Lawyers ransack Pakistani hospital in row with doctors, patient dies

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – More than 100 lawyers stormed and ransacked a hospital in Pakistan on Wednesday to avenge what they said was an assault by doctors there on a fellow advocate, and an elderly patient died during the disturbance, authorities said.

Zulfikar Hameed, the Lahore city police chief, said the mob smashed windowpanes, doors and equipment at the cardiology hospital and also set several vehicles on fire.

Some of the protesters fired gunshots and pelted arriving police with stones and bricks, according to a hospital doctor, Ashraf Nizami. Several lawyers were arrested, police said.

“It was catastrophic for hours,” Nizami said, adding that a 70-year-old female patient had died, and several patients were left unattended for hours, during the violence.

Nizami said the attackers forced doctors and nurses to flee, leaving patients in emergency and intensive care unattended.

Police fired tear gas to quell the mob while terrified patients and hospital staff fled to safety, officials said.

Lahore government official Kamran Ali said the lawyers were enraged over what they said was the beating by doctors of a lawyer at the hospital over his refusal to get in a queue of patients.

He said the lawyers were particularly angry about the doctors disseminating a mobile phone video on social media showing the beating.

The mob also roughed up provincial information minister Fayaz-ul-Hasan Chauhan when he got to the scene and tried to negotiate with the lawyers.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office launched an investigation into the incident. “It is a shame that some people would go and attack a hospital,” his spokesman Nadeem Afzal Chan said.

(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Hong Kong police chief calls for peaceful weekend protest

By Clare Jim and Sarah Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s police chief urged people to demonstrate peacefully on Sunday, when organizers expect a large turnout for a pro-democracy march intended to show the movement still has strong momentum.

Police have given a rare green light to the demonstration, organized by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the group that called the largely peaceful million-strong marches in the summer.

“We hope our citizens can show the whole world Hong Kong people are capable of holding a large-scale rally in an orderly and peaceful manner,” police commissioner Chris Tang said on Friday before departing on a “courtesy visit” to Beijing.

Tang was expected to meet senior officials of China’s ministry of public security and return to Hong Kong hours before Sunday’s protest.

The march will gauge support for the pro-democracy movement following its victory in local elections last month.

“We want to tell Carrie Lam that the election results are not the end of the movement,” CHRF vice-convener Eric Lai said, referring to the chief executive of the Chinese-ruled city.

Police said they would intervene “immediately” if Sunday’s march turned violent. The unrest in Hong Kong is the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Hundreds of protesters came out on Friday night to urge police to stop using tear gas. More than 10,000 rounds of tear gas have been fired by police in response to increasingly violent rallies.

“It’s not only a political issue but a matter of public health,” said Leung, a 25-year-old nurse who wore a black mask. “They shoot tear gas into residential areas.”

Police have said they have been forced to used tear gas to break up violent demonstrations. Residents have cited fears of dioxin poisoning from the gas. The city government has said it has found no evidence of dioxin poisoning from tear gas.

The former British colony has been racked by six months of pro-democracy protests, sparked by a now-withdrawn bill allowing extradition to China, which have widened into calls for greater democratic freedoms.

Protesters have set out five demands, including an investigation into alleged police brutality and universal suffrage. Beijing has condemned the unrest and blamed foreign interference.

Despite the increasingly violent tactics of some protesters, pro-democracy candidates won almost 90% of seats in the Nov. 24 local elections, following the highest turnout since local polls began in 1999.

ECONOMIC STRAIN

Results of a survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) released on Friday show public satisfaction with the police has plummeted in the past year.

Calculated on a ranking out of 100, with zero representing very dissatisfied, the police scored 35.34, almost halving from November last year when they scored 62.48.

Net satisfaction with the police is the lowest since 1997, when PORI began comparable polling.

Economic data this week points to the growing toll of the sustained protests on the major global financial hub, which slid into recession this year for the first time in a decade.

The unrest has contributed 2 percentage points to Hong Kong’s third-quarter economic contraction of 3.2%, Finance Secretary Paul Chan told legislators on Friday.

On Wednesday, Chan pledged new relief measures of an extra HK$4 billion ($511 million), taking total stimulus plans to HK$25 billion.

Subway operator MTR Corp expects a decline of HK$1.6 billion in annual net profit, hit by a drop of 14% in passengers during the protests, as well as damage to its stations and facilities.

By Saturday, transport authorities will complete a review of plans for a cash injection for Hong Kong Airlines, which is battling a steep decline in demand as a result of the protests.

(Reporting by Clare Jim and Sarah Wu; Writing by Kate Lamb and David Dolan; Editing by Michael Perry, Clarence Fernandez, Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)

Trump calls Smollett case ’embarrassment,’ announces review

FILE PHOTO: Actor Jussie Smollett leaves court after charges against him were dropped by state prosecutors in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the Department of Justice will “review” the case of actor Jussie Smollett, who was charged with staging a fake hate crime in Chicago before prosecutors abruptly dropped the case this week.

In an early morning tweet announcing the review, Trump said the case had embarrassed the nation.

Smollett, who is black and gay, said two men attacked him at night in January, making homophobic and racist remarks and putting a noose around his neck while shouting support for Trump.

Investigators later charged Smollett with paying the two men to pretend to attack him in order to garner public sympathy for himself. Prosecutors dropped the charges on Tuesday, saying they stood by the accusation but that an agreement by Smollett to forfeit his $10,000 bond was a just outcome.

The county prosecutors’ decision stunned the city’s police chief, prompted the police union to demand a federal investigation and enraged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, who called it a “whitewash” that made a fool of the city.

Trump, a Republican, echoed those remarks early on Thursday.

“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. “It is an embarrassment to our Nation!”

Smollett, 36, says he is innocent and did not stage the attack. His spokeswoman and his lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. The Department of Justice declined to comment.

The FBI has already had some involvement in the case, with agents investigating a threatening letter Smollett said he received prior to the attack, according to the Chicago Police Department.

The initial reports of two Trump supporters attacking a gay, black celebrity drew widespread sympathy for Smollett, particularly from Democrats. That faded quickly after the actor’s arrest, and the case was seized on by some as an example of what Trump likes to deride as “fake news.”

Smollett is best known for playing a gay musician on the Fox drama “Empire.” His lawyers said he hopes to move on with his acting career, but it remains unclear whether he will return to “Empire” after being written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season.

Chicago’s chief prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, has defended her office’s decision as proportionate to what she described as relatively minor charges, saying that even if Smollett had been convicted he would likely not have faced prison time.

Foxx recused herself from the case after acknowledging she had discussed it with a relative of Smollett.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)