- Protests in Hong Kong over the weekend became violent after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who vandalized the Chinese liaison office.
- Protestors in a train station returning home were later attacked by a group of men who beat them with batons and metal pipes, leaving at least 45 injured.
- Many were outraged by the attack and claimed that it had been initiated or at least supported by pro-government authorities and the police.
- Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned both the vandalism and the attacks during a press conference Monday.
Violent Attack in Train Station
A mob of men attacked antigovernment protestors in a Hong Kong train station on Sunday, after protests turned violent when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who had vandalized the Chinese government’s liaison office.
Pro-democracy protestors were reportedly returning from a demonstration when they were attacked by a group of men wearing white t-shirts who chased after them and beat them violently with bats and metal bars.
The protestors tried to flee, and the attackers chased some people into open train cars, where they continued to beat them. The attackers reportedly injured 45 people, leaving one in critical condition.
Those injured included pro-democracy protestors, as well as journalists and pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.
“They repeatedly went into the train and were using batons to indiscriminately attack all the people in the train,” the lawmaker later told reporters. “Many journalists, even a pregnant woman, all ordinary citizens of Hong Kong, were attacked by those gangsters.”
It is not clear who the attackers were. Many believe they were members of organized crime groups known as triads. The incident angered people across the country, with critics and protestors accusing pro-government officials of hiring the men to launch the attack.
Video footage that has surfaced showed pro-China lawmaker Junius Ho, shaking hands with some men in white and giving them a thumbs-up. Ho later denied that he had any connection to the attacks and was just greeting people who approached him.
Many also accused the police of ignoring the attack and not doing enough to help. Some argued that it was hypocritical for the authorities to crack down on the pro-democracy protestors but not the men who attacked them.
Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters that the police response was slow and inadequate. He said that the men were seen gathering hours before the attack, so the police should have had time to properly assess the situation and respond.
He also said that the police did not show up until after the attack, and when they did come, it nearly an hour and a half after the first emergency call. When the police finally did show up, they initially reported that they did not find any weapons and let the attackers leave without making any arrests.
However, footage taken by photojournalists showed the riot police speaking with two men in white shirts holding metal bars or sticks, and then patting one on the shoulder before walking off.
Some have even argued that the attackers colluded with the police, but during a press conference on Monday, police officials denied that they conspired with the men, and said they later arrested some people associated with the attacks.
The police also claimed that they were slow to show up because they were busy responding to the protests.
However, pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan pointed out in a tweet that “Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest cop to population ratio.”
The attacks at the train station came after a long day of protests took a violent turn.
Over the last few months, Hong Kong has seen massive and ongoing protests over a bill that would let the government extradite people accused of committing specific crimes to countries or territories that Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements with.
Many oppose the bill because it would allow extraditions to China, and see the bill as Beijing attempting to extend its authority over the people of Hong Kong and their personal freedoms.
Lam suspended the bill in June, and earlier this month she said the bill was “dead,” but protesters have continued to call for a full withdrawal.
They have argued that even if Lam’s administration keeps its promise to not pursue the bill, any leader after Lam could still take up the bill and pass it unless it is withdrawn.
In addition to calling for the bill to be withdrawn, the demonstrators have also expanded their list of demands to call for Lam’s resignation, an investigation into the police’s actions against demonstrators, amnesty for arrested protestors, and universal suffrage, among other things.
As the protestors’ demands have changed, so have the nature of the protests. While the first wave of protests were largely peaceful, over the last few weeks they have become increasingly violent.
Protestors have clashed with police, who used pepper spray and hit the demonstrators with batons and shields as well as other forceful tactics.
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets for a previously planned peaceful march.
However, the demonstration escalated when thousands of protestors marched past the point where the police had said the demonstration should end. The police had tried to keep the protestors away from an area with government buildings, but the protestors went past them.
Many of the protestors went to the Chinese government’s liaison office where they reportedly covered the office with spray paint and graffiti. They also threw ink and eggs on the crest of the Chinese government that is displayed on the building.
The protestors were eventually pushed back by police who used tear gas and rubber bullets. It was also reported that the protesters threw eggs and other things at the police as well.
The Hong Kong government condemned the protests in a statement.
“The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government strongly condemns the protesters who blatantly challenged the national sovereignty by maliciously besieging and storming the CPGLO building as well as defacing the national emblem,” the statement said.
“The HKSAR Government is concerned that a small number of radicals incited the masses in an organised manner, challenged the rule of law, and even stormed the CPG’s office in Hong Kong,” it continued. “Such acts threaten the law and order in the SAR and ‘one country, two systems.’”
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam responded on Monday, condemning both the attacks and vandalizing of the liaison office, which she said: “hurt the nation’s feelings.”
“Violence will only breed more violence,” she later added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (BBC)
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.