- 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.
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)
New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004
- New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
- Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
- Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
- The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.
Smoke Free 2025
New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.
Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.
“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday.
“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”
The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.”
The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.
Not Without Flaws
The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat.
There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals.
“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.
Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.
“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote.
The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.
See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)
Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion
- Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
- The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
- The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.
Ever Given Still in Egypt
An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.
The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.
The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.
Pushing Back Against The Claim
While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”
“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”
It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.
See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)
Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean
- The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
- The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
- Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
- Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Radioactive or Bad Publicity?
After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”
While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.
According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.
Something Had To Eventually Be Done
Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.
The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.
The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.
Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.
“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.
To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.