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Hong Kong Protesters Storm Government Building

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  • An estimated 550,000 people turned out for a typically peaceful march in Hong Kong on July 1, marking the 22nd anniversary of the city being handed over to China.
  • Authorities expected the protests to be larger than usual, due to the last month of protests in the city over a proposed extradition bill.
  • However, the protests became violent when demonstrators clashed with police and a breakaway group broke into the Legislative Council, where they vandalized the chambers.
  • Around midnight, dozens of police officers surrounded the Council and used pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

New Wave of Protests

Protestors stormed the Hong Kong legislature Monday night and occupied the Legislative Council after a day of demonstrations.

Monday’s protests marked the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong being handed over to China from Britain in 1997. Since then, Hong Kong has existed as an autonomous city-state of China.

Usually, the citizens of Hong Kong hold both pro-China and anti-China protests on the July 1 anniversary. This year, the government expected the protests to be much bigger and much more heated as demonstrations against a proposed extradition bill have continued for nearly a month.

The bill in question would allow the government to extradite people accused of committing certain crimes to countries or territories that Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements with, including China. 

On June 15, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said she would suspend the bill indefinitely, but not fully withdraw it. As a result, intermittent protests of varying sizes have continued ever since.

Early on Monday morning local time, hundreds of protestors blocked three main roads with metal and plastic barricades. Those protestors were reportedly met by police with batons and pepper spray.

The police headquarters also reported that 13 officers were taken to the hospital after protestors threw an “unknown liquid” at them. However, those clashes did not escalate further, and later, thousands of people took to the streets for a peaceful pro-democracy march.

Protest organizers estimated that 550,000 people turned out.

Later in the afternoon, a breakaway group of protestors moved to the Legislative Council and began ramming the glass doors with a metal trolley. Rows of riot police stood behind the glass door, holding a sign that said: “stop charging or we use force.”

Protestors Enter Legislative Council

The protestors eventually succeeded in breaking one of the glass doors and entered through it.

After that, the police reportedly fell back behind a metal barricade that surrounded the building, and tried to push the protestors back with tear gas and smoke.

By nighttime, the police stepped back, and the protestors were able to breach the metal barriers and enter the Legislative Council. Hundreds of protestors poured into the building.

They spray painted the walls, smashed glass windows and doors, and defaced portraits. 

Some protestors also read out a list of 10 demands in the Legislative Council chamber. According to CNN, those demands included universal suffrage, top officials associated with the extradition bill to resign, and an investigation into police violence during the recent protests.

The Hong Kong police department issued a statement on Facebook regarding their intentions to address the situation. “The police will clear the scene in the Legislative Council Building in a short time,” the statement said. “Obstruction or resistance, the police will take appropriate force.”

Shortly after, the police started using teargas outside of the Legislative Council and began advancing towards the building, where some protestors could be seen fleeing.

According to reports, the protesters have now largely been removed.

Why Now?

Although anticipated by the authorities, Monday’s protests were markedly more violent than the other demonstrations that Hong Kong has seen in recent weeks. 

Simultaneously, government officials held a flag-raising ceremony to honor the anniversary. At that ceremony, Lam spoke for the first time since she apologized to the protestors and suspended the bill.

During her speech, Lam said that she knew that the government has “a lot to improve,” and added that she will spend more time listening to the people of Hong Kong.

“This has made me fully realise that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiments accurately,” said Lam.

“I am also fully aware that while we have good intentions, we still need to be open and accommodating. While the Government has to ensure administrative efficiency, it still needs to listen patiently.”

The New York Times reported that local television news channels in Hong Kong broadcasted a split screen that seemed to undermine Lam’s words. 

On one side, Lam and other government officials from Hong Kong and China clinked champagne flutes in a toast to a unification, while on the other side, riot police clashed violently with protesters.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (BBC)

International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

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