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Protests Erupt in Hong Kong After Student’s Death

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Spontaneous protests broke out at several locations in Hong Kong Friday afternoon after the death in hospital of a student.

Chow Tsz-lok, also known as Alex Chow, 22, was found with serious head injuries five days ago, in a car park near the scene of a street battle between police and anti-government demonstrators, and had been in a coma since.

Police earlier told reporters that Chow fell from the third to the second story of the car park. Officers were in the car park at the time, but the police deny that Chow was pushed or that they were pursuing him.

Although the circumstances remain unclear, the computer science undergraduate is nonetheless being regarded by protesters as having died as a result of injuries sustained during a demonstration—potentially the first such case in five months of increasingly violent unrest.

Within hours of his death on Friday morning, crowds of office workers began gathering in the financial district, occupying main thoroughfares and chanting “Hongkongers, take revenge!” Calls for protesters to take “blood for blood” circulated online.

Hundreds also rallied in different parts of the Kowloon peninsula and at the Hong Kong University of Science of and Technology (HKUST), where Chow was a student.

According to local media, HKUST’s president, Wei Shyy, cut short a graduation ceremony Friday in order to visit Chow’s family at hospital, and announced Chow’s passing to the graduands present.

Hundreds of students later marched on his campus residence to demand he condemn alleged police brutality. Live news images showed his lodge heavily graffitied and windows broken. A canteen and a cafe were also reportedly ransacked and vandalized. The university urged students to “exercise restraint during this difficult moment.”

Speaking at a vigil on campus, Rey, a 19-year-old business student, said: “The situation has really crossed a moral line. This is not really about opposing political stances anymore. The police’s use of excessive force has resulted in a tragedy, and there is no way we can accept this.”

Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, a founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, addressed the vigil at HKUST saying that Chow “used his life to safeguard freedom. Even though his life on this planet has been cut short, yet his light is shining on us, inspiring and encouraging us.”

Thousands also gathered at the suburban car park where Chow was found unconscious. Mourners, including many families with young children, lit candles, laid floral tributes and wrote messages of condolence.

A salesman named Siu, who said he was in his 50s and lived opposite the car park, said: “I was heartbroken when I learned he had lost his life. He’s just a teenager. I don’t think the government is going to respond to this situation in a satisfactory manner. What they really need to do is face the reality and reflect on why the society has come to this—not stay in their own parallel universe.”

Live news feeds showed impromptu vigils taking place in several other districts of Hong Kong. Shortly after 8:00 p.m., a tense standoff took place in the Causeway Bay retail and entertainment district between riot police and angry crowds who occupied key intersections, shouting slogans and abuse.

Protesters also began setting up barricades on Nathan Road—the main artery through the congested Kowloon peninsula—and in at least two northern suburbs. A major suburban train station was evacuated after protesters began smashing the facilities.

Hong Kong’s embattled administration meanwhile issued a statement expressing “great sorrow and regret” over Chow’s death, and extended sympathies to his family. It added that a police crime unit was investigating the case. Some legislators also held a minute’s silence for Chow.

The young man’s demise comes at a time of worsening political tensions in Hong Kong and is sure to galvanize anti-government protesters, who are demanding greater political freedom for the enclave—a British colony for 156 years before it was retroceded to China in 1997.

Two days ago, a conservative politician was stabbed and hospitalized while out campaigning in local elections. Three days before that, a pro-democracy district councilor was attacked and had part of his ear bitten off after a political row outside a shopping mall. In recent weeks, at least two other democracy campaigners have been attacked and hospitalized, and two teenagers shot by police with live rounds, both of whom survived.

Thousands have been injured and arrested since the protests began in June. The unrest has taken an especially heavy toll on Hong Kong’s vital tourism and retail industries, pushing the territory into recession.

With reporting by Abhishyant Kidangoor and Hillary Leung/Hong Kong





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Chinese President Xi Says He Was Leading COVID-19 Efforts During Critical Early Stages of Outbreak

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China released a speech showing President Xi Jinping was leading the national effort to contain the coronavirus almost two weeks before he first issued public orders on the outbreak, potentially exposing him to more criticism as anger mounts over the government’s initial response.

In the Feb. 3 speech, Xi told China’s most powerful leaders that he had “continuously given verbal and written instructions” since Jan. 7, and had personally ordered the quarantine of about 60 million people in Hubei province later that month. The full speech appeared on the website of the Qiushi Journal, the Communist Party’s top publication, on Saturday.

State media reports on Jan. 7 didn’t include any remarks from Xi on the virus, a fact that was quickly pointed out by Chinese social media users. Xi publicly addressed the crisis for the first time on Jan. 20 in a directive urging party committees and governments at all levels to take measures to curb the spread of the epidemic.

“From the first day of Chinese New Year to the present, prevention and control of the epidemic situation was the issue I have been most concerned with,” Xi said, referring to a meeting of China’s seven most powerful leaders he chaired on Jan. 25. “I have been keeping track of the spread of the epidemic situation and the progress of the prevention and control work, and continuously given verbal and written instructions.”

Qiushi also separately published a timeline starting on Jan. 7 of Xi’s involvement in the work to stop the epidemic. The World Health Organization said China had informed the agency on Dec. 31 of a cluster of “pneumonia of unknown cause” detected in Wuhan.

The decision to publish the speech appeared to be an attempt to answer criticism that Xi had pulled back from public view as the outbreak worsened, though the revelation that he was in charge from the beginning could also place the blame for any fallout more squarely on his shoulders.

“It’s clear he’s trying to allay concerns that Beijing did not glimpse the full scale of the epidemic, but Xi has now raised more questions than he’s answered,” said Jude Blanchette, Freeman chair of China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The sluggish response by China’s political system to the virus is a significant rebuke to Xi’s theory of governance.”

Last Monday, Xi made his first public appearance after the death of a doctor who became a hero for speaking out about the coronavirus sparked outrage on social media, visiting a district in Beijing wearing a mask and having his temperature taken. It was the first time Xi interacted with the public since a trip to Yunnan province from Jan. 19 to Jan. 21.

The epidemic has claimed more than 1,600 lives in China, with over 68,000 confirmed infections.

Xi has become China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong in his eight years running the country, engineering constitutional changes to make himself the “core” of the Communist Party and scrapping presidential term limits. The virus outbreak has revealed the risks involved with that strategy, with analysts warning that if the epidemic gets worse and the economic pain is deeper than expected, Xi will bear the blame.

“This would hurt his own credibility,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies. “The Chinese were not made aware of the true picture early enough,” he said, adding that internal communication within the Communist Party “wasn’t useful unless made public.”

The speech also unveiled for the first time that Xi was behind the aggressive measure to quarantine millions in Hubei, the province at the epicenter of the outbreak.

“I explicitly demanded Hubei province implement comprehensive and strict controls on the outflow of personnel on Jan. 22,” Xi said.





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'The West is Winning,' Pompeo Said. The West Wasn't Buying It.

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MUNICH — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared at an annual gathering of Western diplomats and business leaders to declare Saturday that "the West is winning,'' something that would be obvious to Trump administration critics, he said, if they were only willing to accept "reality."The Trump administration was hardly retreating from the world or its alliances, he insisted at the meeting, the Munich Security Conference, but leading it. The problem is that many American allies are reluctant to follow as the administration confronts Iran and insists on more contributions to collective defense.Pompeo was followed by the secretary of defense, Mark Esper, who described a bleak future if the U.S. and Europe did not work to contain China on all fronts. Countries thinking of letting Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, build next-generation communications networks, he warned, should be prepared to see American intelligence cooperation reduced.His remarks were met with silence by British and German officials, who are looking for ways to avoid offending the Chinese.This year's conference reflected the division and unease that have plagued the alliance in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit. The stated theme was "Westlessness,'' a sense that close allies were unmoored and uncompetitive in a world both more diverse and more autocratic.Emmanuel Macron, the French president, arrived to declare that allies were wrongheaded about Russia, and that Europeans needed to deal with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, on their own, not just through the lens of a growing cold war with America.Still, there were fears of coming Russian interference in elections, including in the U.S., despite an upbeat talk from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, who was given more time on stage than most of the world leaders.His company — with powers that exceed most of the nations represented in Munich — is now spending more annually on security issues than it generated in revenue in 2012, he told the assemblage of presidents and foreign ministers.Hand-wringing is hardly new for this meeting of Atlantic allies, where Europeans expressed doubts about the depth of American commitment even during the Obama era. But that uncertainty has soared since Trump has hesitated to commit the U.S. to coming to the defense of American allies — he would first measure their contributions to the alliance, he has often said — and has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord and the Iranian nuclear deal.So it was striking that Pompeo felt it necessary to take on those who say the post-World War order is ending, telling the assembled leaders: "I'm here this morning to tell you the facts."Pompeo made the case that governments that "respect basic human rights" and "foster economic prosperity" are magnets for migrants."You don't see the world's vulnerable people risking their lives to skip illegally en masse to countries like Iran or to Cuba.''The Europeans in the room later noted that Pompeo did not mention the new restrictions in the U.S. that drastically limit the number of refugees who can enter the country.Pompeo tried to be upbeat, talking about the joint work the U.S. and Europe were doing to confront Russia. He announced $1 billion to bolster an energy project for Central European countries on the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas, an effort to blunt Russian energy projects like Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.It was left to Esper to lower the boom on European nations so dependent on exports to China that they are trying to find a balance between Washington's demands to shun Chinese technology and Beijing's warnings against being excluded from Europeans markets.Esper argued that the presence of Huawei in commercial networks risked undermining the NATO alliance, dismissing China's argument that it has no capability to use its equipment to intercept messages or shut down networks in times of conflict."The Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction — more internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy-handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture," he said. That has become a bipartisan view: His assessment was echoed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later responded, telling the forum that Esper and Pompeo "say the same thing wherever they go about China" and dismissed their remarks as "lies.""The root cause of all these problems and issues is that the U.S. does not want to see the rapid development and rejuvenation of China, and still less would they want to accept the success of a socialist country," Wang said."The most important task for China and the U.S. is to sit down together to have a serious dialogue and find a way for two major countries with different social systems to live in harmony and interact in peace," he added. "China's ready, and we hope the U.S. will work with us."Esper later told reporters that he was cautiously optimistic about a seven-day "reduction in violence" in Afghanistan that could lead to a peace accord with the Taliban, saying that "we are going to suspend a significant part of our operations" in the country when the Taliban fulfill their part. But while U.S. forces could come down to 8,600, from about 13,000, he said there was not yet an agreed-upon timeline for further reductions.Many eyes were also on Macron, whose relations with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have been somewhat rocky. Macron made a plea for better European integration and more unity in defining European interests, urging the Germans to help develop "a European security culture" and not to see every security issue "through American eyes.''On Russia, he said: "We need a European policy, not just a trans-Atlantic policy.''He insisted that he was not frustrated with the apparent paralysis of the current German government, but conceded that he is "impatient.''France and Germany "need to take risks together,'' he said. "That means our relationship has to change and adapt.''He argued that the Europeans needed to define their own interests to preserve their sovereignty in a world dominated by an increasingly nationalist U.S. and an ambitious Russia. But he insisted that a stronger European defense pillar would complement NATO, not weaken or replace it, as Washington and some European countries closer to Russia, like Poland and the Baltic nations, fear is his intention.Macron also tried to explain his outreach to Moscow, viewing it as a difficult neighbor but one that Europe cannot ignore. The current policy of harsh economic sanctions, in place since the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, has not changed Russian behavior, he argued. The sanctions "have changed absolutely nothing in Russia — I am not proposing at all to lift them, I am just stating this," he added."We need in the long term to reengage with Russia but also emphasize its responsibility in its role" as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, he said. "It cannot constantly be a member that blocks advances by this council."There is "a second choice,'' Macron argued, "which is to be demanding and restart a strategic dialogue because today we talk less and less, conflicts multiply and we aren't able to resolve them."He said that he expected Russia will continue playing a destabilizing role in matters such as other countries' election campaigns, either directly or indirectly."I don't believe in miracles — I believe in politics, in the fact that human will can change things when we give ourselves the means," Macron said.Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was Merkel's hand-picked successor as leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, threw Germany into political uncertainty this past week when said she would not seek the chancellorship when the country votes next year. Her decision has raised concerns that Germany will again be occupied with domestic affairs at a time when it is needed as a leader in Europe and on the international stage.Still defense minister, Kramp-Karrenbauer appeared here and admitted that her country had not fully delivered on a promise made at the conference in 2014 to become more engaged in, and spend more on, security and defense."From the Munich 'consensus of words' must come a 'consensus of action,'" she said. "The impact of German and European security and defense policy must be larger, our international actions must be better coordinated and more visible."But Kramp-Karrenbauer insisted that Germany would not join an American "maximum pressure" mission aimed at Iran in the Gulf of Hormuz. Instead, Germany would seek to coordinate "a mission dedicated to free and secure navigation" with its European partners.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company



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Wales Bears the Brunt of Storm Dennis as Rare ‘Red Warning’ Issued for Flooding in the U.K.

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(LONDON) — Storm Dennis roared across Britain with high winds and heavy rains Sunday, prompting authorities to issue a record number of flood warnings and alerts for England and a rare “red warning” for extremely life-threatening flooding in Wales.

The Met Office, Britain’s meteorological service, only issues its highest red warning when it thinks the weather will be so dangerous there’s a “risk to life” and that people must take immediate action to protect themselves. It was the first time a red warning has been sounded since December 2015.

Four hours later, the south Wales alert was downgraded to “amber,” which still warns of significant impact from the weather and a “potential risk to life.” The Met Office also had four other amber warnings in place in England and Wales following the torrential downpours.

Wales appeared to be bearing the brunt of the two-day storm after a month’s rain fell in the space of 48 hours. South Wales Police declared a “major incident” following multiple floods, landslides and evacuations. And Gwent Police said residents of Skenfrith, Monmouthshire, were being advised to evacuate due to the flooding.

The Met Office said the highest wind gust recorded was 91 mph (146 kph) at Aberdaron in north Wales on Saturday. It also said a total of 157.6 mm (6.1 inches) of rain fell at Crai Reservoir in the Welsh county of Powys over 48 hours to Sunday morning.

The River Taff burst its banks in the Welsh town of Pontypool and severe flood warning have been issued for the River Neath in south Wales and the River Teme further north.

As the wet and windy weather started to clear across parts of the south, the number of flood warnings across the U.K. declined but there were still around 350 of them in place Sunday, from the north of Scotland through to Cornwall in southwest England.

John Curtin, the executive director of flood and coastal risk management at the Environment Agency, said in a tweet that at one point during the day, England had the most flood warnings and lower-level alerts in force — 594 — than on any other day on record.

The local authority in Herefordshire, an English county that borders central Wales, declared a “major incident” amid widespread flooding and said it was focusing on making sure “ vulnerable residents are evacuated.” West Mercia Police, also declared a “major incident” for Shropshire, another county in central England that borders Wales.

Flood warnings could remain in place for a while since much of Britain is still saturated from last week’s Storm Ciara, which left eight people dead across Europe.

“Whilst the heaviest rain has cleared from Northern Ireland and Scotland, England and Wales will continue to see heavy rain on Sunday, with a risk of severe flooding in places,” said Andy Page, the Met Office’s chief meteorologist.

The fourth named storm of Europe’s winter season has already been blamed for the deaths of two men who were pulled Saturday from the sea in separate searches off England’s southeastern coast.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled due to the high winds while train services were repeatedly disrupted by flooding, affecting tens of thousands of passengers as British families leave for the mid-winter school break.

On Saturday, around 75 British army personnel and 70 reservists helped out communities in the flood-hit Calder Valley region in West Yorkshire, constructing flood barriers and repairing damaged flood defenses.





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