- Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong blocked streets in downtown and surrounded the city’s Legislative Council ahead of a debate on a highly controversial extradition bill.
- The protest became violent after demonstrators stormed police barricades and police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
- The debate was eventually canceled and rescheduled.
- Wednesday’s protest followed an even larger, mostly peaceful protest on Sunday, where upwards of 1 million people turned out.
Protests in Hong Kong over a proposed extradition bill took a violent turn on Wednesday when riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at agitated protestors.
Wednesday’s protest marks the second this week. An even larger demonstration on Sunday brought upwards of one million people to the streets of Hong Kong.
Both protests center around an extradition bill championed by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.
The bill in question would amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws to permit the autonomous city-state to detain people suspected of specific crimes and extradite them to territories with which Hong Kong does not have a designated extradition agreement.
This would include mainland China, which has prompted a massive backlash from residents of Hong Kong, who view the bill as a violation of their civil liberties and independence from the mainland.
Following Sunday’s protest, Lam said that she will still move forward with the legislation. The city’s legislature was set to debate the bill on Wednesday, so protest organizers scheduled another round of protests for the same day.
Protestors Surround Legislative Council
Early Wednesday morning local time, tens of thousands of protestors blocked major roads in downtown Hong Kong and the surrounded the Legislative Council building where lawmakers were going to debate the bill.
The demonstrators effectively blocked the lawmakers from entering the building and eventually forced the Legislative Council to cancel the debate and reschedule for another day.
The protestors were met by police in riot gear, who responded by using water cannons and pepper spraying the protestors, many of whom could be seen holding umbrellas or wearing masks to protect themselves.
However, even after the debate was canceled, the protestors still kept going, despite calls from officials for the demonstrators to disperse.
Many people on the ground reported that the demonstrators did not trust the government, and thought they would simply go ahead with the debate right after the streets were cleared.
Around 3 p.m. local time, things started to escalate violently when protestors stormed police barricades and reportedly began throwing things at the police. The police responded by using tear gas and shooting bean bags and rubber bullets at the protestors.
Hong Kong’s police chief Stephen Lo justified the violent response in a press conference, claiming that the protests had become a “riot situation.”
Still, the protestors kept going for several more hours. By nighttime, the police were able to clear the area surrounding the Legislative Council. While most protestors seemed to disperse, there were still a large number of people who remained in the streets
Some protestors could be seen making their way to the Central district, which is the city’s main financial hub.
It’s not clear how many people attended the protest, or if they will continue tomorrow. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Information Bureau told CNN that at least 72 people have been treated at hospitals for injuries due to the protests, but that number is likely to go up.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Information Bureau told CNN that at least 72 people have been treated at hospitals for injuries due to the protests, but that number is likely to go up.
Even after the violent protests, Lam appears determined to press on with the bill.
Lam condemned the protestors during an interview with a local television station Wednesday. “It is very clear that this is no longer a peaceful assembly, but a public and organized riot,” she said. “And it is impossible that this is action that loves and protects Hong Kong.”
In a separate interview earlier the same day, Lam also reaffirmed her commitment to the bill and compared the protesters to spoiled children.
“I have never felt a guilty conscience over this,” said Lam. “To draw a comparison, I’m a mother too, I have two sons. If my son was stubborn and I spoiled him and tolerated his stubborn behavior every time, I would just be going along with him.”
Currently, reports seem to indicate that the Legislative Council will move ahead with rescheduling the debate for the bill. If and when they do have the debate, they still need to have a formal session before they vote on the legislation.
It has been reported that if they do hold a vote, it would be later this month. However, because pro-Beijing lawmakers hold 43 of 70 seats in the Legislative Council, the bill will likely pass unless Lam stops pushing the bill or a large number of lawmakers change their minds.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (The Associated Press)
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Fired Over Speech Reminiscent of Nazi Rhetoric
- Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Roberto Alvim was fired on Friday after he appeared to paraphrase Nazi propaganda in his announcement of a national arts initiative.
- Several of Alvim’s sentences were strikingly similar to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany.
- Additionally, the music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was from an opera that Adolf Hitler found imperative in his life.
- After much backlash and call for the culture secretary’s termination, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he dismissed Alvim from his position.
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture was terminated from his role on Friday after an official video was released of him seeming to paraphrase Nazi propaganda remarks.
Roberto Alvim, who was appointed to his position by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, announced a new initiative for increased funds dedicated to national art awards. In the 6-minute video, which has now been deleted from all Brazilian government official pages, Alvim was seen sitting at a desk beneath a portrait of Bolsonaro, a wooden cross to his side.
“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national,” he said to the camera in Portuguese. “It will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement, and it will also be imperative since it will be profoundly connected to the urgent aspirations of our people — or it will be nothing.”
Parts of Alvim’s phrasing was almost identical to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. The similarities can be seen in a speech of Goebbels’, quoted in a biography by historian Peter Longerich.
“German art of the next decade will be heroic, steely but romantic, factual without sentimentality,” Goebbels said in 1933. “It will be nationalistic, with great depth of feeling; it will be binding and it will unite, or it will cease to exist.”
The music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was also noteworthy. It came from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which Adolf Hitler described in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, as being decisive in his life.
Reactions to Alvim’s Speech
It wasn’t long before people began to notice the likeness of Alvim’s rhetoric with the Nazi propaganda, and individuals across the political spectrum expressed outrage. Some — including prominent Brazillian politicians — publicly called for Alvim’s immediate professional termination.
Alvim first defended his speech in a Facebook post, saying, “what the left is doing is a remote association fallacy.” He called his controversial sentences a “rhetorical coincidence.”
But a few hours later, Alvim softened his defensive stance with an apology to the Jewish community. In another post, he claimed that the speech was brought to him by advisors who pulled various ideas tied to national art and that he had no idea of the fascist origin of those few lines. Alvim called the criticized phrases an “involuntary mistake” and said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart.
President Jair Bolsonaro announced on his official Twitter page that he had dismissed Alvim from his position on Friday. Bolsonaro wrote that despite Alvim’s apology, his remarks made his tenure “unsustainable.”
The Brazilian leader emphasized his “rejection of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies” and expressed full support for the Jewish community.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (Washington Post)
Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role
- Pope Francis appointed a woman to a management role in the Vatican’s most powerful department for the first time on Wednesday.
- Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, a Vatican official of 27 years, will now serve as the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State.
- Among other duties, Di Giovanni will oversee the coordination of the Vatican’s relationships with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
- While several other women hold high-ranking positions in the city-state, Di Giovanni’s leadership role in the Vatican’s most powerful branch is unparalleled.
Appointment of Di Giovanni
Pope Francis made an unprecedented move on Wednesday by appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial position in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department of the Vatican.
Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer and Vatican official of 27 years, was named the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Among other responsibilities, Di Giovanni will oversee a division that coordinates the Vatican’s relations with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women,” Di Giovanni told the Vatican’s in-house media.
“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman,” she added.
Milestone for Women in Catholic Church
Several women hold leadership positions in other Vatican offices, but the Secretariat of State is the most powerful branch, making Di Giovanni’s career shift extra significant.
Pope Francis’ appointment of Di Giovanni is the latest development in his ongoing open support of women having more say in the Roman Catholic Church. Currently, women cannot be ordained as priests and the Church’s leadership is almost entirely male-dominated.
On New Year’s Day, the pope expressed praise for womankind.
“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” Pope Francis said. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”
Di Giovanni referenced these words in her interview with the Vatican News calling them the pope’s “tribute” to the role of women.
“A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart,” Di Giovanni said. “I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”
See what others are saying: (Vatican News) (NPR) (BBC)
Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane
- Protests broke out across Iran over the weekend after the military admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian airline’s passenger jet, killing 176 people when mistaking it for a hostile aircraft.
- Officials originally said there was no evidence of the plane being struck down by one of their missiles but ultimately admitted fault three days later.
- Protesters are demanding leaders be held accountable.
- There are reports of tear gas and gunfire being used against demonstrators, but Tehran’s head of police has denied claims of shots being fired.
Backlash from the Plane Strike
Monday marked the third straight day of Iranian protests since Iran’s military admitted it shot down a passenger jet last week, mistaking it for a threat and killing all 176 people on board.
Videos emerged on Sunday of protesters running from tear gas and in others, which could not be immediately verified, gunfire could be heard.
It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Iranians—last week, hundreds of thousands were rallying in the streets to publicly mourn Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.
During those rallies, cries of hate against the United States and Donald Trump—who ordered the strike— were heard. This week there is a sharp contrast, as protesters seem to be targeting the Iranian government and military.
According to The Washington Post, demonstrators were filmed late on Sunday in at least two locations ripping down posters of Soleimani. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, a billboard mourning the victims of the plane crash replaced one of the deceased military leader.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base that houses American troops on Wednesday. The plane was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours later after taking off from Tehran.
After maintaining for days that there was no evidence the aircraft was struck down by one of their missiles, Iran admitted that its military had shot down the jet by mistake.
The military initially claimed in a statement that the plane took an unexpected turn that brought it close to a sensitive military base, but an Iranian official later backtracked on that notion.
“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said on Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident an “unforgivable mistake” and said that investigations are continuing to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy.”
A mix of individuals from multiple countries was onboard the aircraft, including dozens of Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “a national tragedy” and publicly called for further investigation.
“I want to assure all families and all Canadians: We will not rest until there are answers,” he said at a memorial event on Sunday.
Protesters are demanding that leaders be held responsible for the fatal mistake. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that up to 1,000 people were protesting at various points in the capital city. Some videos posted to social media show crowds demanding the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.
One of the scenes of protest was the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed in the plane crash. Iranian security forces stepped in and escalated the demonstration.
They “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh told The Washington Post, keeping her full name anonymous.
“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she told the news outlet.
Iran’s security forces have a history of taking extreme action to contain protesters. In November, after protests broke out in response to the spike in Iran’s gas prices, about 1,500 demonstrators were killed by security forces, according to the Trump administration.
Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” according to reports by the Associated Press.
Rahimi denied claims that police were shooting at protesters and said that tear gas was only being used in certain areas.