China warns Hong Kong protesters not to ‘play with fire’

A demonstrator throws a traffic cone at a group of people opposing the anti-government protesters, during a demonstration in support of the city-wide strike and to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – Protesters in Hong Kong must not “play with fire” and mistake Beijing’s restraint for weakness, China said on Tuesday in its sharpest rebuke yet of the “criminals” behind demonstrations in the city whom it vowed to bring to justice.

Hong Kong has suffered weeks of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law, which would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland courts.

But the protests have swelled into a broader backlash against the government of the Asian financial hub, fueled by many residents’ fear of eroding freedoms under the increasingly tight control of the Communist Party in Beijing.

“I would like to warn all of the criminals: don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness,” the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a document issued during a briefing in Beijing.

A small group of violent radicals were at the forefront of the protests, with “some kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join,” according to the document attributed to two officials, Yang Guang and Xu Luying.

It said anti-China forces were the “behind-the-scenes masterminds” who had “openly and brazenly emboldened” the protesters.

“We would like to make clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it,” the office said.

“At the end of the day, they will eventually be punished.”

China has been quick to label U.S. officials as “black hands” instigating unrest in Hong Kong in an attempt to contain China’s development, but it has not provided any concrete evidence.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Friday urged the Trump administration to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong police, which have been accused of using excessive force.

Police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters in the former British colony after a general strike hit transport and the city’s Beijing-backed leader, chief executive Carrie Lam, warned its prosperity was at risk.

The protests surpassed earlier shows of dissent in scale and intensity, seemingly stoked by Lam’s refusal once again to meet any of the protesters’ demands, including for her resignation and independent inquiries into police use of force.

The protests are the greatest political threat to Hong Kong’s government since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and one of the biggest popular challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

‘CIVILIZED POWER’

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Hong Kong has remained in barracks since the protests started in April, leaving Hong Kong’s police force to deal with the massive demonstrations.

Last week, the PLA garrison there issued a video showing “anti-riot” exercises, and its top brass warned violence is “absolutely impermissible”.

Diplomats and foreign security analysts are watching the situation closely, but believe there’s little appetite in Beijing for the PLA to be deployed on the streets of Hong Kong.

So far, the central government and the PLA have said only that there are clear provisions in law covering the prospect of the force’s intervention in the city.

During the briefing, Yang called the PLA “a strong force that defends every inch of its sacred territory”, and said the central government would not allow any “turbulence” beyond the control of the Hong Kong government to threaten national unity or security.

“The PLA is a force of power but also a civilized power,” Yang said.

“As long as it has the strong support of the central government and the Chinese people, the Hong Kong government and police “are fully capable of punishing those criminal activities and restoring public order and stability”, he said.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

Hong Kong protesters smash up legislature in direct challenge to China

Anti-extradition bill protesters use the flashlights from their phones as they march during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By John Ruwitch and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters stormed the legislature on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to China on Monday, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti in a direct challenge to China as anger over an extradition bill spiraled out of control.

Some carried road signs, others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding upstairs and downstairs as about a thousand gathered around the Legislative Council building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district.

Some sat at legislators’ desks, checking their phones, while others scrawled “Withdraw anti-extradition” on walls.

The government called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year.

There was no immediate response from the protesters, although some appeared to retreat as the evening wore on.

A small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave.

The council, the mini-parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately.

It did not say what would happen if they didn’t but police did not immediately intervene.

The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement canceling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security consideration”.

Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.

Banners hanging over flyovers at the protest site read: “Free Hong Kong.”

The protesters, some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas, once again paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.

It was not immediately clear that the announcement it would lapse would ease the tension.

The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

“The kind of deafness that I see in the government this time around despite these protests is really worrying. The complete disregard for the will of the people is what alarms me,” said Steve, a British lawyer show has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years.

“If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong.”

Opponents of the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.

Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.

China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation. Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong any more and was opposed to its “gesticulating” about the territory.

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

THOUSANDS RALLY

Tens of thousands marched in temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F) from Victoria Park in an annual rally. Many clapped as protesters held up a poster of Lam inside a bamboo cage. Organizers said 550,000 turned out. Police said there were 190,000 at their peak.

More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger.

A tired-looking Lam appeared in public for the first time in nearly two weeks, before the storming of the legislature, flanked by her husband and former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.

“The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” she said. “This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiment accurately.”

PROTEST MOVEMENT REINVIGORATED

Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong has intensified markedly since Xi took power and after pro-democracy street protests that gripped the city in 2014 but failed to wrestle concessions from China.

Tensions spiraled on June 12 when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters near the heart of the city, sending plumes of smoke billowing among some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

The uproar has reignited a protest movement that had lost steam after the failed 2014 demonstrations that led to the arrests of hundreds.

Activists raised a black bauhinia flag to half-mast outside the Legislative Council building before the rally and turned Hong Kong’s official flag, featuring a white bauhinia flower on a red background, upside down.

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for Beijing, which is grappling with a trade dispute with the United States, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.

Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill has spooked some Hong Kong tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers familiar with the details.

(Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Alun John, Vimvam Tong, Thomas Peter, David Lague, Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree, Sharon Lam, Donny Kwok, Joyce Zhou, Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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)

 

Nearly 50 Palestinians wounded in ‘Catastrophe’ anniversary protests on Gaza-Israel border

Demonstrators hold Palestinian flags during a protest marking the 71st anniversary of the 'Nakba', or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's independence in 1948, near the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops wounded nearly 50 Palestinians at the Gaza border on Wednesday during protests to mark the 71st anniversary of the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, when many Palestinians lost their homes in the fighting around Israel’s creation, Gaza officials said.

Thousands had gathered at the coastal enclave’s frontier with Israel, the scene of bloodshed over the past year that has raised international concern.

Groups approached the border fence, planting Palestinian flags and throwing stones toward Israeli soldiers on the other side despite the efforts of marshalls in orange vests to keep protesters away from the barrier, witnesses said.

Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets to repel them, but also live ammunition, the witnesses said.

The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 47 people were wounded, though it was not clear how many of those were hit by live ammunition or were hurt by rubber bullets or by inhaling tear gas.

The Israeli military said about 10,000 rioters and demonstrators gathered in several places along the Gaza Strip fence.

“The rioters are setting tyres on fire and hurling rocks. A number of explosive devices have been hurled within the Gaza Strip, as well, and a number of attempts have been made to approach the security fence. IDF troops are responding with riot dispersal means.”

Wednesday’s rallies were called to mark Nakba Day, what Palestinians term the catastrophe that befell them at Israel’s creation in 1948, when hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from lands in what is now Israel.

“Our people rise today to announce their rejection to this crime and to assert their right in Palestine, all of Palestine,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said at one demonstration, referring to Israel and the territories it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

“Palestine is ours, the sea is ours, the sky is ours and the land is ours, and those strangers must be removed,” he said.

Another protester, Jamila Mahmoud, 50, said her family had originally come from Asqlan, now the Israeli city of Ashkelon, near Gaza.

“If we don’t return, maybe our children and grandchildren will do, one day we will get our rights back,” Mahmoud said at the border protest site.

Palestinians also held rallies in the occupied West Bank but no major clashes with Israeli forces were immediately reported.

This year’s Nakba protests were preceded by a surge in deadly cross-border fighting between Gaza militants and Israel which ended in a ceasefire on May 6.

Israeli troops have killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands in regular border protests since March 2018, according to human rights groups. U.N. investigators have said the Israeli military might be guilty of war crimes for using excessive force.

Israel has said it is defending its border against attacks against its troops and infiltration attempts by gunmen.

Israel has rejected a Palestinian right of return as a threat to maintaining a Jewish majority in a country it describes as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Frustration is growing among Palestinians as hopes fade for a two-state solution to the conflict which would give them an independent country. President Donald Trump’s announcement in December 2017 of U.S. recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital also fueled Palestinian anger.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Angus MacSwan)

French police fire tear gas at protesters in Paris May Day rally

A protester wearing a yellow vest holds a French flag as he walks among tear gas during the traditional May Day labour union march with French unions and yellow vests protesters in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Clotaire Achi and Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – French police fired tear gas to push back masked demonstrators in central Paris on Wednesday as thousands of people used an annual May Day rally to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

Labor unions and so-called “yellow vest” protesters were on the streets across France, days after Macron outlined a response to months of street protests that included tax cuts worth around 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion).

A Reuters journalist saw riot police use tear gas to disperse a group of hooded and masked protesters who had converged at the front of the traditional May Day labor union march in Paris.

Some protesters wearing hoods or yellow vests responded by throwing projectiles at the police. Television footage showed a van with its windows smashed. Several people were lightly wounded.

By mid-afternoon, the main march crossing the southern part of the capital was finally able to move amid relative calm, although it appeared that yellow-vests and more radical elements rather than labor unions were dominating the march. The hard left CGT union denounced police violence.

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“While the inter-union procession was to start at 14:30 (1230 GMT), unprecedented and indiscriminate repression took place following the acts of violence by some parties,” the union said in a statement. It said union members including the CGT secretary general had been tear-gassed, adding, “This current scenario, scandalous and unprecedented, is unacceptable in our democracy.”

A Reuters photographer saw several masked protesters removing their outfits to merge into the crowd.

French police had warned on Tuesday that there could be clashes with far-left anarchist groups, known as Black Blocs, after calls on social media for radicals to hit the streets.

Authorities had said they expected some 2,000 Black Bloc protesters from France and across Europe to turn up on the sidelines of the traditional May Day union rallies.

Some 7,400 police were deployed in Paris and made 200 arrests.

The “yellow vest” protests, named after motorists’ high-visibility jackets, began in November over fuel tax increases but have evolved into a sometimes violent revolt against politicians and a government seen as out of touch.

Many in the grassroots movement, which lacks a leadership structure, have said Macron’s proposals do not go far enough and most of what he announced lacks detail.

Thousands of people also demonstrated in cities from Marseille to Toulouse and Bordeaux. Some 300 yellow-vest protesters tried to storm a police station in the Alpine town of Besancon.

“We have been trying to fight, to make ourselves heard, for six months and nobody cares. People don’t understand the movement, though it seems pretty simple: We just want to live normally,” said Florence, 58, a trainer in a large company who was marching in Paris.

(Additional reporting by Ardee Soriano, Elizabeth Pineau and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

France’s ‘yellow vests’ clash with police in Paris

Protesters wearing yellow vests install a barricade during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters faced off with French riot police in Paris on Saturday, hurling projectiles, torching cars and vandalizing shops and restaurants in a fourth weekend of unrest that has shaken President Emmanuel Macron’s authority.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and horses to charge protesters on roads fanning out from the Champs Elysees boulevard, but encountered less violence than a week ago, when the capital witnessed its worst unrest since the 1968 student riots.

Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration on the Grands Boulevards as part a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

As night fell and many demonstrators started returning home, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there had been about 10,000 protesters in Paris by early evening and some 125,000 across the country.

Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse and other cities also saw major clashes between protesters and police on Saturday.

“The situation is now under control,” Castaner said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

He said about 120 demonstrators and nearly 20 police officers had been injured nationwide. Nearly 1,000 people had been arrested, 620 of them in Paris, after police found potential weapons such as hammers and baseball bats on them.

Philippe said police would remain vigilant through the night as some protesters continued to roam the city.

Groups of youths, many of them masked, continued skirmishing with police in the Place de la Republique area as some stores were looted.

Named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry, the “yellow vest” protests erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17, when nearly 300,000 demonstrators nationwide took to the streets to denounce high living costs and Macron’s liberal economic reforms.

Demonstrators say the reforms favor the wealthy and do nothing to help the poor and billed Saturday’s protest “Act IV” of their protest after three consecutive Saturdays of rioting.

The government this week canceled a planned rise in taxes on petrol and diesel in a bid to defuse the situation but the protests have morphed into a broader anti-Macron rebellion.

“Very sad day & night in Paris,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a Twitter message. “Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?”

Protesters wearing yellow vests install a barricade during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

SHUTTERED SHOPS

The protests are jeopardizing a fragile economic recovery in France just as the Christmas holiday season kicks off.

Retailers have lost an estimated one billion euros in revenue since the protests erupted and shares in tourism-related shares saw their worst week in months.

Swathes of Paris’ affluent Right Bank north of the Seine river were locked down on Saturday, with luxury boutiques boarded up, department stores closed and restaurants and cafes shuttered. The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Paris Opera were also closed.

Demonstrators left a trail of destruction on Paris streets, with bank and insurance company offices’ windows smashed, cars and scooters set on fire and street furniture vandalized.

On the smashed front of one Starbucks cafe, vandals scrawled: “No fiscal justice, no social justice.”

The government had warned that far-right, anarchist and anti-capitalist groups would likely infiltrate protests and many of the skirmishes saw police tackling gangs of hooded youths, some of them covering their faces with masks.

“It feels like order is being better maintained this week,” Jean-Francois Barnaba, one of the yellow vests’ unofficial spokesmen, told Reuters.

“Last week the police were tear-gassing us indiscriminately. This time their actions are more targeted,” he added.

Tear gas fills the air during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

MACRON U-TURN

The government this week offered concessions to soothe public anger, including scrapping next year’s planned hikes to fuel taxes in the first major U-turn of Macron’s presidency. It will cost 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 benefits and even Macron’s resignation.

“We want equality, we want to live, not survive,” said demonstrator Guillaume Le Grac, 28, who works in a slaughterhouse in Britanny.

Macron is expected to address the nation early next week to possibly further soften planned reforms and tax increases.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Sybille de la Hamaide, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Simon Carraud, Matthias Blamont, Marine Pennetier and Gus Trompiz; writing by Geert De Clercq and Richard Lough; editing by Gareth Jones and Jason Neely)

Mexico calls for ‘full investigation’ of U.S. tear gas at border

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, run from tear gas released by U.S border patrol, near the border fence between Mexico and the United States in Tijuana, Mexico, November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Susan Heavey and Lizbeth Diaz

WASHINGTON/TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico’s foreign ministry presented a diplomatic note to the U.S. government on Monday calling for “a full investigation” into what it described as non-lethal weapons directed toward Mexican territory on Sunday, a statement from the ministry said.

The formal request came a day after U.S. authorities fired tear gas canisters toward migrants in Mexico – near the border crossing separating Tijuana from San Diego, California – when some rushed through border fencing into the United States.

More than 40 were arrested on the U.S. side, U.S. border authorities said, adding that none were believed to have successfully crossed further into Californian territory.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at an event in Mississippi that he would close the border if migrants “charge” the barrier. During the melee on Sunday, U.S. authorities shut San Ysidro, the country’s busiest border crossing, for several hours.

“We would close it and we’ll keep it closed if we’re going to have a problem. We’ll keep it closed for a long period of time,” Trump said.

Sunday’s incident was the latest chapter in a saga that has pitted Trump’s hardline immigration policies against thousands of migrants who have made their way north through Mexico from violent and impoverished Central American countries.

Tensions had been growing in Tijuana, and Trump said on Saturday the migrants would have to wait in Mexico until their individual asylum claims were resolved in the United States. That would be a significant shift in asylum policy that could keep Central Americans in Mexico for more than a year.

Trump went further on Monday, saying Mexico should send the Central Americans, mostly Hondurans, back home.

“Mexico should move the flag-waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it any way you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!” Trump tweeted.

Mexico has been in negotiations with the United States over a possible scheme to keep migrants in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed.

The team of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Saturday, has said no deal has been agreed on the migrants. But officials have hinted they could remain.

“We should be objective, whatever happens, they will stay in Mexico,” said Alejandro Encinas, an incoming deputy interior minister. “Migrants have rights and we will respect them.”

CRITICISM

U.S. government agencies defended the response to Sunday’s incident at the San Ysidro crossing south of San Diego, California. News pictures showing children fleeing tear gas prompted sharp criticism from some lawmakers and charities.

British aid group Oxfam said the use of tear gas was shameful.

“Images of barefoot children choking on tear gas thrown by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol should shock us to our core,” Vicki Gass, Oxfam America Senior Policy Advisor for Central America, said in a statement.

Democrats and other critics called the use of tear gas an overreaction and questioned the idea of keeping the migrants in Mexico to make asylum claims there.

Some rights advocates and legal experts were concerned that the Trump administration was seeking to exploit the clashes.

Geoffrey Hoffman, a professor and director of the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, which represents migrants applying for asylum, said the government would use it to push the argument that the migrants should remain in Mexico.

Still, Rodney Scott, chief U.S. Border Patrol agent in San Diego, told CNN the vast majority of those assembled at the border were economic migrants who would not qualify for asylum and said there were few women and children.

“What I saw on the border yesterday was not people walking up to Border Patrol agents and asking to claim asylum,” he said.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that the agency has “confirmed that there are over 600 convicted criminals traveling with the caravan.”

She also said the women and children in the caravan were being used as “human shields” by organizers when they confront law enforcement.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in a statement four agents were hit with rocks on Sunday, but they did not suffer serious injuries.

WAITING GAME

Tijuana police chief Mario Martinez told a news conference on Monday that 194 Central Americans had been arrested in the 15 days the caravan has been in the area.

The migrants have traveled through Mexico in large groups, or caravans. There are more than 7,000 at the U.S. border in Tijuana and the city of Mexicali, with more than 800 others still moving toward the border.

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum, who has said his city is facing a humanitarian crisis, told a local radio station the United States would take up to three months to start processing asylum requests.

Many of those in Tijuana have said they will wait there until they can seek asylum. If they enter the United States, legally or illegally, they have a right to seek asylum.

Melkin Gonzalez, a 26-year-old Honduran man, recounting Sunday’s tear gas firing, said: “I fell in dirty water when I was running (away) and I still don’t have any clothes to change into. Even so, I’m not going back to Honduras, I want to go to the United States.”

The U.S. military said it had shifted about 300 service members from Texas and Arizona to California in recent days. In total, about 5,600 active-duty troops are on the border with Mexico.

U.S. military officials have said they expected troops to be repositioned as the situation developed and changed.

Nielsen said her agency was prepared to address any future violence by deploying more U.S. military forces.

U.S. lawmakers face a deadline to approve funding for the federal government by Dec. 7. Trump has threatened to shut down the government unless Congress pays for his planned border wall.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Idrees Ali in Washington, Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Steve Holland in Gulfport, Mississippi; Writing by Susan Heavey and Frances Kerry; Editing by Alistair Bell, James Dalgleish and Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. fires tear gas into Mexico to repel migrants, closes border gate for several hours

Migrants run from tear gas, thrown by the U.S border patrol, near the border fence between Mexico and the United States in Tijuana, Mexico, November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – U.S. authorities shut the country’s busiest border crossing and fired tear gas into Mexico on Sunday to repel Central American migrants approaching the border after U.S. President Donald Trump vowed the asylum-seekers would not easily enter the country.

Traffic in both directions was suspended for several hours at the San Ysidro port of entry between San Diego and Tijuana, U.S. officials said, disrupting trade at the most heavily trafficked land border in the Western Hemisphere. Pedestrian crossings and vehicle traffic later resumed, officials said.

Tensions on the border had been rising in recent days, with thousands of Central American migrants who arrived in a caravan camped out in a sports stadium in Tijuana. On Sunday, Mexican police broke up the latest in a series of daily protests, triggering a rush toward the U.S. border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stopped the migrants with a volley of canisters emitting large clouds of gas as U.S. and Mexican government helicopters clattered overhead.

The Mexican government said it had retaken control of the border crossing after nearly 500 migrants tried to cross the U.S. border “in a violent manner,” and vowed to immediately deport Central Americans who attempt to enter the United States illegally.

Trump has raised alarm for weeks about the caravan of Central American migrants as it approached the United States, with its members planning to apply for asylum on reaching the country.

The mostly Honduran migrants are fleeing poverty and violence and have said they would wait in Tijuana until they could request asylum in the United States, despite growing U.S. measures to tighten the border.

Hundreds of caravan members including women and children protested peacefully on Sunday with chants of “We aren’t criminals! We are hard workers.” As they neared the U.S. border, they were stopped by Mexican authorities, who told them to wait for permission.

As the morning wore on, and it became clear they would not get permission, people started to express frustration.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, make their way across Tijuana river near the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, make their way across Tijuana river near the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

MILITARY POLICE DEPLOYED

Groups of migrants, some of them bearing the Honduran flag, broke off and headed toward the border fence, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers gathered on the other side, backed by U.S. military police, San Diego police and the California Highway Patrol.

The Americans responded with tear gas after the migrants hit them with projectiles, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said on Twitter.

“Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety,” the statement said.

Protesters were caught between the Mexican and U.S. authorities. A young woman fell to the ground unconscious, and two babies cried, tears streaming from the gas, a Reuters witness said.

“They want us to wait in Mexico but I for one am desperate. My little girl is sick and I don’t even have money for milk,” said Joseph Garcia, 32, of Honduras. “I can’t stand it anymore.”

Trump has deployed military forces to the border to support the Border Patrol and threatened on Saturday to close the entire southern border.

Military police were sent to the border crossing and military engineers moved barricades as part of the enforcement, the U.S. Northern Command said in a statement on Sunday.

“Department of Defense military personnel will not be conducting law enforcement functions, but are authorized to provide force protection for Customs and Border Protection personnel,” the statement said.

An average of 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians cross from Mexico to the United States at San Ysidro each day, according to the U.S. General Services Administration.

Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center research group in Washington, called the closure a “drastic response” and said it would cost “many millions of dollars.”

U.S. and Mexican negotiators met on Sunday to discuss a plan to keep the Central Americans in Mexico while their asylum claims are heard. Normally, asylum-seekers announce their intention on arriving at U.S. ports of entry or after crossing the border illegally.

Trump has been pushing for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and warned on Thursday there could be a government shutdown next month if the U.S. Congress failed to provide funding. Sunday’s events took place at one of the stretches where there is a physical border barrier.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Doina Chiacu and Julia Harte in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Israeli gunfire, tear gas injure 100 as Gaza protest resumes

Tear gas canisters are fired by Israeli troops at Palestinian demonstrators during a protest marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day), at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Israeli troops fired tear gas and live bullets at Palestinians taking part in weekly protests at the Gaza Strip border with Israel on Friday, injuring at least 100 people, medics said.

The army said it was taking action to disperse thousands of Palestinians, some of whom threw rocks the troops and burned tyres, and prevent any breach of the fortified frontier fence.

Israeli forces have killed at last 120 Palestinians in protests along the border since a campaign was launched on March 30 to demand the right to return to ancestral lands that are now part of Israel, hospital officials say. Israel says the dead included Hamas and other militants who used civilians as cover for infiltration attempts.

(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Pakistani police fire tear gas at Islamists blockading capital

Pakistani police fire tear gas at Islamists blockading capital

By Asif Shahzad and Kay Johnson

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani police used tear gas and watercannon, and fought running battles with stone-throwing Islamist activists, as they moved to clear a sit-in by the religious hard-liners who have blocked the main routes into the capital of Islamabad for more than two weeks.

The protests have spread to other main cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

The clashes began on Saturday when police launched an operation involving some 4,000 officers to disperse around 1,000 activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik, a new hard-line Islamist political party, and break up their camp, police official Saood Tirmizi told Reuters.

Dozens of protesters were arrested, Tirmizi said, and hospitals reported dozens of people were being treated for injuries.

The mass protest, plus the recent gains of two new Islamist parties in Pakistan, demonstrated the religious right’s gathering strength ahead of what are expected to be tumultuous elections next year.

Television footage showed a police vehicle on fire, heavy curtains of smoke and fires burning in the streets as officers in heavy riot gear advanced. Protesters, some wearing gas masks, fought back in scattered battles across empty highways and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end,” Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters by telephone from the scene.

By midday, TV coverage had been cut off and private channels were off the air by orders of the official media regulator.

The protesters have paralyzed daily life in the capital, and have defied court orders to disband, demanding the firing of the minister of law.

Tehreek-e-Labaik blames the minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy. The government puts the issue down to a clerical error.

“Death to blasphemers” is a central rallying cry for Tehreek-e-Laibak, which was born out of a protest movement lionizing Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab province who gunned down his boss in 2011 over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws.

The party, which advocates strict rule by Islamic Sharia law, won a surprisingly strong 7.6 percent of the vote in a by-election in Peshawar last month.

Since Tehreek-e-Labaik began its sit-in, the government has blocked several roads with shipping containers to corral the protesters, but that has caused hours-long traffic jams in and around the capital.

The government had tried to negotiate an end to the sit-in, fearing violence during a crackdown similar to 2007, when clashes between authorities and supporters of a radical Islamabad mosque led to the deaths of more than 100 people.

By late morning, Tehreek-e-Labaik supporters were coming out on the streets in other Pakistani cities in support of the Islamabad protesters.

About 500 demonstrators blocked several main roads in Karachi, the southern port that is Pakistan’s largest city, a Reuters witness said. Police fired tear gas to try to disperse them from a main road near Karachi’s airport.

In the eastern city of Lahore, party supporters blocked three roads into the city, provincial government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan said.

“We want them to disperse peacefully. Otherwise we have other options open,” he said. “We don’t want to use force, but we will if there is no other option left.”

In Islamabad, police official Aftab Ahmad said officers were using restraint and denied media reports that rubber bullets were being fired.

However, Labaik spokesman Ashrafi said “several of our workers have got rubber bullet injuries” and also asserted police had fired live rounds, which police denied.

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Christian Schmollinger)