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The initial trigger for the protests was a contentious extradition bill, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial.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

Five killed, including gunman, 21 injured in West Texas rampage

People are evacuated from Cinergy Odessa cinema following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video August 31, 2019. Rick Lobo via REUTERS

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – A white male in his 30s who was known to police killed four people and wounded 21 others on Saturday in a gun rampage between the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa that started with a traffic stop and ended when he was killed by officers, authorities said.

The suspect hijacked a postal van and opened fire on police officers, motorists and shoppers on a busy Labor Day holiday weekend before being shot dead outside a multiplex cinema complex in Odessa, police said.

Authorities originally thought there were two shooters driving two vehicles, but Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke told a news conference on Saturday evening that he believed there was only one.

The gunman was heading from Midland to Odessa on Interstate 20 when he was stopped at 3:17 p.m. local time, Gerke said. He shot the police officer, took off west on I-20 and then exited at Odessa. There he drove to a Home Depot and opened fire on passersby.

“At some point, the suspect stole a mail truck and ditched his car,” Gerke said. He drove the mail truck back east, pursued by police, before crashing into a stationary vehicle behind the Odessa Cinergy multiplex complex, where he engaged in a gun battle with police and was shot dead, Gerke said.

Video shown by a local CBS affiliate showed the white postal van crashing into a vehicle at high speed outside the movie theater complex before the man believed to be the shooter was swarmed by police. Screaming theater goers ran from the complex.

Gerke said the suspect was known to him but declined to comment on a motive for the shootings.

The Medical Center Hospital in Odessa took in 13 victims, including one who died, the hospital’s director, Russell Tippin, told reporters. Seven were in critical condition, two serious, and two were treated and released. One “pediatric patient” under the age of 2 was transferred to another facility, he said.

“Grab onto your loved ones, pray for this town, stop and give your prayers for the victims,” Tippin said.

People are evacuated from Cinergy Odessa cinema following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video August 31, 2019. Rick Lobo via REUTERS

People are evacuated from Cinergy Odessa cinema following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video August 31, 2019. Rick Lobo via REUTERS

Midland Mayor Jerry Morales said hundreds of people were enjoying the holiday weekend inside the Cinergy complex when the gunman was confronted by officers who boxed in his vehicle in the parking lot before shots were exchanged.

He said the suspect used a rifle to shoot the Texas Department of Public Safety officer who had stopped his vehicle but did not know any more details about the weapon.

Morales said three police officers – one from Midland, one from Odessa and the Department of Public Safety officer – were wounded by gunfire. At one point, Midland police barricaded the highway to stop the suspect leaving Odessa, about 20 miles (32 km) away in the Permian oil boom area of West Texas.

“It was very chaotic,” Morales said by telephone. “There were rumors flying that the shooter was at shopping malls, the movie theater.”

Retail stores, a shopping mall and the University of Texas Permian Basin were locked down as rumors spread of the shootings and sightings, he said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said that as two state troopers made the initial traffic stop on I-20, the suspect pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots toward their patrol vehicle, hitting of them.

The wounded trooper is in serious but stable condition, and two other wounded police officers are in stable condition at a local hospital, the department said in a statement.

At one point armed police ran through the Music City Mall in Odessa, forcing anchors for television station CBS 7, located inside, to duck off-screen as the building went into lockdown.

Saturday’s shooting came after 22 people were killed at a Walmart store about 255 miles west of Midland in the city of El Paso, Texas on Aug. 3.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston and Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)

Police, protesters clash at Hong Kong airport after flights halted for second day

Medics attempt to remove an injured man who anti-government protesters said was a Chinese policeman during a mass demonstration at the Hong Kong international airport, in Hong Kong, China, August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Tom Westbrook and Clare Jim

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Police and protesters clashed at Hong Kong’s international airport on Tuesday after flights were disrupted for a second day as the political crisis in the former British colony deepened.

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump said the Chinese government was moving troops to the border with Hong Kong and he urged calm.

Trump said the situation in Hong Kong was tricky but he hoped it would work out for everybody, including China, and “for liberty” without anyone getting hurt or killed.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that Hong Kong risked being “smashed to pieces”.

Demonstrators who have been protesting for the past nine weeks against Beijing’s growing influence in the special administrative region targeted the international airport for a second day on Tuesday.

Thousands of black-clad protesters jammed the terminal chanting, singing and waving banners.

Scuffles broke out in the evening after an injured man was held by a group of protesters. Some claimed he was an undercover mainland Chinese agent and initially refused to let him leave.

Medics, however, bundled him onto a stretcher and forced their way through jeering throngs to an ambulance.

Several police vehicles were blocked by protesters and riot police moved in amid chaotic scenes, using pepper spray to keep people back. A policeman pulled out a gun at one point.

Protesters also barricaded some passageways in the airport with luggage trolleys, metal barriers and other objects. Others clambered onto check-in counters as the protesters appeared to control part of the airport for a short while. At least two protesters were taken away by police.

Another mainland Chinese man was held and tied down by protesters at the airport after they thought he was posing as a reporter. The editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, Hu Xijin, tweeted that the man was a journalist with the paper. He was later taken away by ambulance.

The situation calmed down after a few hours without the violence worsening, and the crowds thinned out. Hong Kong media reported that an injunction had been issued by a court to clear the airport of protesters.

The action followed an unprecedented shutdown of the airport on Monday. Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said operations had been “seriously disrupted” on Tuesday and departing passengers had been unable to reach immigration counters.

The weeks of protests began as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China and have swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since China took it back from Britain in 1997.

The increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters have roiled the Asian financial hub. Hong Kong’s stock market fell to a seven-month low on Tuesday.

PUSHED INTO THE ABYSS

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Freedoms of expression and assembly are core values that we share with the people of Hong Kong and these freedoms should be protected.”

The United Nations human rights commissioner, Michele Bachelet, urged Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of their forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law.

China responded by saying her comments sent the wrong signal to “violent criminal offenders”.

Chief Executive Lam made an appeal for calm and restraint.

“Take a minute to look at our city, our home,” she said, her voice cracking, at a news conference in the newly-fortified government headquarters complex.

“Can we bear to push it into the abyss and see it smashed to pieces?” she said.

Demonstrators want Lam to resign. She says she will stay.

The events present Chinese President Xi Jinping with one of his biggest challenges since he came to power in 2012.

Hong Kong legal experts say Beijing might be paving the way to use anti-terrorism laws to try to quell the demonstrations. On Monday,

Britain, a guarantor of the agreement that transferred Hong Kong to China in 1997, on Tuesday condemned the violence and urged dialogue.

“Concerning to see what’s happening in Hong Kong and the worrying pictures of clashes between police & protesters at the airport,” foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Twitter.

China has denied a request for two U.S. Navy ships to visit Hong Kong in the coming weeks, U.S. officials said.

ANGRY PASSENGERS

“I think paralyzing the airport will be effective in forcing Carrie Lam to respond to us … it can further pressure Hong Kong’s economy,” said Dorothy Cheng, a 17-year-old protester.

Despite the trouble, some flights were still scheduled to take off early on Wednesday morning with some tourists still waiting in the departure hall and dining areas, according to Reuters journalists in the airport.

Some passengers challenged protesters over the delays as tempers began to fray.

Flag carrier Cathay Pacific said flights might still be canceled at short notice. The airline, whose British heritage makes it a symbol of Hong Kong’s colonial past, is also in a political bind.

China’s civil aviation regulator demanded that the airline suspend staff who joined or backed the protests from flights in its airspace, pushing the carrier’s shares past Monday’s 10-year low.

Other Chinese airlines have offered passengers wanting to avoid Hong Kong a free switch to nearby destinations, such as Guangzhou, Macau, Shenzhen or Zhuhai, with the disruption sending shares in Shenzhen Airport Co Ltd <000089.SZ> surging.

(Additional reporting by Felix Tam, Noah Sin, Donny Kwok, Greg Torode and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Singapore, Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jeff Mason in Morristown, New Jersey; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)

Texas shooting suspect’s mother alerted police about his gun ownership: CNN

A group of people hold candles during a vigil at a memorial four days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

(Reuters) – The Dallas-area mother of the young man arrested in the mass shooting that killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, had called police weeks earlier expressing concern about his fitness to own an assault-style rifle, CNN said on Wednesday.

The mother contacted the Allen Police Department because she worried whether her son, aged 21, was mature or experienced enough in handling such a weapon to have purchased an “AK”-type firearm, CNN said, citing lawyers for the suspect’s family.

CNN quoted the lawyers, Chris Ayres and R. Jack Ayres, as saying the mother’s call was “informational” in nature rather than motivated by concern that her son posed a threat to anyone.

“This was not a volatile, explosive, erratic-behaving kid,” Chris Ayres told the network. “It’s not like alarm bells were going off.”

CNN said it was not known whether the gun the mother inquired about was the same weapon police said was used in Saturday’s attack. Authorities have said they are investigating the attack as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism.

Police say the suspect, Patrick Crusius, a white male from the Dallas suburb of Allen, drove some 650 miles (1,046 km) to the west Texas border city of El Paso before opening fire at a Walmart store there.

Most of the 22 people killed were Hispanic, including eight Mexican citizens. At least two dozen people were injured. The suspect, who surrendered to police, has been charged with capital murder.

A racist, anti-immigrant manifesto believed by authorities to have been written by the suspect was posted online shortly before the attack, which the author called a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

During his mother’s query to Allen police weeks earlier, according to her attorneys, she was transferred to a public safety officer who told her that based on her description of her son, he was legally allowed to buy the weapon in question, CNN said.

The mother, the lawyers told the network, did not give police her son’s name, and police did not seek any additional information from her before the call ended.

Attempts by Reuters to reach the attorneys cited in CNN’s story on Wednesday night were unsuccessful. Allen police were also not immediately available to discuss the report.

A statement posted by Allen police on Twitter this week, in response to media inquiries about the suspect’s prior encounters with law enforcement, listed just three relatively minor contacts in department records.

The most recent, in March, was a false burglar alarm reported by the suspect at his grandparents’ home, a call police said “was cleared without incident according to protocol.”

In 2016, the suspect was a passenger on a school bus involved in a minor accident investigated by police, and in 2014, he was reported as a juvenile runaway, but returned home without incident about 30 minutes later, police said.

Police told CNN those three incidents represent “the entirety of our dealings with Mr. Crusius, in any capacity, be it suspect, witness, reporting party, or in any other manner.”

CNN quoted an unnamed source familiar with the family as describing Crusius as undecided about his life, having considered transferring from a community college to a four-year university, enlisting in the military and seeking a full-time job.

“He was trying to figure out what to do next,” the source said. “When did the wheels come off? We don’t know.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Canadian police descend on tiny Manitoba hamlet as teen murder suspects spotted

Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) continue their search for Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, two teenage fugitives wanted in the murders of three people, near Gillam, Manitoba, Canada July 28, 2019. Manitoba RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadian police descended on a tiny hamlet in northern Manitoba on Sunday after a reported sighting of two teenage fugitives wanted in the murders of three people, including American and Australian tourists.

The days-long manhunt for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, which has crossed half the country, shifted to the area of York Landing, Manitoba, about 3,000 km (1,865 miles) from the crime scenes in British Columbia.

“Multiple resources are being sent to York Landing, Manitoba, to investigate a tip that the two suspects are possibly in, or near, the community,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said on Twitter. ” … despite reports, there’s no-one in custody at this time.”

The pair were originally reported as missing on July 19 but were later described as suspects in the killing of American Chynna Deese, 24, and her boyfriend, Australian Lucas Fowler, 23. Police charged the fugitives last week with the second-degree murder of Leonard Dyck, 64, a Vancouver botany professor. ]

Police had concentrated their search in recent days in the harsh terrain in the Gillam, Manitoba, area, more than 1,000 km (620 miles) north of Winnipeg, deploying drones, dogs and military help before shifting focus to York Landing on Sunday.

An official there said there had been sightings of the pair around the community’s landfill.

Chief Leroy Constant of York Factory Cree Nation&nbsp;said heavy winds were limiting police helicopters and drones.

“We are urging everyone to remain indoors with windows and doors locked. Patrols of the community will be done on a 24-hour basis,” he said in a statement.

(Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Paul Tait)

Chinese official urged Hong Kong villagers to drive off protesters before violence at train station

FILE PHOTO: Men in white T-shirts and carrying poles talk to riot police in Yuen Long after attack on anti-extradition bill demonstrators at a train station in Hong Kong, China, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

By James Pomfret, Greg Torode and David Lague

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A week before suspected triad gang members attacked protesters and commuters at a rural Hong Kong train station last Sunday, an official from China’s representative office urged local residents to drive away any activists.

Li Jiyi, the director of the Central Government Liaison’s local district office made the appeal at a community banquet for hundreds of villagers in Hong Kong’s rural New Territories.

A front view of the village of Nam Pin Wai, where groups of suspected attackers at the Yuen Long train station were surrounded by police, in Hong Kong, China July 23, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret

A front view of the village of Nam Pin Wai, where groups of suspected attackers at the Yuen Long train station were surrounded by police, in Hong Kong, China July 23, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret

In a previously unreported recording from the July 11 event obtained by Reuters, Li addresses the large crowd about the escalating protests that have plunged Hong Kong into its worst political crisis since it returned to Chinese from British rule in 1997.

Li chastises the protesters, appealing to the assembled residents to protect their towns in Yuen Long district and to chase anti-government activists away.

“We won’t allow them to come to Yuen Long to cause trouble,” he said, to a burst of applause.

“Even though there are a group of protesters trained to throw bricks and iron bars, we still have a group of Yuen Long residents with the persistence and courage to maintain social peace and protect our home.”

Repeatedly, Li spoke of the need for harmony and unity between the traditional villages and the government, “especially when there is wind and rain in Hong Kong”.

The banquet was attended by a Hong Kong government district officer, Enoch Yuen, and many of the city’s rural leaders.

Responding to Reuters’ questions to Yuen, a spokesman for the Yuen Long district office said it had no comment on the remarks of other speakers.

“District offices would relay local information and concerns gathered to other departments, as appropriate,” he added.

Last Sunday, after anti-government protesters marched in central Hong Kong and defaced China’s Liaison Office, over 100 men swarmed through Yuen Long train station, attacking black-clad protesters, passers-by, journalists and a lawmaker with pipes, clubs and lampstands.

When some protesters retaliated, the beatings escalated as men and women were hit repeatedly on their heads and bodies by the masked men, who wore white shirts.

Video footage showed victims fleeing the mayhem amid screams, and floors of the train station streaked with blood. Forty-five people were injured, one critically.

China’s Liaison Office did not immediately respond to Reuters questions about Li’s speech, and Li could not be reached for comment.

Johnny Mak, a veteran Democratic Alliance district councilor in Yuen Long who witnessed the train station bloodshed, said he believed Li’s remarks had been an explicit call to arms against protesters.

“If he didn’t say this, the violence wouldn’t have happened, and the triads wouldn’t have beaten people,” he told Reuters in his office close to the station.

Ching Chan-ming, the head of the Shap Pat Heung rural committee which hosted the banquet that night, said he thought Li’s speech was positive and held no malicious intent.

“How could he (Li) make such an appeal like that?,” Ching told Reuters. “I don’t think it was a mobilization call. His main message is that he hopes Hong Kong can remain stable and prosperous.”

TRIADS

The protesters are demanding Hong Kong’s leader scrap a controversial extradition law that many fear will extend China’s reach into the city.

The government’s refusal to do so – it has agreed only to suspend the bill so far – have led to two months of sometimes violent demonstrations across the city.

Beyond the extradition bill, many activists are demanding independent inquiries into the use of police force against them, and far-reaching democratic reforms – anathema to Beijing’s leaders.

China’s Foreign Ministry Office in Hong Kong said earlier this week that “the recent extreme and violent acts in Hong Kong have seriously undermined the foundation of the rule of law … and trampled on the red line of “One Country, Two Systems” which underpins Beijing’s control of Hong Kong.

Two senior police sources told Reuters some of the men who attacked the protesters had triad backgrounds including from the powerful Wo Shing Wo, Hong Kong’s oldest triad society, and the 14K, another large, well-known triad.

Police spokespeople didn’t respond to Reuters questions about triad involvement or any aspect of their operation that night.

While Hong Kong’s triads – ancient secret societies that morphed into mafia-style underworld operations – no longer hold the high profile of previous decades they remain entrenched in some grittier districts and in rural areas, according to police.

Police told reporters in 2014 during the so-called “Occupy” democracy protests, that hundreds of triad members were suspected of mounting operations to infiltrate, beat and harass those in the movement. Several dozen people were arrested at the time.

NO POLICE IN SIGHT

Within hours of Sunday’s violence, police bosses battled criticism they had failed to protect the public given delays getting to the scene.

Police commissioner Stephen Lo said there had been a need to “redeploy manpower from other districts”.

Democratic Party district councilor Zachary Wong said Li’s message was having an impact in the days leading up to Sunday’s violence and he had received repeated calls from associates a day earlier saying something was brewing.

Wong said he called local police on Saturday, and then again on Sunday at 7pm when he heard of men gathering in a Yuen Long park.

“Some people called me and said, ‘We’re really scared, please do something,” Wong told Reuters.

Both Mak and Wong said they were told by police they were aware of the situation and were handling it.

During this time, pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was filmed laughing and shaking hands with some of the men in white shirts near the park. Giving them the ‘thumbs up’ sign, he said: “You are my heroes”. The men laughed and cheered in response.

Ho later told reporters he had no knowledge of or involvement in the violence but was merely reaching out to his constituents.

Ho was not immediately available at his office and could not be reached on his mobile telephone.

Several hours later, when the most violent assaults took place at the train station, there were still no police present to prevent the bloodshed.

“It doesn’t make sense that for many hours, there wasn’t a single police car in sight,” said Mak.

Two senior police officers involved in controlling demonstrations and a senior government security official told Reuters privately they were incensed at public perceptions the police somehow acted in concert with triads at Yuen Long.

After the attacks in Yuen Long train station, some of the assailants fled to the traditional walled village of Nam Pin Wai nearby.

There, riot police and other officers surrounded and questioned scores of men in white shirts for several hours, live media coverage showed.

Sometime after 4 a.m., the men in white began to leave. No arrests were made at the time, although a dozen men have since been arrested, police said in a statement.

A police commander told reporters at the scene that no arrests were made as the police could not prove the men were the assailants, and no weapons were found.

Public anger over the incident has built in the days since, and tens of thousands of people are expected to march through Yuen Long on Saturday.

A rare open letter signed by a group of civil servants criticized authorities’ handling of the violence.

“The police’s lack of response on July 21 had made people suspect the government colluded with triads,” wrote a group of 235 civil servants from 44 government departments, including the police force.

“This had not only caused citizens to lose confidence in the police, but also made civil servants suspect that the government departments are not aimed to serve citizens faithfully.”

At a news conference, Police Commissioner Lo denied any collusion between his force and triads but acknowledged the need to restore public confidence.

(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, Felix Tam and Vimvam Tong; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Protesters scuffle with Hong Kong police, government offices shut

Pro-democracy legislators speak to the media demanding the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdraw a controversial extradition bill outside Government House, following a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, in Hong Kong, China June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Clare Jim and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in Hong Kong on Thursday as hundreds of people kept up a protest against a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up big crowds.

Protests around the city’s legislature on Wednesday forced the postponement of debate on the extradition bill, which many people in Hong Kong fear will undermine freedoms and confidence in the commercial hub.

Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence and urged a swift restoration of order but has vowed to press ahead with the legislation despite the reservations about it, including within the business community.

The number of protesters milling about outside the legislature in the financial district fell overnight but rose again through the day on Thursday to about 1,000 at one stage.

They expect the legislature, which has a majority of pro-Beijing members, will try to hold the debate at some stage, though it issued a notice saying there would be no session on Thursday.

“We will be back when, and if, it comes back for discussion again,” said protester Stephen Chan, a 20-year old university student.

“We just want to preserve our energy now.”

Earlier, some protesters tried to stop police from removing their supplies of face masks and food and scuffles broke out.

Police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways and plainclothes officers checked commuters’ identity cards.

A clean-up got underway to clear debris like broken umbrellas, helmets, plastic water bottles and barricades from the streets after the previous day’s clashes. Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on Wednesday in a series of skirmishes to clear demonstrators from the legislature.

Officials said 72 people were admitted to hospital.

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said what began as a peaceful gathering on Wednesday had degenerated into a riot with protesters “acting violently in an organized manner”.

Police arrested 11 people and fired about 150 tear gas canisters at the crowd. The city’s hospital authority said a total of 81 people were injured in the protests. 22 police were injured according to Lo.

Police also later arrested two students at the University of Hong Kong after a raid on a student hall of residence, according to an official at the university. The police gave no immediate response to Reuters inquiries on what charges the students face.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Chinese government “strongly condemns the violent behavior and we support the (Hong Kong) government in dealing with it according to law”.

‘LAWLESSNESS’

Authorities shut government offices in the financial district, which is overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong in decades.

Hong Kong’s benchmark stock exchange slid as much as 1.5% on Thursday before closing down 0.1%, extending losses from the previous day.

Most roads in the business district were open on Thursday but some shops and offices were closed and banks, including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS, said they had suspended branch services in the area.

Wednesday saw the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover of the former British colony back to Chinese rule.

The handover included a deal to preserve special autonomy, but many Hong Kong people accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms and interference in local elections.

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concern it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.

Beijing rejects accusations of meddling and Chinese state media said this week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the bill.

The English-language China Daily said the “lawlessness” would hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its law.

Lam and her officials say the law is necessary to plug loopholes that allow criminals wanted on the mainland to use the city as a haven. She has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized Sunday’s huge march, said it was planning another demonstration for Sunday.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

Opponents of the bill, including lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions and arbitrary detention.

Democratic city legislators condemned Lam and what they said was heavy-handed police action.

“We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that,” said legislator Fernando Cheung.

“But ‘mother Carrie Lam’ did it. What kind of mother is she?”

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not accept any extradition requests from Hong Kong under the proposed law. The self-ruled island also issued a travel alert.

Hong Kong’s Tourism Board called off a dragon boat carnival this weekend while the city’s Bar Association expressed concern over video footage of police using force against largely unarmed protesters.

Amnesty International and domestic rights groups condemned what they said was excessive force by the police, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.

Diplomatic pressure was also building after leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the protests.

The European Union said it shared many concerns over the proposed extradition reform and urged public consultation.

(Reporting by Joyce Zhou, Julie Zhu, Sumeet Chatterjee, Clare Jim, Jennifer Hughes, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret, Alun John, Vimvang Tong, Jessie Pang and Felix Tam; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI, Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell in BEIJING, and David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode in HONG KONG; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)

 

Putin fires police generals over discredited case against journalist

Russian journalist Ivan Golunov (C), who was freed from house arrest after police abruptly dropped drugs charges against him, reacts during a meeting with the media and his supporters outside the office of criminal investigations in Moscow, Russia June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday fired two police generals involved in a discredited criminal case against a journalist, an episode that sparked a mass protest in Moscow the previous day, the Kremlin said.

Russian police abruptly dropped drugs charges on Tuesday against journalist Ivan Golunov, a rare U-turn by the authorities in the face of anger from his supporters who had alleged he was framed for his reporting.

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said at the time that he planned to ask Putin to dismiss senior police personnel involved in the case.

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Putin had fired two senior police officers, both of whom had the major-general rank.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)

Chicago police investigating leaks in ‘Empire’ actor case

FILE PHOTO: Jussie Smollett exits Cook County Department of Corrections after posting bail in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – The Chicago Police Department has started an internal investigation into how information about an alleged hate crime attack against actor Jussie Smollett was anonymously leaked to journalists, police officials said.

Smollett, 36, a black, openly gay actor on the hip-hop TV drama “Empire,” was charged with lying to police last month after he said he was attacked in January by two masked men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs. Detectives investigated the incident as a hate crime but local news outlets cited police sources saying it was believed to be a hoax.

“I would like to&nbsp;point out that&nbsp;a lot of the information&nbsp;out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation,” Police Sergeant Rocco Alioto said in a statement on Thursday.

He said an internal investigation had begun as part of standard procedure for allegations of information leaks.

Smollett ignited a media firestorm by telling police two apparent supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump had struck him, put a noose round his neck and poured bleach over him during an assault outside his apartment on Jan. 29.

The actor was arrested on Feb. 21 and charged with filing a false police report after detectives said he staged the hoax hate crime attack to boost his fame because he was unhappy with his salary on the show. He was later released on bail.

The makers of “Empire,” 20th Century Fox Television, cut Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, from the final two episodes of the current season after his arrest, saying it wanted to avoid “further disruption” on its production set.

Smollett, who pleaded not guilty, faces up to three years in prison if convicted. His next court hearing is scheduled for March 14.

A representative and lawyers for Smollett did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)

France braces for trouble, Macron to address ‘yellow vest’ anger

A trash bin burns as youths and high school students attend a demonstration to protest against the French government's reform plan, in Paris, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By Richard Lough and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – France hunkered down for another wave of potentially violent protests on Saturday as embattled President Emmanuel Macron planned to address the nation next week over public fury at the high cost of living, senior allies said.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the three-week-old “yellow vest” revolt had “created a monster” and vowed police would have no tolerance for violence, with much of Paris in lockdown and tens of thousands of police deployed nationwide.

Named after the fluorescent safety vests that all French motorists must carry, the protesters are billing their planned action on Saturday as “Act IV” of worst unrest seen in the capital since the 1968 student riots.

Castaner warned that radicals would likely again infiltrate the protest movement – a backlash against high living costs but also, increasingly, a revolt against Macron himself, including his perceived loftiness and reforms favoring a moneyed elite.

“These last three weeks have created a monster,” Castaner told reporters. “Our security forces will respond with firmness and I will have no tolerance for anyone who capitalizes on the distress of our citizens.”

Some 89,000 policemen will be on duty nationwide to forestall a repeat of last Saturday’s destructive mayhem in exclusive central districts of Paris. Police in Paris will be backed up by armored vehicles equipped to clear barricades.

Senior allies of Macron said the president would address the nation early next week. Navigating his biggest crisis since being elected 18 months ago, Macron has left it largely to his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, to deal in public with the turmoil and offer concessions.

But the 40-year-old is under mounting pressure to speak more fully as his administration tries to regain the initiative following three weeks of unrest in the G7 nation.

“The President will speak early next week. I think this is what the French people want, they want answers,” Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told Sud Radio on Friday.

Macron has not spoken in public since he condemned last Saturday’s disturbances while at the G20 summit in Argentina and opposition leaders accused him of turning the Elysee Palace into a bunker where had taken cover.

“Is Macron still in Argentina? He must surely have an opinion,” hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“The president himself must speak,” main opposition conservative Republicans leader Laurent Wauquiez told Europe 1 radio on Thursday.

Yellow vests are hung outside windows of an apartment building in support of the "yellow vests" movement in Marseille, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Yellow vests are hung outside windows of an apartment building in support of the “yellow vests” movement in Marseille, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

“FORGOTTEN FRANCE”

After the Dec. 1 riots in central Paris and sometimes violent demonstrations in dozens of other cities and towns across France, the government offered a rush of sweeteners to soothe public anger.

It started by scrapping next year’s planned hikes to fuel taxes, the first major U-turn of Macron’s presidency and costing the Treasury 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion).

But protesters want Macron to go further to help hard-pressed households, including an increase to the minimum wage, lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy, better retirement provisions, and even Macron’s resignation.

But, mindful of France’s deficit and not wanting to flout EU rules, Macron will have scant wriggle room for more concessions.

The “gilets Jaunes” (yellow vest) movement remains amorphous and hard to define, with a rapidly shifting agenda and internal divisions.

One faction, which dubs itself the “Free Yellow Vests”, called on protesters not to travel to Paris on Saturday but criticized Macron for refusing to hold direct talks.

“We appeal for calm, for respect of public property and the security forces,” Benjamin Cauchy declared in front of the National Assembly. His group are seen as moderates within the broader movement.

“The forgotten France is the France of the regions and it is in the regions that France will show peacefully their anger,” Cauchy said.

Youths and high school students attend a demonstration to protest against the French government's reform plan, in Paris, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Youths and high school students attend a demonstration to protest against the French government’s reform plan, in Paris, France, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

“SMASHING THINGS UP”

The Eiffel Tower, opera house, and Louvre are among dozens of museums and tourist sites in Paris that will close on Saturday to pre-empt feared attacks by yellow vest militants.

Luxury boutiques and restaurants in fancy neighborhoods and near the presidential palace erected barricades and boarded up windows. Department stores Galerie Lafayette and Printemps said they would not open in the capital on Saturday.

The trouble is jeopardizing a timid economic recovery in France just as the Christmas holiday season kicks off. Retailers have lost about 1 billion euros in revenue since the protests erupted, the retail federation said.

On the French stock market, retailers, airlines and hoteliers suffered their worst week in months.

Patrick Delmas, 49, will shut his “Le Monte Carlo” bar next to the Champs Elysees on Saturday, blaming hoodlums from anarchist and anti-capitalist groups, as well as the yellow vest movement’s violent fringe.

“We have lost 60 percent of business over the last 15 days,” he said. “The problem is all those people who arrive with the sole intention of smashing things up.”

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Dominique Vidalon, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Lough and Marine Pennetier; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Heinrich)