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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

Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China

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Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.


Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

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

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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