- In leaked audio at a private luncheon, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would step down if she could, criticizing herself for allowing the extradition bill protests to begin under her leadership.
- Lam later confirmed the validity of the audio but called the comment an example of the “easy choice,” saying she has not tendered a letter of resignation and will see the situation through to the end.
- After another weekend of violent protests that included demonstrators hurling firebombs, Hong Kong’s secretary of security said the protests show “elements of terror.”
Lam Leaked Audio
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that she has not tendered her resignation nor is she considering doing so after leaked audio emerged of her saying she would quit if she could.
“I have never tendered a resignation to the central People’s government,” Lam said. “I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation with the central People’s government. The choice of not resigning is my own choice.”
Reuters published the audio Monday, citing three people in the room with Lam at the time confirming she made the statement. Because the meeting was held under Chatham House rules, a spokesperson for Lam declined to comment on the leak.
Chatham House rules state any information said at such a meeting can be openly discussed, but the comments must remain anonymous.
“But for a Chief Executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” Lam says in the leak. “It’s just unforgivable. If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”
Lam later confirmed her comment in her Tuesday press conference, calling the leak “quite unacceptable.”
She then continued, clarifying her statement by saying she was giving an example of what would be an easy way out, then saying she would not take that route and that she has repeatedly told herself she needs to remain chief executive to help Hong Kong.
Also in the leaked audio, Lam said Cina does not plan to deploy its army into Hong Kong. For the past few weeks, the People’s Liberation Army has been stationed at the border between China and Hong Kong, where it was seen practicing regular military exercises.
Lam also said neither she nor mainland China have any deadline to end the protests. She said she still expects them to continue into October 1, which will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
She also noted that her power is very limited as the mainland fights a trade war with the United States.
“Elements of Terror”
Violence escalated over the weekend as protesters hurled fire bombs, resulting in Hong Kong’s secretary for security John Lee saying the protest showed “elements of terror.”
“The extent of violence, danger, and destruction have reached very serious conditions,” Lee said. “Radical people have escalated their violent and illegal acts, showing elements of terror.”
Thursday, protesters hurled bricks and other projectiles at the Hong Kong police station. The violence continued Saturday as protesters lobbed more items like rocks and bricks at the government headquarters. Media later reported fires as protesters continued by throwing Molotov cocktails.
Police then met those protesters with pepper spray, tear gas, and water cannons. The water cannons included a blue dye meant to stain protesters and make them easier to identify.
Clashes in the subway systems caused a massive shut down over large areas of the city. Three subway stations were still closed for most of the next day.
Protesters also demonstrated outside the airport on Sunday, stifling traffic to the extent that some travelers resorted to walking to the airport.
In all, 159 people were arrested between Friday and Sunday, including a 13-year-old boy who was arrested for having two gas bombs.
Monday, riot police patrolled in full uniform, a rare occurrence because they were not responding to active protests at the time; however, thousands of students did skip their first day of classes to participate in more peaceful demonstrations.
Why the Protests Are Happening
As Hong Kong reels from its third month of protests, citizens are still calling for a full withdrawal to a bill that would allow people from Hong Kong to be brought to mainland China for trial.
The extradition bill was proposed in February, following an alleged murder by a Hong Kong resident in Taiwan. Because the resident had already returned to Hong Kong, he could not face trial in Taiwan as there is no agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong to transfer suspected criminals. Outrage sparked when the bill to remedy the extradition problem also included extradition to mainland China.
Hong Kong residents fear the bill could give mainland China more influence over the region to the point that they lose some of the freedoms the mainland lacks, such as free speech and free press.
On July 9, Lam said “the bill is dead” after suspending it, but she did not formally withdraw it. Pro-democracy protesters have demanded the bill be withdrawn as part of their demands, along with Lam’s resignation and amnesty for pro-democracy protesters.
Though the protests began peacefully, Hong Kong has seen a steady increase in violence. Protesters previously stormed the city’s Legislative Council Building, smashing glass doors and windows, defacing portraits, and spray painting the walls. This prompted police to respond with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Protesters have blocked roads and demonstrated in airports and subways, canceling flights and trains.
Another group in white shirts attacked antigovernment protesters with bats and metal bars in July, leading to the injuries of 45 people.
Mainland China has also said it won’t rule out declaring a state of emergency if the protests continue. Currently, it’s considering banning protesters from wearing masks and punishing teachers who encourage students to protest.
See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (Wall Street Journal) (South China Morning Post)
Protesters Trapped at Hong Kong University After Another Weekend of Violence
- Hundreds of protesters are trapped at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University as police surround the campus following a series of violent weekend clashes.
- Several religious leaders and lawmakers fear Hong Kong may soon see an incident similar to 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre as they wait to see if mainland China will order the widespread use of live rounds.
- On Monday, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled the October ban of face masks unconstitutional after Chief Executive Carrie Lam enacted the ban last month so police could better identify protesters.
Students Trapped on University Campus
Hundreds of protesters remain trapped on Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University Monday after a violent weekend of police clashes that resulted in police completely surrounding the campus.
Earlier in the day, protesters attempted a mass exodus to flee the university, but they were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. One reporter described the situation as no less than 10 minutes of nonstop tear gas.
Some protesters were arrested in the clash, but many were also reportedly forced back onto campus.
The clash occurred after protesters ignored riot police’s warnings to leave unarmed at an approved exit zone. Many attendees, however, feared they would be arrested if they used that exit.
Clashes like this over the weekend led to dozens being admitted to the hospital, with four in serious condition.
Students Protest at PolyU
The situation began last week when students began the protest at PolyU. Those protests originally started peacefully, but many protesters prepared for violence by making Molotov cocktails.
Those students then reportedly practiced by throwing them in the school’s empty pool. Other students reportedly practiced using catapult-style slingshots and bows and arrows.
On Saturday, clashes erupted as police started advancing on PolyU. In a scene that has become increasingly common over the last few months, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons while protesters shielded themselves with umbrellas and boards. Those protesters then hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails in retaliation.
Bricks continued to fly well into Sunday morning when protesters flung them at residents who were trying to clear a road.
Also Sunday morning, there were some reports of Chinese soldiers in riot gear monitoring the situation from the base of the university. On Saturday, the Chinese government deployed soldiers into the territory for the first time in the protests nearly six-month history, though that deployment was mostly part of an effort to clean up and clear streets.
Sunday evening, protesters fired catapults and bows and arrows from rooftops, with one arrow reportedly striking an officer in the calf. Later, protesters set fire to a bridge that connects the university to a train station.
A huge fire burning on the bridge that connects #PolyU to Hung Hom MTR station. The smoke is being blown by the wind into campus and protesters are retreating, carrying along their supplies. pic.twitter.com/so7z3B0JJe— Rachel Cheung (@rachel_cheung1) November 17, 2019
Into the night, PolyU administrators asked protesters to end the violence and leave the campus.
“The university is gravely concerned that the spiraling radical illicit activities will cause not only a tremendous safety threat on campus, but also class suspension over an indefinite period of time,” a university statement reads.
Outside the campus, Hong Kong legislator Ted Hui tried to negotiate with riot police by trying to ask police to allow protesters on campus to leave. Police denied the request and Hui was later pepper-sprayed.
Protesters Set Fire to Armored Vehicle and Ask for Support
The same night, police attempted to enter the campus by using an armored vehicle. That vehicle charged a barricade protesters had set up on a bridge, but it reversed course as protesters set it on fire using Molotov cocktails.
Students then rushed another armored vehicle following that clash.
#Update: I have never seen so much broken bottles from Molotov Cocktails at a protest as of now, here you see a video footage of Polytechnic University students throwing these cocktails towards riot police vehicles. #HongKong #China #PolyU pic.twitter.com/4LOWQi8zvM— Sotiri Dimpinoudis (@sotiridi) November 17, 2019
All of that happened while students airdropped messages to each other asking protesters to recruit even more protesters to then surround the police.
“The effort to surround the police at PolyU from all four corners is our final hope,” one message read.
It later seemed that message worked because five other significant protests in the city all popped up in an attempt to draw police resources away from the university. Notably, there were reports of some medical professionals being arrested, presumably by riot police.
In a video statement, police said they would use start live rounds on rioters if they continued using lethal weapons to attack officers. Police then tried to storm the campus again but protesters set the entrance on fire.
At the same time, a handful of protesters managed to escape the university on motorcycles.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmakers and religious leaders on the streets urged people to rescue those inside of PolyU because they said that they were afraid the situation could turn into a new Tiananmen Square.
In 1989, the Chinese government ordered the military to use live rounds on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. While the Chinese government reported that only a few hundred died, other estimates climbed well into the thousands.
A few hours later in a video, the president of PolyU tried to de-escalate the situation, saying he had negotiated a suspension of force with the police but only if protesters left campus and turned themselves in.
“The main goal is to protect the campus and prevent people from getting arrested,” one PolyU alum said.
Before last week’s clash between riot police and protesters at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it had been an unspoken rule that police didn’t go on college campuses. In that sense, students had been able to feel safe and to talk openly.
Face Mask Ban Overturned
Also on Monday, Hong Kong’s High Court struck down a ban that barred protesters from wearing face masks.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam enacted the ban in October in a move she had hoped would de-escalate the situation and make it easier for police to identify individuals.
In its findings, the court said the ban violated Hong Kong’s constitution, known as the Basic Law.
It also said that the ban was too vague and that it endangered the ability of the Legislative Council to make laws.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Axios) (South China Morning Post)
Prince Andrew Addresses Virginia Giuffre Accusations and Epstein Ties in “Car Crash” Interview
- In a recent interview with BBC, Prince Andrew said he did not have sex with a 17-year-old who was allegedly trafficked to him by Epstein in 2001.
- He tried to say that the alleged victim’s description of him as sweaty couldn’t have been right because he had a medical condition that prevented him from sweating.
- He also suggested, among other things, that the photograph of them together was suspicious because he never hugs or displays affection in public.
- Since then, more photos of him embracing women have surfaced, along with a ton of ridicule and criticism over what many are calling a “car crash” interview.
Prince Andrew’s Relationship with Epstein
Prince Andrew again tried to clear his name against claims that he had sex with an underage girl trafficked to him by Jeffrey Epstein, however, he seems to have made things worse for himself.
In a BBC interview which aired Saturday, the Duke of York was confronted with detailed accusations from Virginia Roberts-Giuffre, one of Epstein’s most prominent accusers. Giuffre has claimed that she was a “sex slave” of Epstein’s that was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth and one of Epstein’s highest-profile friends.
The prince had been known to stay at some of Epstein’s homes, fly on his private jet, and attend parties with him. Even after Epstein was hit with his sex offense conviction, the two remained in contact. Then in August, Epstein reportedly killed himself while in jail awaiting trial for federal sex trafficking charges involving dozens of young victims.
Giuffre has said multiple times that she was trafficked to the prince in 2001 when she was 17-years-old. She swore on her story in a court deposition and has discussed it in public interviews, saying they had sex on three different occasions.
Both Prince Andrew and Buckingham Palace have denied her claims, calling them “false” and “without foundation.” However, the two are known to have met at some point based on a now-infamous photograph that shows them together.
Prince Andrew Denies Claims
In Giuffre’s account of their encounter, she mentioned that the Duke of York was sweating profusely while they danced at Tramp nightclub in London. She says Prince Andrew got her alcohol and eventually took her back to Ghislaine Maxwell’s home. Maxwell, who is also pictured in the photo, is one of the women accused of helping round up underage girls for Epstein and his friends.
In the interview with BBC journalist Emily Maitlis, Prince Andrew said there are issues with those claims.
First Andrew insisted he had “no recollection” of ever meeting Giuffre. “I’m convinced that I was never in Tramps with her. There are a number of things that are wrong with that story, one of which is that I don’t know where the bar is in Tramps. I don’t drink, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a drink in Tramps whenever I was there,” he said.
He added that it “couldn’t have happened because the date that’s being suggested I was at home with the children.”
When asked how he remembers that so clearly, he said he remembered going to a Pizza Express in Woking with his daughter earlier in the day, which was “a very unusual thing for me to do.”
Then he addressed Giuffre’s comments about his sweating. “There’s a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I don’t sweat, or I didn’t sweat at the time,” he said.
“Yes, I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenalin in the Falkland’s War when I was shot at and I simply… It was almost impossible for me to sweat,” he added.
The prince went on to say that because of certain steps he has taken in the years since, he can now sweat again.
Prince Andrew stopped short of saying that 2001 photo was fake, as his friends have suggested. Instead, he said that he never remembers it being taken and said that though it is clearly an image of him, he is not convinced that it is his hand around Giuffre’s waist.
As a member of the royal family, he said: “Public displays of affection are not something that I do…I don’t believe that photograph was taken in the way that it’s been suggested.”
He also said he is not sure the picture of him was taken in London because he usually wears a suit and tie when traveling there.
The prince went on to say that he did not regret his friendship with Epstein, adding that their relationship has some “seriously beneficial outcomes.”
“The people I met and the opportunities I was given to learn, either by him or because of him, were actually very useful,” Andrew said.
“Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes.”
“Unbecoming?” Maitlis replied, adding, “He was a sex offender.”
The duke quickly backtracked, saying: “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite. I mean, in the sense that he was a sex offender.”
Flood of Backlash Against Prince Andrew
His comments in the interview were received with a slew of backlash and by the following day, more photos emerged showing him publically embracing women, contradicting his previous claims. According to the NY Post, in one 2007 photo, American socialite Chris Von Aspen licks Andrew’s face. In another 2008 picture, he appears to have his hand on the butt of Canadian socialite Pascale Bourbeau as she wraps her arm around his neck. The Daily Mail also released a video of him with women at a party on the French Riviera in 2008.
A newspaper report from 2000 also began circulating which twice referred to the prince sweating profusely.
The prince has also been met with ridicule from British media and internet users.
“I expected a train wreck,” tweeted Charlie Proctor, editor of the Royal Central website. “That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.”
Andrew even faced calls for U.S. law enforcement to question him. “I think he’s made things much worse for himself. And it’s much more likely the authorities will want to speak to him now. And they should,” Lisa Bloom, who represents two of Epstein’s alleged victims, told the BBC on Monday.
Also on Monday, it became public news that the Duke of York’s former PR adviser, who only took up his position in September, had resigned two weeks ago after warning against doing the TV interview.
Things further escalated for Andrew when a former senior British government official claimed that the prince used the N-word during a meeting back in 2012.
Rohan Silva, who was David Cameron’s key aide on the tech economy, claimed that the prince used the N-word in his presence during a 2012 discussion about trade policy.
Silva, who is of Sri Lankan descent, told the Evening Standard that when he asked Prince Andrew whether the government department responsible for trade “could be doing a better job,” the Duke of York responded: “Well, If you’ll pardon the expression, that really is the n***** in the woodpile.”
See what others are saying:( (FOX News) (Vice) (The New York Times)
Venice Mayor Blames Worst Flood in 50 Years on Climate Change
- The Italian government declared a state of emergency in Venice after the city experienced its second-worst flooding in almost 150 years of flood records.
- Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro blames the floods that have grown increasingly common over the last few decades on climate change.
- While the flood peaked at over six feet, it has receded some; however, parts of the city are still four feet underwater.
- The flood has reportedly caused structural damage to major landmarks like St. Mark’s Basilica.
Second Worst Flood on Record
The Italian government declared a state of emergency on Thursday as 85% of Venice sits underwater.
On Tuesday night, a combination of high tide, strong winds, and a full moon led to seawater overwhelming seawalls and flooding the city. The flood, which is the second-worst on record in almost 150 years, peaked at more than six feet; however, it came only a couple of inches shy of beating the record-breaking 1966 floods.
Wind and water reportedly slammed boats onto streets in the city, which is only about three feet above sea level. In some cases, boats hit streets so violently that they dislodged bricks and stones. By Wednesday morning, many of those boats sat on the streets.
As water gushed into the city, it flooded homes, stores, and hotels. In some instances, water spewed out of toilets as pipes backed up.
There have also been reports of power outages across the city. Reportedly, one 78-year-old man died after being electrocuted by a short circuit in his home.
Schools were canceled on Wednesday and again on Thursday.
“The disaster that hit Venice is a blow to the heart of our country,” Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte said in a Facebook post. “It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its business activities on its knees.”
All of that presents another massive problem as floodwater damages major landmarks in the city. People described St. Mark’s Square as a lake, with the floodwater also reaching St. Mark’s Basilica, which along with Venice is part of a World Heritage Site.
The archbishop of Venice, Francesco Morgalia, said St. Mark’s is now suffering structural damage and that the water is causing “irreparable harm.” The flood has also further damaged marble that was already showing signs of water and salt damage.
Although the basilica has only flooded six times since it was built in 1063, the last four of those times have all been within the past 20 years, with the most recent being in November 2018.
“Venice is an emblem for the whole country,” Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, said in a press conference on Wednesday. “We are no longer talking about a local problem, but a worldwide one.”
“There were people who were crying today because they’ve lost everything, and we’re not talking about the poor,” he added. “The point is that there is no longer certainty. You no longer know how to live, and if we want to repopulate, we want to give certainty. It’s the life of the city itself, the future of the city.”
The Floods’ Connection to Climate Change
On Twitter, Brugnaro also said that the floods are a result of climate change, and climate scientists have agreed.
Similar to the current fires in Australia, scientists say the world is seeing more extreme weather events.
As polar ice caps continue to melt, ocean and sea levels have begun to rise. In Venice alone, city officials said the sea level is four inches higher than it was 50 years ago. In addition to that, Venice sunk five inches between 1950 and 1970 and continues to sink at a rate of half an inch per year.
Climate scientists predict the city will be underwater by the end of the century.
Venice’s expected flooding season, known as “acqua alta,” also carries strong winter winds that can be made even stronger by the effects of climate change.
All of those factors can then produce higher and more devastating tides.
Since the record-breaking 1966 flood, Venice has seen almost 20 floods peaking at over four-and-a-half feet.
“The [increased flooding] is a trend that jibes with the extremization of climate,” the former head of Venice’s Tide Monitoring and Forecast Centre said. “If we look at the course of history, we have documents dating back to 1872, and we can see that these phenomena didn’t used to exist.”
Venice’s Floodgate Project
While Venice does have seawalls to help reduce flooding, there’s actually been a lot of controversy around the city’s new floodgates.
Since 2003, the city has been trying to complete a more than $6 billion dollar effort to build 78 underwater floodgates. That project, MOSE, would temporarily isolate the lagoon from the sea during flood season, but it has also been plagued by cost burdens and corruption scandals.
Because of that, it has been delayed multiple times and even missed its 2018 deadline. Currently, MOSE is projected to be completed by 2022.
Following the flood, Brugnaro said MOSE must be completed soon. On Thursday, Regarding the MOSE project, Conte also said that the “commitment to Venice is total”.
He said he hopes the floodgates are at least partially functional by the 2022 deadline.
“The situation in this unique city is dramatic,” he added. “Lots of money has been spent.”