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General Strike in Hong Kong Paralyzes the City as Protests Enter Week 9

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  • Protest over the now-suspended extradition bill in Hong Kong have entered their ninth week, with demonstrators participating in a general strike across the city.
  • The move forced the cancellation of over 200 flights, blocked several roads, and shut down train services, but also lead to violent clashes in the streets.
  • Over 80 people were arrested on Monday alone, which is the most on any single day since the start of demonstrations on June 9. 
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said the city is “on the verge of a very dangerous situation,” and accused activists of using the extradition bill as a cover for other motives.

General Strike 

Tens of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong brought parts of the city to a standstill on Monday during the city’s first general strike in over 50 years. 

Workers from around 20 different sectors participated in the massive general strike and attended coordinated rallies held in seven different districts. Strikers included teachers, security workers, construction workers, and almost 14,000 people from the engineering sector. 

The demonstrations left Hong Kong’s transportation systems in shambles. Strikes from more than 2,300 workers in the aviation sector forced over 200 flight cancellation at Hong Kong’s International airport, one of the busiest in the world. 

In other places in the city, crowds of protestors set up barricades, blocking roads, and shutting down train services. Several police stations were also forced to close after they were surrounded by protestors who threw projectiles and started fires outside the buildings.

Authorities used more than 1,000 tear gas canisters and 160 rubber bullets while responding to the gatherings. 

For the second time since the start of the protests, demonstrators were attacked by armed mobs who rushed at them with wooden poles. 

One video circulating online showed a car in the district of Yuen Long rushing through a barricade set up by protestors, injuring at least one person.

In another incident across town, a taxi ran through a group of protestors walking on the street, pushing at least one to the ground. 

Monday marked the fifth straight day of protests in Hong Kong and was possibly the biggest day of protests so far. Police said that on Monday alone, they made over 80 arrests by 7:30 pm local time, which is the most on any single day since the start of demonstrations on June 9. That number is expected to rise as the clashes escalate. 

What Launched the Protests? 

In recent weeks, the demonstrations in Hong Kong have become increasingly violent. The protests, which started off peaceful, were initially prompted by anger over a controversial extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China.

Opponents of the bill saw it as Bejing’s attempting to extend its authority over the people of Hong Kong and their personal freedoms.

Although the bill has been suspended, protestors want it completely withdrawn. They have also called for Lam’s resignation, an investigation into alleged police brutality, and amnesty for arrested protestors, among other demands. 

Leaders in Hong Kong said that so far, 420 individuals have been arrested since the start of the protest on charges including rioting, unlawful assembly, possessing offensive weapons, assaulting officers, and obstructing police operations. Last week, more than 40 activists appeared in court for rioting charges. If convicted, they could be jailed for up to 10 years.

China has, for the most part, stayed out of the dispute, but China’s top policy office in Hong Kong previously condemned the protests, calling them “horrendous incidents” that have caused “serious damage to the rule of law.”

However, Beijing will announce ‘something new’ for Hong Kong on Tuesday according to the South China Morning Post which cited an anonymous source.

Lam Responds 

Protests over the bill have now entered their ninth week, with Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam saying the city is “on the verge of a very dangerous situation.”

Lam made her first media address in two weeks on Monday, where she accused activists of using the extradition bill as a cover for other hidden agendas. 

“We continue to allow these violent protesters to make use of the fugitive offender bill to conceal their ulterior motives,” she said. “Those ulterior motives are going to destroy Hong Kong.”

Lam further outraged many when she refused to resign and said it was not within her power to demand the release of those who had been arrested during protests. 

However, she acknowledged that her attempting to move the extradition bill forward had been a “failure” and pledged to “engage more, listen more and do more to meet the wishes of Hong Kong.”

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

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Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Fired Over Speech Reminiscent of Nazi Rhetoric

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  • 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.

Controversial Address

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)

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Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role

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  • 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)

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Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane

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  • 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.

Escalating Protests

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.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (BBC) (CNN)

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