Hong Kong reopens after weekend of clashes, protests

By Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s businesses and metro stations reopened as usual on Monday after a chaotic Sunday when police fired water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who blocked roads and threw petrol bombs outside government headquarters.

On Sunday what began as a mostly peaceful protest earlier in the day spiraled into violence in some of the Chinese territory’s busiest shopping and tourist districts.

Thousands of anti-government protesters, many clad in black masks, caps and shades to obscure their identity, raced through the streets, engaging in cat-and-mouse tactics with police, setting street fires and blocking roads in the heart of Hong Kong where many key business districts are located.

The demonstrations are the latest in nearly four months of sometimes violent protests. Protesters are furious over what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in Hong Kong’s affairs despite promises by Beijing to grant the city wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms denied in mainland China.

Dozens of university students rallied peacefully on Monday afternoon urging authorities to listen to public demands. Dressed in black, some of them donning face masks, students sang “Glory to Hong Kong” a song that has become a rallying cry for more democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese hub.

At Baptist University hundreds of students also marched to demand the university’s management offer support to a student reporter arrested on Sunday.

The initial trigger for the protests was a contentious extradition bill, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial.

The protests have since broadened into other demands including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into allegations of excessive force by the police.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland – including a much-cherished independent legal system.

89 ARRESTS IN WEEKEND VIOLENCE

Kung Lui, a third-year university student majoring in sociology, said the protests would continue until all five demands were met. “The protests have revealed lots of social problems and proved that democracy and freedom are the core values of Hong Kong people.”

Police on Monday said 89 people were arrested over the weekend after “radical protesters” attacked two police officers on Sunday evening, hurling petrol bombs, bricks, and threatening the safety of the officers.

Nearly 1,500 people have been arrested since the protests started in June.

Authorities moved quickly to douse the fires and police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse them, including in the bustling shopping and tourist district of Causeway Bay.

At least 18 people were injured, three of them seriously, during Sunday’s violence, according to the Hospital Authority.

The protests have weighed on the city’s economy as it faces its first recession in a decade, with tourist arrivals plunging 40 percent in August amid some disruptions at the city’s international airport.

By Sunday evening, the running battles between anti-government protesters and police had evolved into street brawls between rival groups in the districts of Fortress Hill and North Point further east on Hong Kong island. There, men in white T-shirts – believed to be pro-Beijing supporters and some wielding hammers, rods and knives – clashed with anti-government activists.

On a street close to North Point, home to a large pro-Beijing community, a Reuters witness saw one man in a white T-shirt sprawled on the ground with head wounds.

Hong Kong media reported that groups of pro-Beijing supporters had attacked journalists.

Police eventually intervened and sealed off some roads to try to restore order, and they were seen taking away several men and women from an office run by a pro-Beijing association.

Democratic lawmaker Ted Hui was arrested for allegedly obstructing police, according to his Democratic Party’s Facebook page, as he tried to mediate on the streets in North Point.

(Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu; Writing by Farah Master; and James Pomfret; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich)

U.N. cites systematic use of excessive force in Venezuela crackdown on dissent

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights attends a news conference on Venezuela at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations on Wednesday said Venezuela’s security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in crushing anti-government protests.

The actions indicated “a policy to repress political dissent and instil fear”, the U.N. human rights office said in a report that called for further investigation.

It called on the government of President Nicolas Maduro to release arbitrarily detained demonstrators and to halt the unlawful use of military courts to try civilians.

More than 1,000 people were believed to remain in custody as of July 31, among more than 5,000 detained in street protests since April, it said. Detainees are often subjected to ill-treatment, in some documented cases amounting to torture.

“Credible and consistent accounts of victims and witnesses indicate that security forces systematically used excessive force to deter demonstrations, crush dissent and instill fear,” it said in a report following initial findings issued on Aug 8.

Security forces have used tear gas canisters, motorcycles, water cannons and live ammunition to disperse the protesters, it said.

Venezuelan security forces and pro-government groups are believed to be responsible for the deaths of 73 people since April, while responsibility for the remaining 51 deaths has not been determined, the U.N. report said.

The overall toll of 124 includes nine members of the security forces that the government says were killed through July and four people allegedly killed by protesters, it said.

Some protesters have resorted to violent means, ranging from rocks to sling shots, Molotov cocktails and homemade mortars in protests against Maduro and shortages of food and other basic goods, it said.

Maduro has said Venezuela was the victim of an “armed insurrection” by U.S.-backed opponents seeking to gain control of the OPEC country’s oil wealth.

But as the political crisis deepened, the use of force by security forces has progressively escalated, the report said.

“The generalized and systematic use of excessive force during demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of protesters and perceived political opponents indicate that these were not the illegal or rogue acts of isolated officials,” it said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned in a statement that amid the economic and social crises and rising political tensions, there was a “grave risk the situation in Venezuela will deteriorate further”.

The government must ensure that investigations begun by the state prosecutor Luisa Ortega — who was removed from her post this month after accusing Maduro of eroding democracy – continue and are scrupulously impartial, Zeid said.

Venezuela held nationwide armed forces exercises on Saturday, calling on civilians to join reserve units to defend against a possible attack after U.S. President Donald Trump warned that a “military option” was on the table for the crisis-hit country.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Black Lives Matter sues for court oversight of Chicago police reforms

FILE PHOTO: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson arrives at a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

By Chris Kenning

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Members of Black Lives Matter and other groups sued the city of Chicago on Wednesday, seeking to force federal court oversight of reforms to the police department, which has been accused of using excessive force against minorities.

The lawsuit, filed by civil rights attorneys in the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois, came after Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed off a pledge to let a federal judge oversee reforms.

The lawsuit asks the court to ensure reforms will halt what it described as the ongoing use of excessive force, physical harassment and targeting of minority youth and a reliance on overly aggressive tactics by Chicago police.

“Chicago has proven time and time again that it is incapable of ending its own regime of terror, brutality and discriminatory policing,” the lawsuit said. “Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve.”

In January, a federal investigation found Chicago police routinely violated the civil rights of people, citing excessive force and racially discriminatory conduct.

That followed protests sparked by the fall 2015 release of video showing a white police officer fatally shooting black teen Laquan McDonald a year earlier.

After the probe’s findings were released, Emanuel committed to a consent decree, a court-ordered reform agreement.

Earlier this month, he said Chicago was discussing an agreement with the Justice Department that would include an independent monitor instead of court oversight.

In an interview with Reuters, Emanuel said a consent decree with the Justice Department is not an option because Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not favor them to impose reform.

Chicago has pushed ahead with reforms including enacting new rules on use of force, provided two-thirds of the Chicago police force with body cameras and is hiring 1,000 new officers, Emanuel said.

Emanuel indicated he still has questions about the role of any outside monitor. “If you have an outside monitor, what are their authorities and their abilities?” he asked.

Edward Siskel, the city’s top lawyer, said on Wednesday that the larger need for reform was npt in question.

But the shift away from using court oversight drew criticism from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and activist groups. A plaintiffs’ attorney in Wednesday’s lawsuit said the city could enter a court-decree with the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs include six individuals along with groups including Black Lives Matter Chicago and Blocks Together.

Kevin Graham, president of Chicago’s police union, in a statement objected to the lawsuit’s characterization of the department and said his offers are doing a phenomenal job in extremely dangerous circumstances.

(Additional reporting by David Greising; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker)