70-year-old dies after being hit on head during Hong Kong clashes

Robie de Guzman   •   November 15, 2019   •   453

Protesters prepare to clash with police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in Hong Kong, China, 14 November 2019. Hong Kong is in its sixth month of mass protests, which were originally triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, and have since turned into a wider pro-democracy movement. EPA-EFE/MIGUEL CANDELA

HONG KONG – A cleaner subcontracted by the Hong Kong government died overnight after he was apparently struck on the head by a brick amid protest clashes on Nov. 13, authorities reported Friday.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) released a statement expressing “profound sadness” over the death of the outsourced cleaning service contractor on Thursday night.

The man was hit during his lunch break near North District Town Hall on Wednesday.

“We have requested the service contractor to follow up the labor insurance and compensation matters promptly,” said an FEHD spokesperson, according to the statement which added that the police would do everything to investigate the case and bring the “offenders to justice.”

Since the first day of the general strike on Monday, Hong Kong has witnessed a sharp rise in violence with demonstrations ending in clashes that have resulted in several people injured.

On Wednesday, two people were reported to be seriously injured — a 15-year-old who was hit on the head by a tear gas canister, and the now-deceased 70-year-old man who died Thursday night.

On Monday, a 21-year-old boy was shot by a traffic policeman and in a separate incident, a 57-year-old was set alight after a political argument.

The young man’s condition improved from critical to serious and has reportedly been arrested for unlawful assembly, whereas the man set alight remains critical with burns to 44 percent of his body.

On Nov. 8, a 22-year-old student died after being in a coma for several days after falling from the third to the second floor of a parking lot in a building situated near clashes between the police and protesters.

The circumstances around the death remain unclear.

Continued protests and clashes between demonstrators and riot police at several campuses of educational institutions in Hong Kong has led several universities to announce an early end to the semester on Thursday.

The demonstrations, which have drawn massive crowds since June following a contentious proposed extradition law, have turned into a movement seeking to improve democracy in the city-state and safeguard the region’s partial autonomy from Beijing.

Some demonstrators have opted for more radical tactics than peaceful civil disobedience and violent clashes with the police have been frequent. – EFE-EPA



Hong Kong police end 2-week-long siege of university campus

Robie de Guzman   •   November 29, 2019

Officers from a bomb disposal unit examine items used by protesters to make petrol bombs on the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, China, 28 November 2019. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE

The Hong Kong police ended the nearly two-week-long siege of the Polytechnic University at noon on Friday with the withdrawal of all officers surrounding the campus, a day after having discovered a large cache of diverse weapons such as Molotov cocktails, bows and chemicals stowed there.

“After two days, police have removed all dangerous goods and have handled scenes of crime at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU),” the police said in a statement.

The officials seized a total of 3,989 bottles of petrol bombs, 1,339 pieces of explosives, 601 bottles of corrosive liquids and 573 pieces of weapons, according to the statement.

The police officials have withdrawn from the campus and the cordon around the university has been lifted while the campus has been handed to the college’s administration, the police added.

“We reiterate that police adopt a flexible approach in solving the crisis at the PolyU. Police make every effort to resolve the situation peacefully,” the statement said.

The police entered PolyU on Thursday morning – for the first time since they began the siege – to remove dangerous items and gather evidence from the campus.

On Friday morning, the police announced that it would end the siege during the day following repeated calls this week by PolyU’s management for the embattled force to unblock the campus, given that most protesters have left the compound, located in the harbor-side district of Hung Hom in Kowloon.

It is, however, still unclear whether there are still protesters inside – on Wednesday night, one of them emerged and told the press he reckoned there were still 20 people remaining.

The siege began on Nov. 17, when anti-government protesters clashed violently with police in Hung Hom. Many protesters fled into PolyU, but they soon found themselves stuck there as the police besieged the campus and decided to arrest anyone walking out of the campus.

Over the next few days, hundreds of people barricaded inside PolyU handed themselves in while some others used their own ways to escape, including abseiling down from a bridge. Those who stayed put were reluctant to leave, out of fear of being charged with rioting – an offense that carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years – and of being subdued by police with violence.

So far, the police have arrested or taken down the personal details of over 1,000 people walking out of the campus.

The police’s retreat ends a dramatic episode of the months-long protest movement that has incurred the wrath of Hongkongers supporting the movement, as well as the academic world.

This week, over 3,700 professors and lecturers around the globe, including prominent academics such as Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, signed a petition condemning the “use of disproportionate force and retaliatory brutality by Hong Kong police against students in university campuses” in Hong Kong. EFE-EPA


China threatens US after Trump passes bills backing Hong Kong protesters

Robie de Guzman   •   November 28, 2019

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang speaks to reporters during a daily Foreign Ministry press conference in Beijing, China, 28 November 2019. China responds with anger and warns of countermeasures after US President Donald Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on 28 November 2019. EPA-EFE/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Beijing – The Chinese government Thursday threatened the United States with “countermeasures” and “consequences” after the US president signed two bills into law backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Donald Trump in a statement said he had signed the bills — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019 and one against crowd control munition exports to the territory — out of “respect” to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the people of Hong Kong.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday responded by reminding “the US that Hong Kong is part of China and Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs where no foreign government or force shall interfere. This Act will only further expose the malicious and hegemonic nature of US intentions to the Chinese people, including our Hong Kong compatriots.”

“We urge the US to not continue going down the wrong path, or China will take countermeasures, and the US must bear all consequences,” it added.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng also summoned US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad “to lodge stern representations and strong protest” to the passing of the Act, state news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.

The two countries are still immersed in negotiations to end their trade war, which could be affected by the bills, however the statement does not specify the countermeasures it intends to apply.

The Hong Kong government also expressed its “strong opposition” to the new laws, saying in a statement that they “contravene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs” and would harm relations with the US.

“The two acts are unreasonable. Although human rights and democracy are mentioned in the title of the Act, some of the provisions in the Act are actually about export control and enforcement of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations in Hong Kong, which are totally unrelated to human rights and democracy in Hong Kong,” a government spokesman said.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019, passed last week by the US Senate, requires the US State Department to conduct a review at least annually as to whether Hong Kong retains enough autonomy from mainland China to qualify for special trade considerations, and threatens sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations.

Following the approval by the Senate last week, the Chinese government threatened that “China will take strong opposing measures and the US has to bear all the consequences” if it was passed into law. Beijing also reportedly summoned a senior US diplomat over the move.

The second bill signed into law Wednesday prohibits US exports of specified police equipment such as teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns to Hong Kong.

“They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” Trump said.

At the weekend, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong swept the local elections, winning 388 of the total 452 district council seats up for grabs. The side aligned with Beijing suffered a crushing defeat with only 59 councilors, compared to the almost 300 it had, while independents won five seats in the elections which saw a record 71.2% turnout.

Hong Kong was passed to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, although it still retains a degree of independence from Beijing under the “one country, two systems” formula. According to the handover deal between London and Beijing, this political system — which includes certain legal freedoms not recognized in mainland China — must be preserved until 2047. EFE-EPA


Hong Kong leader asks to maintain election day peace to resume dialogue

Robie de Guzman   •   November 26, 2019

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to reporters during a press conference in Hong Kong, China, 26 November 2019. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy candidates rose to a landslide victory in the district council elections on 25 November 2019 in a record voter turnout, sending a strong message to the government and its allies. EPA-EFE/FAZRY ISMAIL

Hong Kong’s chief executive asked Tuesday to maintain the “peaceful and safe environment” witnessed in last weekend’s local elections day to resume dialogue and find a solution for protests that have rocked the city since June.

Carrie Lam made the statements during her weekly press conference – the first after her crushing defeat in the elections, in which the pro-democracy opposition won 388 of the 452 available seats.

Asked whether she would yield to the protesters’ demands and investigate alleged police brutality in protests, Lam said she would “set up an independent review committee” to look at the protests’ causes and “identify the underlying problems, social, economic or even political and to recommend measures that the Government should take.”

The Hong Kong leader said she would take as an example the response of British authorities to the riots in Tottenham, London, in 2011.

Regarding the election result, Lam said “this particular election has clearly reflected that many voters wanted to express their opinions and views to the Government, to myself.”

“The views and opinions expressed are quite diverse. There are people who wanted to express a view that they could no longer tolerate the violence on the streets, there are of course people who felt that the Government has not competently handled the legislative exercise and its aftermath,” the leader said.

She called for an end to the violence and demanded to maintain the “relative calm and peace that we have seen in the last week,” which allowed elections to be held in a “peaceful and fair environment” despite doubts on whether it would be wise to hold them.

Lam congratulated elected candidates and praised those who stood for elections, “especially those who were threatened” during the process.

Lam had dismissed the idea that elections were a test toward her government’s support.

“The voices of Hong Kong residents were heard. Hong Kong residents don’t want the society to be in a chaotic situation and […] so we could restore order to our normal life,” she added.

With a record of more than 71-percent voter turnout, the elections showed society’s support toward the protest movement and their dissatisfaction with authorities’ actions, since the after pro-democracy candidates took more than 85 percent of the seats.

Being a simple majority electoral system in which the candidate who gets the most votes is elected, the difference in the vote percentage was much smaller: the pro-democracy bloc gained 57 percent of the votes while the pro-Beijing camp received 41 percent. EFE-EPA



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