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China Ramps Up Propaganda Against Hong Kong Protests

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  • China is ramping up its propaganda campaign against the Hong Kong protests.
  • These efforts include buying anti-protest ads on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are banned in China, as part of an effort to disperse misinformation to the international community.
  • China has also moved thousands of troops to their border with Hong Kong to conduct public military exercises that many believe are meant to intimidate protestors in Hong Kong.
  • On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong in one of the biggest peaceful marches seen in the city since the protests first began 11 weeks ago.

Airport Protests

Mainland China has ratcheted up its efforts against the protestors in Hong Kong following several violent instances during protests at Hong Kong’s airport last week.

Last Monday, thousands of protestors flooded the Hong Kong airport, causing officials to cancel all flights. Limited flights resumed Tuesday and protestors began trying to block passengers from boarding planes.

The situation escalated after a group of demonstrators essentially held two men from mainland China hostage. The protestors reportedly believed one of the men was an undercover police officer, even though they had no confirmation of his identity or employment.

The other man who was seized by protestors has been confirmed as a journalist for the Chinese newspaper the Global Times. It was also reported that at one point, a group of demonstrators overwhelmed a police officer and beat him with his own baton.

These instances prompted police to violently crackdown on the protestors Tuesday night, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the demonstrators.

Flights resumed normally on Wednesday after airport authorities filed a court order to limit the protests.

China Propaganda

Amid the protests at the airport, mainland China has significantly stepped up its misinformation and anti-protest propaganda campaign.

While China’s state media has always portrayed the Hong Kong protests in a negative light, they have recently increased their efforts to villainize the protestors.

In general, the Chinese media have portrayed the protestors as a small group of bad actors who engage in extremely violent demonstrations. 

The official narrative in China is that the demonstrations have been planned and incited by foreign forces, including U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the CIA, who the Chinese government claim pay the protestors to engage in activities that are not supported by residents of Hong Kong.

That narrative obviously contrasts greatly with the fact that the protests are part of popular demonstration movement that at times has prompted two million people— nearly one-third of Hong Kong’s population— to take to the streets.

The Chinese media has also said the protestors in Hong Kong are calling for independence from China, which threatens the mainland’s sovereignty. However, as many have noted, none of the protestors’ demands include independence from China.

The Chinese media has also manipulated pictures and videos of protestors to make them seem more violent. In one recent example, a video showed a protester with a toy Airsoft weapon used in a paintball-like game that’s popular in Hong Kong. 

The state-run newspaper the China Daily circulated that video, claiming it was evidence that the protesters had taken up arms and saying the toy was a grenade launcher used by the U.S. Army.

Over the weekend, it was reported that China’s largest state-run news agency, Xinhua News, bought ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear the protestors. Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, so the ads seem to be an attempt to influence the outside world to China’s favor.

One of the ads run on Facebook indicates that the violence from the protests is hurting Hong Kong’s economy, and goes on to say, “Calls are mounting for immediate actions to restore order.”

Another ad on Twitter also pushed the idea that everyone in Hong Kong wants “order,” claiming, “All walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored.”

Twitter Responds

Twitter addressed the misinformation campaign in a Twitter Safety blog post on Monday.

In the post, Twitter said they found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.” 

According to the post, Twitter located 936 accounts “originating from within” China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

The post went on to say that Twitter had suspended all of the accounts for violating their platform manipulation policies, but also noted that those accounts were only the most active parts of the misinformation campaign, which they said consisted of around 200,000 accounts.

Continued Protests

Propaganda is only one of the methods China is using to put pressure on Hong Kong.

Beijing has recently moved thousands of paramilitary troops to mainland China’s border with Hong Kong.

Those forces have since been seen running very public military exercises over the last week or so, and many experts have said it is a reminder to Hong Kong that the mainland has not ruled out the use of force.

The combination of the violence at the airport and the rising threat from mainland China caused many protest leaders worried that the actions taken by a few demonstrators would deter others from continuing to protest.

The opposite appeared to be true on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated in the rain for one of the biggest peaceful protests in weeks. Protest organizers estimated that around 1.7 million people came out, while the police claim the number is closer to 128,000.

Despite the fact that the authorities had not given the protestors permission for the march, it still remained peaceful.

Police presence was limited, and the officers who were present did not try to stop the protestors. The protestors themselves encouraged each other to avoid confrontations.

Sunday’s massive protest seemed to indicate that the people of Hong Kong are not backing down, even amid what many have described as unprecedented use of force by police and escalating threats from mainland China.

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

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Lebanon’s Government Resigns Following Beirut Explosion Protests

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  • On Monday, the Prime Minister of Lebanon announced that he and his cabinet were resigning following a weekend of huge protests in Beirut.
  • Thousands of people took to the streets, calling for the government to resign after an explosion last week killed 200 and injured over 6,000 others. The explosion was believed to have been caused by a chemical stockpile that the government knew existed.
  • Protesters threw rocks and other projectiles, clashing violently with police who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
  • The protesters view the explosion as symbolic of years of government corruption, but many experts say the resignations will do little to change the country’s political system without widespread reforms.

Lebanese Government Steps Down

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced Monday that his government was resigning following the massive explosion that shook the capital city of Beirut last week.

Speaking in a televised statement, Diab said that the explosion was the result of “endemic corruption” and that he was “heeding people’s demand for real change. Today we will take a step back in order to stand with the people.” 

The explosion, which killed 200 people and injured 6,000 others, is believed to have been caused by a fire that set off 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port. It has since been confirmed that many government officials knew about the dangerous stockpile for years and did nothing to address it.

The move follows a weekend of protests, where thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to call for the government to resign. 

For many, the explosion was seen as yet another result of years of government corruption and mismanagement by the country’s ruling elite, who have been lining their own pockets while other people suffer. 

Even before the blast, Lebanon was experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades as well as surging coronavirus cases. Both factors contributed to an already heighten distrust in the government that has only been augmented by the explosion.

Protests Break Out

Those sentiments appeared to boil over as protests over the weekend rocked the capital.

Droves of protesters gathered in downtown Beirut on Saturday, where some set up mock gallows and they hung cardboard cutouts of top politicians. Others chanted “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Revolution! Revolution!” as they marched in the streets.

Confrontations broke out between protesters and police after demonstrators threw rocks at security forces who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. There were also some reports of security forces firing live rounds and protesters throwing fireworks, Molotov cocktails, and other projectiles at police.

Fires burned in the streets and protesters stormed three government ministries, even taking over the Foreign Ministry for a few hours before the army reclaimed the building.

The anti-government protests continued Sunday, and again police fired tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators who were blocking a road near Parliament. Lebanese TV footage also showed a fire breaking out at an entrance to Parliament Square as protesters tried to break into a sectioned-off area.

Also on Sunday, international leaders met at a virtual summit where they pledged $298 million to help Lebanon in the aftermath of the blast. According to reports, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said that while the aid was unconditional and would be given out regardless of political or institutional reforms, other pledges for longer-term support would depend on government reforms.

Lebanese officials have said the explosion caused upwards of $15 billion in economic losses.

Next Steps

Despite the fact that the resignation of the cabinet appears to heed the protesters’ calls, experts have warned that the move will result in more short-term political instability, but it is unlikely to create any long-term change.

“Not only do we have an absence of government and a political vacuum, but we’re going to have a severe problem with the function of the state of Lebanon,” Imad Salamey, a political scientist at Lebanese American University in Beirut told the Wall Street Journal. “We are heading toward the unknown.”

While the ministers have resigned, they are not gone. Instead, they will create a caretaker government that will exist until a new one is established, allowing them to “form the backbone of a new administration,” as The Guardian explains.

According to reports, the protesters, who continued their demonstrations on Monday, did not widely cheer Diab’s announcement.

For them, this is more of the same. Diab and his cabinet had been the political figures ushered in after a similar wave of anti-government protests prompted the former prime minister to step down in October.

After months of haggling, Diab and his government assumed power in January. Eight months later, he now leaves his people even worse off than before.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The Guardian) (Al Jazeera)

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Hong Kong Crackdown: Police Arrest High-Profile Media Tycoon, Then Raid His Newspaper’s Office

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  • On Monday, Police in Hong Kong arrested billionaire media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a long-time outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party. They also arrested his two sons and at least seven others the same day. 
  • All ten are accused of colluding with foreign forces, and under Hong Kong’s new national security law, they could face up to life in prison. 
  • Following those arrests, hundreds of Hong Kong police raided Lai’s newspaper, the pro-democracy Apple Daily, and rifled through documents before seizing 25 boxes of materials.
  • Also on Monday, China issued retaliatory sanctions against 11 U.S. citizens—including Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Pat Toomey—though it is unclear what those sanctions entail.

Arrest of Jimmy Lai and Newsroom Police Raid

The Hong Kong police force used the city’s new national security law on Monday to make their most-high profile arrest yet under the legislation.

It began when police stormed the offices of Next Digital, a media company owned by billionaire activist Jimmy Lai. Lai is also known for being the publisher for the Apple Daily, a pro-democracy outlet that is one of the most-read newspapers in Hong Kong.

Photographs show officers escorting Lai outside of the offices and placing him in police vehicles. In addition to Lai, officers also arrested his two sons, as well as at least seven others. Four of those reportedly include senior executives with the Apple Daily. 

Following the arrests, more than 200 officers proceeded to search the Apple Daily’s newsroom. During that raid, which was streamed on Facebook Live by employees, officers reportedly rifled through reporters’ desks and papers, forced employees to show their ID badges, and told them to stop filming.

By the end of the search, police had confiscated more than 25 boxes of materials.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law—its mini-constitution—protects freedom of the press, but the raid immediately raised concerns that officers were seizing information critical of the Chinese Community Party. 

Later, police claimed they took care to protect those media freedoms and that reporters could “continue their work” after the raid; however, that claim has been disputed.

In fact, the Apple Daily outright refuted the claim that media freedoms were protected, saying on Twitter, “The Hong Kong Police Force have blatantly bypassed the law and abused their power, despite claims about acting according to the rules.”

“They have, for instance, ignored the limitation of the search warrant and rifled through news materials, as well as restricting press members from reporting and obstructing a news organization from operating.”

“The regime believes that we will be silenced by intimidation and harassment, and that they can take an international city down the path of autocracy,” the outlet added. “Hong Kong’s press freedom is now hanging by a thread, but our staff will remain fully committed to our duty to defend the freedom of the press.” 

Police later barred several major news outlets, including Reuters and the Associated Press, from attending a press conference regarding the raid.

This is not the first series of arrests that police have made under the national security law. After it went into effect on June 30, several people were arrested during street protests. On July 29, four students in Hong Kong were arrested for “secession” over social media posts they made.

Reportedly, those students range from age 21 to as young as 16.

Alongside those arrests, police also seized  their computers, phones, and other documents.

In a press conference, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said that all four students are believed to be part of an online group that pledged to fight for Hong Kong independence.

“We have to enforce the laws even if the crimes are committed on the internet,” he said. “Don’t think you can escape from the responsibility in cyberspace and commit crimes.”

Hong Kong Elections Postponed

It’s also not just arrests that threaten basic human freedoms in the city. On July 31, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam postponed this year’s upcoming elections for a full year.

Lam has justified the move by saying that this was in response to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. She called the decision “the most difficult one I have had to make in the past seven months.”

Despite this, a number of pro-democracy lawmakers have accused China of trying to delay the election. That’s because many believed pro-democracy candidates had a strong chance to finally win a majority in the city’s legislature, the Legislative Council. 

Stoking similar criticism of trying to stamp out a democratic win, just two days prior to postponing the elections, the Hong Kong government announced that 12 pro-democracy candidates running for seats in the city’s legislature had been barred.

The government has argued that those candidates can’t stand because they would be unable to uphold the Basic Law of Hong Kong based on their positions on issues, such as advocating for democratic reforms and objecting to the national security law.

Those candidates include Joshua Wong and Gwyneth Ho, who were both front-runners in an unofficial democratic primary held earlier in July. Notably, that list also includes four incumbents—right, four already-sitting lawmakers who are up for re-election.

U.S. Sanctions and Chinese Retaliation

As China implements the new law, a number of countries have stepped in to sanction Beijing. 

For example, in the United States, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that imposes sanctions on 11 Hong Kong officials—including Lam, as well as the city’s current and former police chiefs. 

Trump’s order freezes any U.S. assets owned by those people and bars any Americans from doing business with them. 

That said, the U.S. and China have been playing a game of back-and-forth tag with sanctions for over a year. Thus, it came as little surprise that China retaliated on Monday by slapping sanctions on 11 U.S. citizens.

That list includes executives with human rights activist groups, as well as several lawmakers like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ar.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Unlike the U.S. sanctions, it’s unclear what those sanctions entail. Announcing the sanction, the deputy director of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the U.S. for involving itself in what he called domestic affairs.

“The [sanctions] by the US side are an overt interference in Hong Kong affairs and gross interference in China’s domestic affairs…” Deputy Director Zhao Lijian said. “The Chinese side resolutely opposes and strongly condemns this.”

“Retaliate all you want,” Hawley responded on Twitter. “I’m not backing down.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNBC) (South China Morning Post)

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2,700 Tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate Stash Linked to Beirut Explosion

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  • Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut has left at least 135 dead and 5,000 injured.
  • The tragedy is suspected to have been caused by a detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that was improperly stored in a warehouse.
  • Officials at the port are currently set to be placed under house arrest pending an investigation into the cause of the explosion. Records show officials knew that the nitrate was there and that it was dangerous but still did nothing for years.
  • The damage is severe, with 300,000 people being displaced and damage potentially costing $5 billion.

What We Know

Lebanese officials are looking for answers after a massive explosion in Beirut killed at least 135 people and injured 5,000 on Tuesday.

“There are no words to describe the catastrophe,” President Michel Aoun said of the tragedy. 

Lebanon’s Interior Minister told a local television station that right now, it appears that the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate. The ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizer and bombs, had been seized from a cargo ship and was being improperly stored in a warehouse. Records show that officials knew the nitrate was being stored there and was dangerous but failed to act. 

Current reports indicate that a fire at a nearby warehouse may have ignited the nitrate, but the cause of the fire is unknown. An investigation into the explosion is still underway. 

“As head of the government, I will not relax until we find the responsible party for what happened, hold it accountable and apply the most serious punishments against it,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a statement. 

Sources told Aljazeera that the country’s cabinet is going to place port officials under house arrest pending the investigation. It is unclear how many officials this will involve or what their roles at the port were.

The State of Lebanon

The damage the blast has caused is catastrophic, leaving an estimated 300,000 people displaced. The governor of Beirut estimates that the country could be facing between $3-5 billion dollars in damage. 

The explosion was strong enough to be felt in Cyprus, which is around 150 miles away from Beirut. Several hospitals were also damaged to the point that they could not take in new patients. Many of those hospitals were already treating COVID-19 patients as the country is dealing with a spike in cases. 

Just last week, the country reimposed coronavirus lockdowns because of a case surge. Hospitals are already struggling to handle the pandemic and lack personal protective equipment and other tools to combat it. The new influx of injured people from the explosion is now putting hospitals at capacity.

This comes at a time of dire economic hardship for Lebanon as well. The country currently has an unemployment rate of 33% and 45% of the country living below the poverty line, according to Business Insider. Tensions with the government and leadership are already high because of this.

“Many blame the ruling elite who have dominated politics for years and amassed their own wealth while failing to carry out the sweeping reforms necessary to solve the country’s problems,” BBC News explained. “People have to deal with daily power cuts, a lack of safe drinking water and limited public healthcare.”

Recovery Efforts

Recovery efforts are underway.  The Lebanon Red Cross has set up first-aid stations to help people with non-critical injuries and has sent in ambulances and Emergency Medical Technicians. 

Countries across the globe are also pitching in. French president Emmanuel Macron will be going to Lebanon himself, while hise country is sending medical equipment, rescue teams, and other aid. The President of the European Council also said that the EU is ready to help however they can..

Israel, Jordan, Russia and Egypt are among the many other countries that have pledged or already sent assistance. President Donald Trump also said that United States is ready to help and called the explosion a “terrible attack.” However, at this time, officials have not called this an attack. 

Celebrities are also getting involved in recovery efforts. Singer Dua Lipa has been sharing donation links and news articles on Instagram and is encouraging her followers to help however they can.

Photo via Instagram @DuaLipa

“Please if you are able and healthy to donate blood please do!!!” she wrote. “Beirut needs your help. There are people in critical conditions!”

Pop star Ariana Grande also tweeted out several links for donations and sent her condolences to the country. 

Likewise, model Bella Hadid shared information about the blast and encouraged people to donate money or blood if possible. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Reuters) (Aljazeera)

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