Hong Kong protesters pause to mark Sept. 11

By Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong activists called off protests on Wednesday in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and denounced a Chinese state newspaper report that they were planning “massive terror” in the Chinese-ruled city.

Hong Kong has been rocked by months of sometimes violent unrest, prompted by anger over planned legislation to allow extraditions to China, but broadening into calls for democracy and for Communist rulers in Beijing to leave the city alone.

“Anti-government fanatics are planning massive terror attacks, including blowing up gas pipes, in Hong Kong on September 11,” the Hong Kong edition of the China Daily said on its Facebook page, alongside a picture of the hijacked airliner attacks on the twin towers in New York.

“The 9/11 terror plot also encourages indiscriminate attacks on non-native speakers of Cantonese and starting mountain fires.”

The post said “leaked information was part of the strategy being schemed by radical protesters in their online chat rooms”.

The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system, triggering the anger over the extradition bill.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she will withdraw the bill but many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is steadily eroding the autonomy of the Asian financial hub.

China denies meddling and has accused the United States, Britain and others of fomenting the unrest.

“We don’t even need to do a fact check to know that this is fake news,” said one protester, Michael, 24, referring to the China Daily post. “The state media doesn’t care about its credibility. Whenever something they claimed to have heard on WhatsApp or friends’ friends, they will spread it right away.”

The protesters called off action on Wednesday.

“In solidarity against terrorism, all forms of protest in Hong Kong will be suspended on Sept. 11, apart from potential singing and chanting,” they said in a statement.

The China Daily report was worrying, said another protester, Karen, 23. “When they try to frame the whole protest with those words, it alarms me,” she said. “They are predicting rather than reporting. I think people calling it off today is a nice move.”

FAMILY FRICTIONS

The chairwoman of the Hong Kong Federation of Women, Pansy Ho, a prominent businesswoman and daughter of Macau casino operator Stanley Ho, said she was worried about violent extremism.

“Children of all ages are indoctrinated with police hatred and anti-establishment beliefs at school and online mobilized to conduct massive school strikes,” she told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Lam said in a speech on Wednesday that Hong Kong was grappling with significant challenges.

“My fervent hope is that we can bridge our divide by upholding the one country, two systems principle, and the Basic Law, and through the concerted efforts of the government and the people of Hong Kong,” she told business leaders.

The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd has become the biggest corporate casualty of the unrest after China demanded it suspend staff involved in, or who support, the protests.

Cathay Pacific said on Wednesday inbound traffic to Hong Kong in August fell 38% and outbound traffic 12% compared with a year earlier, and that it did not anticipate September to be any less difficult.

Joshua Wong, one of the prominent leaders of the 2014 “Umbrella” pro-democracy movement which brought key streets in Hong Kong to a standstill for 79 days, said in Berlin that the fight for democracy was an uphill battle.

“I hope one day not only Hong Kong people, but also people in mainland China, can enjoy freedom and democracy,” he said.

The protests spread to the sports field on Tuesday, as many football fans defied Chinese law to boo the national anthem ahead of a soccer World Cup qualifier against Iran.

Several peaceful protests are planned for the next few days, combining with celebrations marking the Mid-Autumn Festival.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Farah Master, Jamie Freed, Cecile Mantovani in Geneva and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Mark Heinrich & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Taiwan says should educate its youth on dangers of China

FILE PHTO: Military honour guards attend a flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan should educate its youth about the risks presented by China where there is neither freedom nor democracy, Taiwan’s main body in charge of policy making toward its giant neighbor said on Friday.

China has been increasing its efforts to win over young Taiwanese, a key demographic to reach out to amid souring political relations between Beijing and Taipei, including offering incentives to set up businesses in China.

China claims Taiwan as its sovereign territory and considers people from the self-ruled island to be Chinese citizens.

In a statement issued after a meeting to discuss China’s recently concluded parliamentary session, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said the government should up efforts to counter China trying to attract talent, such as students and teachers.

“Some council members said that young people in Taiwan set great store on democracy and freedom, which is exactly what the environment in mainland Chinese society cannot provide,” it said.

“The government can strengthen and show off Taiwan’s advantages, and help young people understand the possible risks.”

Taiwan’s current government swept into power with the help of the youth-driven Sunflower Movement, protesting against a trade pact with China, something Taiwan’s government has said caught China’s attention, which is why China is now focusing on young Taiwanese.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues, and China’s hostility toward the island has risen since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won the presidency in 2016.

China fears she wants to push for formal independence, though Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo and peace.

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Taiwan on Tuesday it would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism, offering his strongest warning yet to the island.

China has also been infuriated by a new U.S. law which encourages contacts and exchanges between U.S. and Taiwanese officials even though they do not have formal ties.

The United States’ commitment to Taiwan has never been stronger and the island is an inspiration to the rest of the Indo-Pacific region, a senior U.S. diplomat said in Taipei this week.

The Mainland Affairs Council said it had noted that Chinese officials have been using the term “severe” of late to refer to relations across the Taiwan Strait.

“The future development of relations across the Taiwan Strait is still full of challenges, and it is not easy to be optimistic,” it added.

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

After tough year, Hong Kong democracy protesters sound warning to China on New Year’s day

Pro-democracy protesters gather inside civic square, reopened for the first time since Occupy Central movement in 2014, at the government headquarters in Hong Kong, China January 1, 2018.

By Donny Kwok and Wyman Ma

HONG KONG (Reuters) – After a year that saw democracy advocates in Hong Kong jailed and ousted from public office, thousands marched through the streets of Hong Kong on New Year’s Day to warn China not to meddle further in the city’s affairs and undermine its autonomy.

Over the past year, Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has experienced what critics and pro-democracy activists describe as an intensifying assault on its autonomy by China’s Communist Party leaders.

This is despite Beijing’s promises to grant the city wide-ranging freedoms including an independent judiciary, under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework.

Besides the controversial jailing of several prominent young activists for unlawful assembly over the massive 2014 “Occupy” pro-democracy protests, authorities also ejected six pro-democracy lawmakers from the legislature for failing to take proper oaths of office.

The city’s reputation as one of Asia’s most robust legal jurisdictions has also come under a cloud amidst accusations of a politicization of certain legal cases.

The protesters, who included many middle-aged and elderly citizens, held up banners and chanted the march’s main theme to “Protect Hong Kong” during a walk of several kilometers to the city’s government headquarters.

Others decried an unprecedented move by China’s parliament last week that said part of a high-speed railway station being built in Hong Kong would be regarded as mainland territory governed by mainland laws.

“We are here to tell the government that we will not give up,” said Joshua Wong, one of the democracy activists jailed last year, but who is now out on bail pending an appeal.

“We have encountered many difficulties last year, including some of us being sued and jailed, but we will stand with Hong Kong people. We will fight for the rule of law, fight for Hong Kong, fight for the future, fight for the next generations.”

Two protesters who dressed up as People’s Liberation Army soldiers said they were concerned about the reach of China’s security apparatus. Others called for full democracy as the only lasting means to safeguard the city’s way of life.

The organizers of the march said some 10,000 people had showed up. Police, however, put the figure at 6,200.

The demonstration was largely peaceful, though some protesters who tried to later gather in a forecourt of the government’s headquarters skirmished briefly with security guards.

The so-called “Civic Square” was where the 2014 pro-democracy protests first kicked off when a group of protesters stormed over a fence and faced off with local police.

Despite the defiance on show, some said they feared Hong Kong would continue to be squeezed by Beijing.

“Everyone’s doing what they can,” said Andy Lau who was among the marchers. “If we have the right to demonstrate then we should. But I’m not feeling positive. I think things will get worse.”

The Hong Kong government, in a statement, said it “fully respects the right of Hong Kong people to take part in processions and their freedom of expression”.

China’s leader Xi Jinping has said that while Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under “one country, two systems”, Beijing still holds supreme authority over the city and won’t tolerate any challenge to its authority.

(Additional reporting by Chermaine Lee; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Adrian Croft)

U.S. hopes for more from Russia after Crimean prisoners freed

Kurt Volker, United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kiev, Ukraine October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

By Matthias Williams

KIEV (Reuters) – The release of two Crimean Tatars from Russian custody this week was a good sign and hopefully means Russia will take positive steps in eastern Ukraine as well, the U.S. special envoy to the Ukraine peace talks said on Saturday.

Ukraine and Russia are at loggerheads over Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and support for separatists in the Donbass region in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people despite a notional ceasefire.

Russia unexpectedly released a pair of Tatar activists on Wednesday thanks partly to an intervention by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. They have vowed to return to Crimea to campaign for the release of other prisoners.

“The fact that they were released is a small positive sign,” Kurt Volker told Reuters on a visit to Kiev, where he met the freed men. “It’s the kind of thing you hope you could build on that, Russia would build on that with some other steps with the Donbass,” he added.

A former ambassador to NATO, Volker was appointed in July by the Donald Trump administration to help resolve the Donbass conflict, which Washington cites as a key obstacle to better relations between the United States and Russia.

A recent sticking point is whether and how the United Nations should send a peacekeeping force to the region. Volker met Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov in October for talks on this, which he said produced no breakthroughs but were “constructive”.

“What we are doing, is we are seeing whether we can create some common ideas for how a peacekeeping force could be useful in resolving the conflict,” Volker said, saying the force could only be effective with a stronger mandate than Russia envisages.

Russia denies sending its own troops or sophisticated weaponry to helping the separatists.

Volker blamed Russian aggression for the Donbass conflict but said a realization on Russia’s part that the violence is against its interests could spur a change in Moscow’s behavior.

“The real issue is Russia’s decision-making. Until now, Russia has been holding this territory, keeping this conflict alive, hoping that it provides some leverage over Ukraine,” Volker said.

“The reality has sunk in I believe that this has actually produced the opposite. It has produced a Ukraine that is more unified, more nationalist, more anti-Russian, more westward-looking than ever existed before.”

Volker also said the United States was “actively considering” supplying lethal defensive weapons to Kiev, a prospect that has riled Russia.

“No-one has any worry about someone defending themselves unless they are an aggressor, so it should not be that controversial an issue,” Volker said.

(Editing by Stephen Powell)

At Mosul waterfalls, Iraqis savor small joys of post-Islamic State life

Iraqi families and youths enjoy their Friday holiday at Shallalat district (Arabic for "waterfalls") in eastern Mosul, Iraq, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Muhammad Hamed

By Ahmed Aboulenein

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Crowds of Iraqis flocked to the waterfalls of eastern Mosul on Friday to savor simple freedoms like dancing or wearing colorful clothes that were strictly banned during almost three years of Islamic State rule.

Music blasted from tall speakers mounted on pickup trucks and mini-vans. Children splashed in the water in the city’s Shallalat (Waterfalls) district or rode bikes, horses and donkeys in the surrounding park.

It was like a mass picnic, with about 2,000 people out enjoying the sunshine, while fighting between U.S.-backed forces and Islamist militants raged only 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away in the part of Mosul west of the Tigris River.

“We were besieged. We are happy now – families can now go out. Everyone would stay home before,” said Moaayad Ahmed, who was out with his wife and daughter at the park along a tributary to the Tigris north of the city.

“They would ask about negative, irrelevant things,” he added, referring to Islamic State, which took over Mosul in 2014 and was driven out of eastern Mosul in January.

The Sunni Muslim militants enforced a strict interpretation of Islam during their reign which included forcing men to grow long beards and women to cover their faces. Anyone breaking the rules would be severely punished.

That atmosphere was gone on Friday as women ululated with joy, all wearing bright colors rather than the black dress enforced by Islamic State fighters. Beer and whiskey bottles lay on the ground.

“Everything is great now. We could not do this under Islamic State. Back then, everything was forbidden. They would ask the men about their beard length and the women about face veils. Now everyone is happy,” said Mohammed Abu Qassem.

“We would come and they wouldn’t let us picnic. They would say cover your face. This is banned, this is haram, this is halal,” he said, using the words for forbidden and allowed.

Sporting a pink headscarf, his wife Umm Qassem chimed in: “They were harassing us – about men’s pants length, beards and face veils.”

“And whipping …,” her young son interjected.

“We are in heaven now. We were in hell under Islamic State,” she went on.

Even at the waterfall park, signs of war were not far away. There were burned out cars along the road leading into the area.

Iraqi soldiers manned checkpoints at a bridge leading to the park and patrolled the area to ensure the safety of day-trippers who snapped photos with selfie sticks, smoked hookahs and queued to buy shawarma and Moroccan chicken.

“We are very happy we got rid of Islamic State. For three years, we were destroyed, we could not wear stylish clothes,” said Muthana Irshad, who had grown his hair long and donned a gold chain dangling a dollar sign

“They destroyed youths and families. They killed two of my brothers,” he said, before going back to dance with his friends again.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Canada Moves To Expand Spy Power

On the heels of France approving dramatic expansion of their spy powers which would allow the government to collect the metadata of all citizens without a warrant, now Canada is moving toward expanding their spy powers.

The Anti-Terror Act was spurred by last year’s attack on the Parliament.  The bill flew through House of Commons and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been a strong supporter of the bill.  The Senate is expected to approve the act before June.

The act gives the spy agency permission to work overseas along with making preventative arrests of terrorism suspects.  The police would also be allowed to make arrests and detain individuals without a charge.  Promotion of terrorism by any means including the internet would become a crime.

“There is a high probability of jihadist attacks from within,” Canadian Defence Minister Jason Kenney said. “The threat of terrorism has never been greater.”

Critics say the bill is too sweeping.  The opposition includes four former Prime Ministers and five justices of the Canadian Supreme Court.

“This bill will almost certainly lead to a chill on freedom of speech,” said Allan Weiss, professor of humanities at York University. “It is filled with vague wording that would make it possible for the government to label virtually anything it disagreed with as harmful to Canada’s national interests.”

The Common Sense that God Gave Us

This week, I hope you have been enjoying our visit with Governor Mike Huckabee.  It truly was an honor to meet this kind, approachable man of God.  It felt as though Jim and I had known him for years!

Both of us had been reading his new book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. You know it is really a good book when you can catch us reading anything at the very same time!  There were several moments that we were nodding our heads simultaneously with this feeling of relief that someone understands what America has been crying out desperately to our government for a very long time…common sense!

Continue reading