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Hong Kong Grounds Flights as Protestors Swarm Airport

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  • Thousands in Hong Kong launched a massive protest in the city’s airport on Monday, prompting all flights to be canceled.
  • Protestors called for the demonstrations after police fired teargas into an enclosed subway station and fired rubber bullets at protestors fleeing another station the day before.
  • Also on Monday, Chinese officials referred to the protestors as “terrorists” and Chinese media sources reported that paramilitary forces ran “large-scale exercises” along the Hong Kong border.

Protest in Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong’s airport grounded all flights Monday after thousands of people flooded the hub in protest over the police response to demonstrations the day before.

A smaller number of protesters had already been staging a peaceful sit-in over the last three days at the airport, which is one of the world’s busiest, without disrupting services or flights.

However, protest members called for a larger demonstration at the airport after undercover police dressed as protestors fired tear gas inside a subway station during demonstrations on Sunday.

The incident was reportedly one of the only times police have used tear gas in an enclosed area.

Other videos taken at Sunday’s protests showed police firing non-lethal objects in close range at protestors trying to flee down an escalator at another subway station.

Protestors in other parts of the city reportedly injured some police officers after throwing bricks and petrol bombs.

Man-Kei Tam, the director Amnesty International Hong Kong condemned the police’s actions in a statement.

“Hong Kong police have once again used tear gas and rubber bullets in a way that have fallen short of international standards,” he said. “Firing at retreating protesters in confined areas where they had little time to leave goes against the purported objective of dispersing a crowd.”

As a result of Sunday’s violence, Monday’s protest seemed to be specifically targeted at the police, who protestors have long-accused of brutality and abuse of power.

Demonstrators could be seen holding signs that said: “Don’t trust the police,” as well as signs that displayed pictures of the violent clashes between the two groups.

Some protestors reportedly shouted, “Turn back,” and others held signs apologizing for the inconvenience to travelers.

Most of the protestors have dispersed, according to reports, though reportedly a couple hundred still remain in the airport.

Continued Growing Protests

Monday’s protest is not the first time that activists have staged demonstrations in the airport.

In fact, gathering in the airport is one of the tactics that activists have recently been using to disrupt businesses and transportation in Hong Kong, which is a huge commerce center.

Just last Monday, tens of thousands of people brought massive swaths of the city to a standstill during the city’s first general strike in over 50 years.

The most recent demonstrations also do not represent the first time protestors have accused the police of engaging in brutality.

Over the last few weeks, the protests in Hong Kong have become increasingly violent, with protestors clashing with police more often.

Authorities have also ramped up their efforts to arrest protestors. According to reports, police have said 592 people have been arrested since the protests began on June 9. 

Those arrested are between the ages of 13 to 76, and some of them face charges that include rioting, which can carry a prison term of up to 10 years.

The Hong Kong protests originally started over a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed certain criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China.

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam eventually suspended the bill but did not fully withdraw it. The protestors continued their demonstrations because until the bill was fully withdrawn, it could be brought back at any time. 

While the extradition bill continues to drive the demonstrations, the protestors have also expanded their demands to call for broad democratic reforms.

The protestors are also calling for Lam’s resignation, an independent investigation into alleged police brutality, and release and amnesty for protestors who have been arrested, among other things.

Lam’s Response & China

Lam recently responded to the protestors’ demands by saying she will not step down and largely denying their requests.

Speaking for the first time in two weeks last Monday, Lam said Hong Kong is “on the verge of a very dangerous situation” and accused the protestors of having a hidden agenda.

Lam also claimed it was not in her power to demand the release of people who were arrested during protests.

On Friday, Lam said that an investigation into the police would be inappropriate because they are busy responding to the protests. She also pivoted to claim that the protests were hurting Hong Kong’s economy.

While many have said that Lam’s response is predictable and falls in line with her positions throughout this whole ordeal, others have noted that recent responses from China are far more alarming.

On Monday, the Global Times, a state-backed Chinese newspaper shared a video of armored carriers heading towards a city that borders Hong Kong in advance of what the paper referred to as “large-scale exercises,” by a paramilitary unit.

The Global Times also wrote that the “tasks and missions” of the paramilitary unit included “dealing with rebellions, riots, serious violent and illegal incidents, terrorist attacks and other social security incidents.”

On Monday night, China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, issued a headline that said: “Alert! There are signs of terrorism on the streets of Hong Kong.”

“No country can accept terrorist acts in its own country,” CCTV warned. “Hong Kong has reached an important juncture. ‘End violence and restore order’ is the most important, urgent and overriding task of Hong Kong at present!”

A spokesperson for the Chinese government department responsible for Hong Kong also moved to condemn the violence at a press conference.

“The radical demonstrators in Hong Kong have repeatedly attacked police with extremely dangerous tools in recent days, which constitutes a serious violent crime, and now they are descending into terrorism,” the spokesperson said.

“We should relentlessly crack down on such violent criminal acts without mercy, and we firmly support Hong Kong police and judicial authorities in bringing the criminals to justice as soon as possible,” he continued.

The move comes just a little over a week after a video was released showing Chinese soldiers who were practicing firing on demonstrators.

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

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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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