Tuesday, September 30, 2014

HONG KONG_ Hong Kong Chief Says Voting Beats Watching TV

abc NEWS

Hong Kong Chief Says Voting Beats Watching TV

HONG KONG — Oct 1, 2014, 1:06 AM ET
By KELVIN CHAN and LOUISE WATT Associated Press

Pro-democracy protesters hold umbrellas under heavy rain in a main street near the government headquarters in Hong Kong late Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. The protesters demanded that Hong Kong's top leader meet with them on Tuesday and threatened wider... View Full Caption
The Associated Press

Hong Kong's embattled leader attended a flag-raising Wednesday to mark China's National Day after refusing to meet with protesters who threatened to expand pro-democracy demonstrations unless he resigns and the Chinese leadership agrees to broader electoral reforms.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took part in the ceremony — marking the anniversary of the founding of communist China in 1949 — as hundreds of protesters behind police barricades yelled at him to step down, although they fell silent and turned their backs when the ceremony began.

Helicopters flew past carrying the Hong Kong and Chinese flags, with the latter noticeably bigger.

In a speech, Leung made no direct mention of the protesters, who have blocked streets for days across the semiautonomous territory to press demands for genuine democratic reforms for Hong Kong's first direct elections in 2017 to choose the city's top leader. The protests have posed the stiffest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Beijing has restricted the voting reforms, requiring candidates to be screened by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing local elites similar to the one that handpicked Leung for the job.

Leung told voters it is better to agree to Beijing's plans for nominating candidates and to hold an election, than to stick with the current system of having an Election Commission choose the chief executive.

"It is definitely better to have universal suffrage than not," Leung said. "It is definitely better to have the chief executive elected by 5 million eligible voters than by 1,200 people. And it is definitely better to cast your vote at the polling station than to stay home and watch on television the 1,200 members of the Election Committee cast their votes."

As he spoke to a group of dignitaries, pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung shouted for him to step down before he was bundled away by security. Local councilor Paul Zimmerman held up a yellow umbrella. The umbrella has become a symbol of the nonviolent civil disobedience movement because it has been used by protesters to deflect police pepper spray.

"I'm here today with the yellow umbrella because it stands against the shooting of tear gas at the children of Hong Kong. I think we have destroyed the values of Hong Kong earlier this weekend by shooting tear gas at children," Zimmerman said.

China took control of Hong Kong under an arrangement that guaranteed its 7 million people semi-autonomy, Western-style civil liberties and eventual democratic freedoms that are denied to Chinese living on the communist-ruled mainland.

The territory's first direct elections are set for 2017, but the recent move by the Chinese government saying that a special committee will screen the candidates is seen as reneging on a promise that the chief executive will be chosen through "universal suffrage."

Changing that is one of the major demands of the protesters.

The growing protests have attracted worldwide attention, with British Prime Minister David Cameron saying he planned to summon the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it is essential that Hong Kong's people have a genuine right to choose their top leader.

"It is not for us to involve ourselves in every dot and comma of what the Chinese set out," Cameron said in England. But he added: "I think it is a critical question. Real universal suffrage doesn't just mean the act of voting; it means a proper choice."

Leung's rejection of the student demands dashed hopes for a quick resolution of the standoff that has blocked city streets and forced some schools and offices to close.

Despite the hardening rhetoric from both sides, Tuesday night passed with a festive mood and few police were evident, but the crowds and road blockages are expected to grow sharply as Wednesday and Thursday are public holidays.

"Frankly, if I was a government official, I would not have a clue how to solve this," said Chit Lau, a 35-year-old pilot.

He thought the stalemate would continue until Leung or some other top official resigned, or the army clashed with the people, adding: "This is a test of Hong Kong people's endurance of a peaceful act of requesting democracy, and so far the citizens have demonstrated a united spirit and discipline."

It was not clear what the demonstrators plan to do next. There were no immediate official statements from the protesters. University students are already boycotting classes, and other options include widening the protests, pushing for a labor strike and occupying a government building.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against any perceived threat to the Communist Party's hold on power, vowed in a National Day speech to "steadfastly safeguard" Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.

China's government has condemned the student-led protests as illegal, though so far it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong authorities to handle the crisis. Over the weekend, police fired tear gas and pepper spray in an attempt to disperse the protesters, but the demonstrations only spread.


Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Louise Watt and Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Aritz Parra in Beijing contributed to this report.


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POLITICS + SOCIETY_ The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong: a second Tiananmen?


30 September 2014, 10.49am AEST

The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong: a second Tiananmen?

News of Hong Kong’s umbrella uprising is being suppressed in China. EPA/Alex Hofford


Author John Keane
Professor of Politics at University of Sydney


John Keane does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Are political developments in Hong Kong heading for a second Tiananmen massacre? A fortnight ago, partly to provoke discussion, partly to sound an alarm, I suggested in a radio interview that unless the Chinese government wisely handled the fast-unfolding dynamics, things in Hong Kong might well come to that. At the time, it seemed a rash remark. Given events of the past several days, it is now the most pertinent consideration, the core driver of the fate of what many Hong Kong citizens are calling the Umbrella Revolution.

The uprising is the deadliest challenge to one-party rule in China since Tiananmen. “The outcome of this battle for democracy,” says Hu Jia, a prominent dissident in Beijing now under house arrest, “will also determine future battles for democracy for all of China.” He is right, but because of a total news blackout the uprising has so far left the rest of China untouched.

China’s foreign affairs ministry spokesman Hua Chunying has warned other countries to stay out of Hong Kong’s protests:

I want to emphasise that Hong Kong belongs to China. It is a special administrative region and Hong Kong’s affairs are considered purely for China to handle. I hope other countries do not interfere in Hong Kong’s matters, do not support Occupy Central’s illegal activities, and do not send out the wrong message.

Truth is that Beijing has foolishly picked the wrong fight. It has chosen a showdown with a movement that is difficult to behead. The umbrella uprising is not reducible to Occupy Central.

Digital protest changes terms of engagement

The protest is non-violent, decentralised, equipped with drones and thoroughly media savvy. The Tiananmen uprisings in the spring/summer of 1989 belonged to the era of the typewriter, mass broadcasting television and radio.

The umbrella uprising is digital. Its networked - dispersed and distributed - structures make for flexibility, mobility and experimentation with new social media.

Just like the umbrella of a jellyfish, a gelatinous disc which contracts and expands to move it through water, the resistance is paying close attention to the arts of staying alive, and thriving, through “umbrella media”.

The Hong Kong umbrella, symbol of protest on physical and digital terrain

News of the uprising is currently suppressed in mainland China. The picture-sharing site Instagram and messages posted to Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter, are being blocked in far greater numbers than normal.

Several days ago, with rumours circulating that the Hong Kong government was planning to cut the city’s cellular networks, citizens responded by downloading the Firechat app (made by the company Open Garden). It allows smartphone users to talk to one another “off the grid”, in the absence of a mobile signal or access to the internet.

By making use of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, messages are spread in a daisy-chain fashion, jumping from one user to the next. The system is particularly effective when large numbers of people are congregated together. That helps explain why there has been a huge surge in downloads, with more than 100,000 new accounts created in less than 24 hours.

State’s early moves are ominous

What are the chances of survival and success of the umbrella uprising? Plain talking is needed: the umbrellas are up because the application of state force has already begun in Hong Kong. Pepper spray and tear gas are violence. So are arrests, agents provocateurs and the slow-down of the Internet.

The umbrellas are to protect the protesters from sun and from tear-gas.

These all may be signs that the assassins are preparing their slaughter. If they are, then they should be warned. The systematic use of violence - for instance in the form of armed troops and armoured vehicles of the People’s Liberation Army, which has units stationed in Hong Kong - would not just be a spiritual and political catastrophe for the citizens of Hong Kong, or their economy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has reportedly said that the reason the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 was that no-one “had the balls to stand up for it”. For reasons of dealing with his enemies at home and staying on top, he may already have decided that force is now required.

Yet the crushing of the umbrella uprising with violence would be yet another “soft power” defeat and foreign policy disaster for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It would reveal the hypocrisy of its phantom democracy. A violent clampdown would make a mockery of the claim that “the people” are the basis of its authority.

Crushing the protest would prove, if further proof be needed, that force is the fist in the pocket of CCP power, that violence is its ultimate resource. And a second Tiananmen might well spread resistance.

Fates of Hong Kong and Taiwan are tied

A crackdown would certainly toughen the resolve of democrats in Taiwan. Hence the verbal acrobatics of President Ma Ying-Jeou, who fears that something similar, possibly something much bigger, will erupt in his country, where local elections are scheduled for the last week of November. During the past day, in a rare interview with Al Jazeera, Ma Ying-Jeou acknowledged that thanks to the umbrella uprising, and the stubborness of the CCP, the fates of Hong Kong and Taiwan are tied together as never before.

The Taiwanese leader stated:

We fully understand and support Hong Kong people in their call for full universal suffrage. In the early 1980s, the ‘one country, two systems’ concept was created for Taiwan, not for Hong Kong. But Taiwan has sent a clear message that we do not accept the concept. If the system is good, then we believe it should be ‘one country, one system’.

Yes, but which kind of system, exactly? The great fear of the CCP leadership is that elections with integrity would be established in a major city of China.

The crushing of the umbrella uprising is for the CCP mandatory. It has the mandate of heaven. Otherwise, as the Beijing leadership sees things, the virus of democracy will spread, from village-level elections to major urban centres, with incalculable consequences for the CCP and its deeply held conviction that it will rule over China and its people forever.

World is watching China again

One striking feature of the umbrella uprising is its rapid development into a global media event. There is the usual telling silence from more than a few foreign governments, Russia included. Some are weighing in, but in contradictory ways.

Three weeks ago, the UK Foreign Office urged Occupy Central to calm down and be sensible. During the past day, it has confirmed it is “concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and is monitoring events carefully”. In a statement, a spokesman said it was:

Britain’s longstanding position, as a co-signatory of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, that Hong Kong’s prosperity and security are underpinned by its fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to demonstrate. It is important for Hong Kong to preserve these rights and for Hong Kong people to exercise them within the law.

Protesters mass outside Hong Kong government headquarters demanding that the democratic terms under which China regained the territory be honoured. EPA/Alex Hofford

Business knows value of open society

The sentiments are welcome, but they airbrush the past. For the sake of the historical record, it should be remembered that the British never expected things to come to this. The British negotiators who crafted the Joint Declaration (deep insiders reliably tell me) supposed that Hong Kong citizens would be more interested in money, filthy lucre, than democracy. They are being proved wrong.

In matters of lucre, foreign companies and some Hong Kong officials have worried that if things “get out of hand” business will be ruined in Hong Kong. It is just the reverse. Hong Kong’s economic success as the eighth-largest trading economy in the world is tightly linked to its anti-corruption culture and the civil liberties its citizens enjoy.

Marx was wrong. When push comes to shove, intelligent businesses prefer to invest in contexts free from predators. They know there are things more important than money. They need non-violence, honesty, predictability, openness, a culture of trust and co-operation.

Democracy Hong Kong is the message on the streets of Hong Kong. EPA/Alex Hofford

That is why the umbrella uprising is for the moment winning support from besuited bankers and business people. In Hong Kong, everybody is aware that urban geography really matters. They know that if Beijing gets its way, by destroying citizens' freedoms and weakening their independent judiciary, Hong Kong will bow and kneel to Lee Kuan Yew’s prediction that it is just another Chinese city, a once-dynamic open space, an urban civil society gobbled up by a corrupted Shanghai.

Hong Kong and China at the crossroads

Can this developing life-and-death conflict be resolved? The dynamics are dangerously complex, but the political solution is in a way quite simple.

Beijing should back off. The black-shirted riot police should be ordered to withdraw to their barracks. The government of Hong Kong, and their masters in Beijing, should confirm that masked PLA troops will not be used against the occupiers.

Scheduled negotiations with Occupy Central and other public representatives should be announced. The talks should be genuine. The current electoral package - one person, one vote for candidates approved by the CCP - should be scrapped.

The deepest of all matters - the widespread feeling among Hong Kong citizens that slowly but surely they’re being choked to death by Beijing - must also be put on the table, and discussed openly, over tea.

How will this end? No one can say, but the protesters are not giving up their rights without a fight. EPA/Alex Hofford 

Is this scenario a utopian fantasy? Probably. Will the Chinese Communist Party leadership recognise that this is their Gorbachev moment, a chance for them to discharge the threat of violence and make peace with peacefully inclined citizens who want nothing more, and nothing less, than their personal and collective dignity? Most unlikely.

Will the alternative scenario - a permanently damaged economy, millions of broken hearts, collective humiliation - come to pass? That’s what some now quietly suppose.

Yet might things turn out differently? Could fortuna (Machiavelli) and her bag of tricks and surprises prove to be more powerful than all of the current political actors in this unfolding drama? Yes, without doubt.


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WORLD_ U.S. says wants Syria's Assad out despite focus on Islamic State


U.S. says wants Syria's Assad out despite focus on Islamic State

Source: Reuters - Tue, 30 Sep 2014 20:23 GMT
Author: Reuters

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - The United States is focusing its efforts on defeating Islamic State militants wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria but has not changed its position that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The United States and five Arab allies began bombing Islamic State positions in Syria this month. The group, which is also known as ISIL and ISIS, has seized vast areas of Syria and Iraq and is accused of massacres and beheadings of civilians and soldiers.

"We continue to believe that the Assad regime is a magnet for terrorism," Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters. "The moderate Syrian opposition provides the best alternative to the Assad regime and the best counterweight to ISIL."

"We did not see over these last years anywhere near the same effort by the regime to take on ISIL that we have seen by the moderate opposition groups at great expense for them, at great sacrifice," she added.

Power said the moderate opposition has "engaged in pitched battles against ISIL" since December. She noted that Washington has concluded that Assad's government is neither willing to nor capable of defeating Islamic State, which she said had enjoyed a safe haven in Syria for a long time.

Despite the U.S. position that Assad must go, the current priority, Power said, is defeating the hard-line Sunni Islamist militants of Islamic State, an operation that diplomats and analysts say will benefit Assad's government in the short term.

"We are focused now on the monstrous threat posed by ISIL," Power said. "This is a threat that has cost not only the lives of two American journalists but an untold number of Syrian and Iraqi lives, also by summary execution and by beheading and so forth."

So far, air strikes by the United States and allies have failed to halt the militants' expansion into new territory.

Islamic State militants have beheaded two U.S. journalists and one British aid worker and distributed videos of the killings on line.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by James Dalgleish)


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HONG KONG_ Hong Kong Democracy Protesters Brave Rain For a Third Night On Streets


Hong Kong Democracy Protesters Brave Rain For a Third Night On Streets

People gather at Mongkok district during demonstrations in Hong Kong on Sept. 30, 2014. AFP

Tens of thousands of people blocked a large stretch of a multi-lane highway near government buildings on Tuesday as the occupation of Hong Kong by pro-democracy demonstrators entered its third night on the eve of China's National Day anniversary when the crowds are expected to swell even further.

Once again, the umbrellas were out in force, but as shelter from heavy rain brought by passing thunderstorms rather than to ward off the tear-gas and pepper spray deployed by police at the weekend.

In Admiralty, where the government headquarters is based, signs warned that the occupation had become overcrowded, asking protesters to stay in Central or head to other occupation sites in the shopping districts of Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island or Nathan Road in Kowloon, across the harbor.

Protesters once more lit up the night with their cell phones, and gave rousing choruses of popular Cantonese pop anthems, while others repeated chants calling for the resignation of embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung.

"Forgive me, but I have a lifelong craving for freedom," the protesters sang. "And yet I still fear I could one day fall."

Near the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, around 10,000 people set up makeshift camps of plastic bags, raincoats and the ubiquitous umbrella, which has led to the movement's being dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution."

Social media

Notices outside a university call on students to 'speak up' for democracy and 'save' Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy of a foreign student)

Photos and tweets via social media showed student nurses operating first aid stations in the district, while volunteers piled carefully sorted trash and recyclables high from the night before.

Protesters also shifted police barriers and water-filled red and white barricade blocks to ensure traffic was unable to approach the area, following an incident overnight when a man drove a Mercedes at high speed through the crowd of protesters in Kowloon. He was later arrested for dangerous driving.

Some protesters also gathered outside central government offices in Central, although the mood was once more relaxed, with protesters appearing unconcerned that there might be a repeat of Sunday's night's clashes with tear-gas and pepper-spray-wielding riot police.

"I'm not worried," a first-year university student surnamed Wong told RFA. "As an adult, I can take care of myself."

"Also, I am with friends, and we will all look out for each other," she said. A second student, also surnamed Wong, said students had come out in protest spontaneously, without being encouraged by anyone else.

"This movement we are seeing now no longer has anything to do with party politics or any organization," she said. "We have no way of knowing the final outcome, but we will give it everything we've got."

Police said long stretches of a highway were blocked by around 10.00 p.m. local time on Tuesday, posing a potential problem for rescue services trying to reach the scene of fires or medical emergencies, local media reported.

'Appropriate measures'

Hong Kong Police Public Relations Branch Chief Superintendent Steve Hui declined to give details of any police plan for clearing the occupiers from the city's streets, however.

"Police will only be deployed in accordance with the actual situation," Hui told reporters. "We will make assessments...and then take appropriate measures."

Hui said rumors that police were planning to fire rubber bullets had come as the result of a misunderstanding with the use of a banner that read "Disperse, or we fire."

The organizers of Occupy Central have urged people to keep up their protests, amid calls for full universal suffrage, including the public nomination of election candidates, and for Leung's resignation.

And the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students has vowed to escalate protests further if no response is received by the end of Tuesday.

Oscar Lai, spokesman for the academic activist group Scholarism, said its members are planning a silent protest at an official flag-raising ceremony to mark the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong in 1949 on Wednesday.

Scholarism plans to attend the ceremony wearing mourning white and yellow ribbons, which have become a symbol of the mass pro-democracy movement.

"We won't shout any slogans, and we won't shove forwards," Lai said, adding that the group had staged a similar protest at last year's ceremony. "Based on last year's experience, we will probably just be carried away for no reason."

Refusal to step down

Leung on Tuesday declined to step down, telling reporters that any personnel changes would result in no political reforms at all.

"Any personnel change before the implementation of universal suffrage is achieved would only allow Hong Kong to continue to pick its leader under the Election Committee model," he said.

Leung has been repeatedly taunted by protesters for receiving just 689 votes in 2013 out of a possible 1,200 votes from a largely pro-Beijing Election Committee.

Under current proposals, his successor will be elected in 2017 by all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters. But Beijing ruled out the possibility of public nomination of candidates on Aug. 31, meaning that pan-democratic candidates are highly unlikely to be selected.

Leung said Beijing's decision was final, and said he was prepared for the Occupy campaign to last "quite a long time."

Meanwhile, U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Roger Wicker said they were "distressed" by the use of tear gas and pepper spray against demonstrators on Sunday, calling on the Hong Kong authorities to show restraint and engage in "good-faith" negotiations to resolve the situation.

"Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s ‘world city’ is rooted in fundamental rights, including freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression, and the press," Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Wicker, the Senate Republican deputy whip, said in a statement.

"As democratically elected members of the United States Senate we stand united with the people of Hong Kong and support their aspirations for universal suffrage and full democracy.”

In its first direct mention of the Occupy movement since it began on Sunday, China's state-run broadcaster hit out at the pro-democracy protests.in its first direct mention of the Occupy movement since it began on Sunday.

The protests had caused "at least HK$40 billion (more than U.S. $5 billion) in economic losses," the report said, citing impacts on the stock markets, property, retail, catering and tourism sectors.

"The aim of Occupy Central is to paralyse transportation, harm the rule of law and disrupt business, with a view to forcing the central and SAR governments to give in," it said.

It said local residents were losing patience with the disruption to their daily lives. However, an online poll on the website of the English-language South China Morning Post newspaper showed that some 70 percent of respondents didn't foresee that the tide of public opinion would turn against protesters, should they continue with the occupation for several days.

Reported by Wen Yuqing, Lam Yuet-tung, and Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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* Chinese Leader Xi Caught in a Bind Over Unprecedented Hong Kong Protests

* Thousands Occupy Hong Kong For a Second Night in a Row

* Protesters Occupy Hong Kong; Police Use Tear Gas, Pepper Spray

* Hong Kong's Richest Fly to Beijing Amid Student Protests

* Hong Kong Students Scuffle With Police in Bid to Speak to Chief Executive

* Hong Kong Crisis Tests China's 'One Country, Two Systems' Model

* Hong Kong Lecturers in Show of Support For Striking Students

* U.N. To Probe Hong Kong's Voting Rights Amid Row Over Class Boycott

* 'This Has Been an Act of Self-Harm'


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