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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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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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