and shield themselves from tear gas – sent Hong Kong’s stock market up to a one-week high.

Growing opposition to the former British colony’s government has plunged the financial hub into its biggest political crisis in decades and poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power.

Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy in the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong returned to China in 1997.

China dismisses accusations it is meddling and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of stirring up anti-China sentiment.

As speculation of an emergency law swirled, riot police moved into districts across Hong Kong that have seen violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces in recent weeks, according to Telegram groups, a popular encrypted messaging app popular with protesters.

LIVE ROUNDS

Local media Now TV and Cable TV reported the changes to the police procedures manual took effect on Sept. 30, the day before Tuesday’s violence at widespread protests on China’s National Day, during which the student was shot.

Reuters could not confirm when the changes were made, but has seen police documents that showed changes to some guidelines on how officers could act when considering force.

The updated guidelines also removed a line that said “officers will be accountable for their own actions”, stating only that “officers on the ground should exercise their own discretion to determine what level of force is justified in a given situation”.

Police declined to comment when asked if amendments had been made to the manual.

“The guidelines on the use of force involve details of operation. It may affect the normal and effective operation of the police force and work of police on crime prevention if details are made public,” police said in a statement to Reuters.

Hong Kong’s police have long been admired for their professionalism compared with some forces elsewhere in Asia.

But the public has become increasingly hostile towards the force over past weeks amid accusations of heavy-handed tactics. Police say they have shown restraint.

The unrest, which began over opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, shows no sign of letting up.

Protesters, fired up over the shooting of the young man this week, are planning more demonstrations at shopping malls across 11 districts on Thursday night and throughout the weekend.

“HEINOUS CRIMES”

Elizabeth Quat, a lawmaker for a pro-Beijing political party, told a news conference the looming ban on face masks under a law giving police broad emergency powers was aimed at stopping “illegal assemblies”.

“This law is not targeting peaceful protesters. It is focused on targeting those rioters who have committed heinous crimes,” she said.

But pro-democracy lawmakers fear the emergency powers could be used to further curtail freedoms.

“To impose an anti-mask law in the current social condition is to further infuriate the people and will definitely be met with escalating violence,” lawmaker Fernando Cheung told Reuters. “This is no different than adding fuel to fire. The result will be riots.”

Goldman Sachs estimated this week that the city might have lost as much as $4 billion in deposits to rival banking center Singapore between June and August.

On Thursday, Lam Chi-wai, chairman of the Junior Police Officers Association, urged the city’s leader to impose a curfew to maintain public order.

“We cannot work alone – clapping only with one hand – without appropriate measures and support from top level,” Lam said.

TEENAGER CHARGED

Tony Tsang, the 18-year-old who was shot at close range as he fought an officer with what appeared to be a white pole on Tuesday, has since been charged with rioting, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence, and assaulting a police officer.

Tsang is in hospital in a stable condition and was not able to attend a court session on Thursday, but his lawyer appeared on his behalf. About 200 supporters turned up to watch the proceedings.

Separately, the lawyer for an Indonesian journalist injured when police fired a projectile during protests on Sunday said she had been blinded in one eye.

The European Union said in a statement it was deeply troubled by the escalation of violence and the only way forward was through “restraint, de-escalation and dialogue”.

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, James Pomfret and Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

Hong Kong mops up after fresh violence, braces for October 1 anniversary

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong cleaned up on Monday and train services in the city resumed, after another weekend of sometimes violent protests that saw pro-democracy activists vandalize a railway station and a shopping mall.

Nearly 50 people were arrested in the weekend clashes, police said, bringing the total number of arrested in the protests since June to 1,556.

The Chinese-rule territory is on edge ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on Oct. 1, with authorities eager to avoid scenes that could embarrass the central government in Beijing.

The Hong Kong government starts an official dialogue with community members this week in a bid to heal rifts in society and has already called off a big fireworks display to mark Oct. 1 in case of further clashes.

The former British colony also marks the fifth anniversary this weekend of the start of the “Umbrella” protests, a series of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 that failed to wrestle concessions from Beijing.

Activists plan to gather at so-called Lennon Walls, which feature anti-government messages and are named after the original John Lennon Wall in Communist-ruled Prague in the 1980s, in the heart of the financial center on Saturday and spread to different areas across Hong Kong island.

Another rally is planned on Sunday in the bustling shopping and tourist district of Causeway Bay, the site of some fierce recent clashes between police and protesters.

Police on Sunday fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the latest clashes in more than three months of unrest that has plunged the city into its worst political crisis in decades.

Forty-seven people, 42 males and five females aged between 14 and 64, were arrested.

The biggest of several clashes took place in or near Mass Transit Railway (MTR) stations, now a familiar target of attack because stations are often closed at the government’s behest to stop demonstrators from gathering.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered in the New Town Plaza in the New Territories town of Sha Tin on Sunday, chanting: “Fight for freedom” and “Liberate Hong Kong.”

Activists trampled on a Chinese flag near the train station and rounded on a man they believed had opposed them. Protesters also smashed video cameras and ticket booths in the station.

Some started to trash fittings at the entrance of the mall. The protesters then spilled outside where they set fire to barricades made of cardboard, broken palm trees and other debris.

MTR said on Monday train services had returned to normal.

China, which has a People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong, has said it has faith in Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to solve the crisis.

Demonstrators are frustrated at what they see as Beijing’s tightening grip over the Asian financial hub, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.

China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement and denies interfering.

Anti-government protesters, many masked and wearing black, have caused havoc since June, throwing petrol bombs at police, trashing metro stations, blocking airport roads and lighting street fires.

Scores of airlines wrote jointly to the Hong Kong government earlier this month to seek airport fee waivers as they struggle to deal with the financial fallout from the protests that have led to a sharp drop in traveler demand.

(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alex Richardson)

Hong Kong police break up new protest with rubber bullets, tear gas

Protesters erect the Lady Liberty Hong Kong statue during the "No White Terror No Chinazi" rally in Chater Garden, Hong Kong, China September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

By Marius Zaharia and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on Friday to clear protesters outside a subway station on the densely populated Kowloon peninsula, the latest clash in 14 weeks of sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations.

Hundreds of protesters, many of them masked and dressed in black, took cover behind umbrellas and barricades made from street fencing. Some had broken through a metal grill to enter the station where they pulled down signs, broke turnstiles and daubed graffiti on the walls.

Protestors stand behind a burning barricade during a demonstration in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong, China September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Protestors stand behind a burning barricade during a demonstration in Mong Kok district in Hong Kong, China September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

“We’re angry at the police and angry at the government,” said Justin, 23, dressed in black and wearing a hoodie. “Police was very brutal with us at this station. We cannot let them get away with it.”

Protesters had gathered outside Prince Edward station in Mong Kok, one of the world’s most densely populated regions, where police had fired beanbag guns and used pepper spray to clear demonstrators this week.

They withdrew when police fired rubber bullets, but regrouped in smaller pockets to light fires in the street from wooden pallets, cardboard boxes and other debris. Firemen were dousing the flames.

“The police will use appropriate force to conduct a dispersal operation and warn all protesters to stop all illegal acts and leave immediately,” police said in a statement.

There was no immediate official word of arrests or injuries. Both Mong Kok and Prince Edward stations were closed.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced measures this week to try to restore order in the Chinese-ruled city, including the formal withdrawal of a bill that triggered the demonstrations. The law would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, despite the city having an independent judiciary dating back to British colonial rule.

But the demonstrations, which began in June, had long since morphed into a broader call for more democracy and many protesters have pledged to fight on, calling Lam’s concessions too little, too late.

“No China” was daubed over walls along the key north-south artery of Nathan Road.

“The four actions are aimed at putting one step forward in helping Hong Kong to get out of the dilemma,” Lam told reporters during a trip to China’s southern region of Guangxi. “We can’t stop the violence immediately.”

Apart from withdrawing the bill, she announced three other measures to help ease the crisis, including a dialogue with the people.

Medical students hold hands as they form a human chain during a protest against the police brutality, at the Faculty of Medicine in The University of Hong Kong, China, September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Medical students hold hands as they form a human chain during a protest against the police brutality, at the Faculty of Medicine in The University of Hong Kong, China, September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

WEEKEND PLANS FOR THE AIRPORT

Demonstrations have at times paralyzed parts of the city, a major Asian financial hub, amid running street battles between protesters and police who have responded with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons. Violent arrests of protesters, many in metro stations, have drawn international attention.

The crowds were expected to swell into the night, as the city braces for weekend demonstrations aiming to disrupt transport links to the airport.

The airport announced that only passengers with tickets would be allowed to use the Airport Express train service on Saturday, boarding in downtown Hong Kong. The train would not stop en route, on the Kowloon peninsula. Bus services could also be hit, it said.

The measures are aimed at avoiding the chaos of last weekend, when protesters blocked airport approach roads, threw debris on the train track and trashed the MTR subway station in the nearby new town of Tung Chung in running clashes with police.

Global credit rating agency Fitch Ratings on Friday downgraded Hong Kong’s long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating to “AA” from “AA+”.

Fitch said it expects that public discontent is likely to persist despite the concessions to certain protester demands.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of Hong Kong with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, saying a peaceful solution was needed.

“I stressed that the rights and freedoms for (Hong Kong) citizens have to be granted,” Merkel said.

‘RETURN TO ORDER’

Li told a news conference with Merkel “the Chinese government unswervingly safeguards ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong people'”.

Beijing supported the territory’s government “to end the violence and chaos in accordance with the law, to return to order, which is to safeguard Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability”, Li added.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” formula which guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. Many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is eroding that autonomy.

China denies the accusation of meddling and says Hong Kong is its internal affair. It has denounced the protests, warning of the damage to the economy and the possible use of force to quell the unrest.

In addition to calling for a withdrawal of the extradition bill and the release of those arrested for violence, protesters also want an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, retraction of the word “riot” to describe rallies and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.

The protests have presented Chinese President Xi Jinping with his greatest popular challenge since he came to power in 2012.

(Additional reporting by Felix Tam, Jessie Pang, Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok, Noah Sin, Kai Pfaffenbach and Joe Brock; Andreas Rinke in Beijing; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)