- 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)
Thousands Protest in Algeria Over “Sham” Election
- Massive protests have broken out all over Algeria, which is holding its first election since its president stepped down in April after weeks of demonstrations.
- Protests have been ongoing since February, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of the entire political system.
- The protestors have called for a boycott of the election, saying it is a sham and that fair elections cannot be held while the ruling elite and military are in power.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Algeria on Thursday, calling for boycotts of the presidential election.
Protestors say that the election is a sham and that free and fair elections cannot be held as long as the ruling elite and the military are still in power.
Algerians have been holding weekly peaceful protests since February after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he would run for a fifth term.
Bouteflika had already been president for two decades, but ever since he suffered a stroke in 2013, he rarely made public appearances.
According to reports, he had basically left the day-to-day running of the country to a very secretive group of his own relatives and senior military officials.
After weeks of protests, Bouteflika eventually resigned in April when his military chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, called for a constitutional provision to be activated that would deem the president unfit to rule.
Salah became the de facto leader of the country, and Bouteflika appointed Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president and Nouredine Bedoui as interim prime minister until elections could be held in 90 days.
The protests did not stop after Bouteflika stepped down. Instead, the protestors called for the new leaders to step down too, and for the military to give up control of the government.
They argued that the leaders were part of the corrupt old regime and had benefitted from Bouteflika’s rule. Because of that, they felt nothing would change as long as they held power or controlled the elections.
When the military scheduled new elections for July, protestors demanded that they cancel them. Eventually, the military agreed to the protestors’ demands and called off the elections, though they later rescheduled them for December 12.
But the leaders still refused to give up power, and with the lack of actual structural change, the demonstrations continued.
New Elections & Protests
After the second election date was announced, protestors called for the December elections to be canceled until there could be a complete overhaul of the political system.
Those demands became even more heightened after the government announced that all five of the presidential candidates it had chosen had ties to Bouteflika or his regime, with four of them having served as ministers under him.
For the protestors, not only has there been no political reforms, all of their options for president are people tied to the regime.
On top of that, because the interim leaders’ have ties to Bouteflika, many protestors believe that they cannot be trusted to hold a free and transparent election— a concern that has been even more legitimized by the fact that the government denied the protestors’ demand to have independent supervision of the election.
Still, the leadership and the military have refused to cancel the election, arguing that it is the only way forward and the only way to achieve political stability.
“The election of December 12th constitutes a historic opportunity for our citizens who are committed to democracy and social justice, and to building the rule of law institutions to which our people aspire,” Interim President Bensalah said in a statement Wednesday.
When it was clear the government had no plans to cancel the election, protestors became even more energized and took to the streets to call for a boycott of the election altogether.
Thousands of people demonstrated in the capital Algiers on the day of the election, where they were reportedly heard chanting: “There is no vote today,” “Independence,” and “No vote with the mafia.”
The protestors were met by riot police, who reportedly clashed with the demonstrators and violently dispersed the crowds.
In some cities, it has been reported that protestors stormed polling places. One video showed people throwing ballot boxes to the ground and tossing ballots in the air. Police have also responded with tear gas in some places.
According to reports, voter turnout has been extremely low, sitting at only 33% by 5 p.m. local time, with just two hours left of polling. Around 24 million people are eligible to vote.
The results are expected to be announced on Friday. In order to win the election, a candidate must get more than 50% of the votes. If no candidate receives 50% or more, the two leading candidates go to a runoff in a few weeks.
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Wall Street Journal) (BBC)
How Police Deal With Protests and Riots All Over the World…
Throughout the world, from Hong Kong to Lebanon, and Chile to Iraq, there have been large-scale protests where millions have demanded changes in their societies. A few things have been consistent; nearly all started as peaceful protests, and nearly all of them have devolved into violence between protesters and police. But in ideal scenarios, police doctrines officially try to avoid violence, so how do these situations happen? Sometimes protesters get out of hand, but often poorly trained riot police and a cavalier “us versus them” attitude can be the catalyst for violence.
Myanmar’s Leader Defends 2017 Operation That Killed Thousands of Muslims
- Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, defended her country before the United Nations, saying it had not acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that resulted in the deaths of 24,000 minority Muslims.
- Suu Kyi’s comments come as she faces increasing criticism for being complicit with the Myanmar military’s action.
- Previously, Suu Kyi had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in promoting democracy.
Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar
Speaking before the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, Myanmar’s Leader defended the state against accusations that it acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that led to the deaths of more than 24,000 minority Muslims.
Aung San Suu Kyi—a Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar’s State Counselor, a role akin to a prime minister—had previously been heralded as an icon for democracy, though that status has slipped in recent years. Though she has no power over the military, her handling of the operation has led to criticism that she is being “complicit.”
Suu Kyi’s comments come a day after hearing horribly graphic testimony of what happened to the Rohingya Muslims during that operation.
During the hearing, she described the case brought by the Republic of The Gambia and a dozen other majority-Muslim countries as “incomplete and incorrect.”
She then referred to the situation an “internal armed conflict” and argued that the military had pursued an extremist threat, saying Rohingya militants had attacked government security posts.
Though she did admit that Myanmar’s military might have used too much force at times—including admitting that the army had used military gunships on civilians—she also argued that any soldiers who committed war crimes would be prosecuted.
She went on to say that since the country is investigating war criminals, the state could not be accused of genocide.
“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of the state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers, who are accused of wrongdoing?” she said in The Hague on Wednesday. “Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will also be taken on civilian offenders, in line with due process.”
However, in May, seven Myanmar soldiers were released from jail early after being accused of killing 10 Rohingya men. On top of that, the military also previously cleared itself of any previous wrongdoing in the killings.
Suu Kyi also told the court that Myanmar was committed to helping Rohingya refugees return to their homes in Rakhine. Notably, she then urged the court to stop short of any action that might make the conflict worse.
Expectedly, many Rohingya refugees watching Suu Kyi’s defense on live TV shouted that she was a liar. Others also chanted, “Shame on you!” They then carried those words into the streets and were met by about 250 pro-Myanmar protesters who said they stood with Suu Kyi.
Why is Myanmar in Court?
On August 25, 2017, the Burmese army—Myanmar’s armed forces—undertook a massive operation in the northern state of Rakhine.
Though Myanmar is predominantly a Buddhist nation, a significant Muslim population lived in the area. That minority, known as Rohingya Muslims, has been denied citizenship by Myanmar, and the country considers them to be illegal immigrants.
The operation to clear the Rohingya from the area led to the deaths of 24,000 people and the mass relocation of an estimated 915,000 to the neighboring country of Bangladesh. In March, the government of Bangladesh announced that it would stop taking in Rohingya refugees. Meanwhile, in Rakhine, whole villages sit empty.
In October, The Gambia’s attorney general, Ba Tambadou told the BBC he decided to launch a case against Myanmar after visiting a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. There, he said he heard of killings, torture, and even rape during the operation.
In its submission, The Gambia claims the operation was “intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part,” by means mass murder, rape and setting fire to buildings, “often with inhabitants locked inside.”
The UN then led a fact-finding mission and found such compelling evidence that it decided to take up the case to investigate the Burmese army.
Myanmar soldiers “routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people,” the report found in August.
For its part, The Gambia says it is only asking that Myanmar “stop these senseless killings” and “stop these acts of barbarity.”
How Will All of This End?
The ICJ’s first phase of hearings will conclude Thursday; however, the case is expected to be drawn out over the course of several years.
“The final judgment can take a long time [of up to five years], but for victims and their communities, it’s an incredible moment,” a human rights expert told Al Jazeera. “This sends a very strong message to the Rohingya that the international community is watching and listening to them.”
Currently, The Gambia is only asking that the ICJ impose “provisional measures” that protect Rohingya in Myanmar and other countries.
Even if the court were to rule that Myanmar did break genocide laws, neither Suu Kyi nor any generals involved in the operation would be automatically arrested and put on trial.
On Tuesday, the U.S. responded by stiffening sanctions against several senior military commanders in Myanmar.
“The United States will not tolerate torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, murder or brutality against innocent civilians,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.