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Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Says She Won’t Resign After Saying She Would If She Could in Leaked Audio

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  • 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)

International

Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

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The reforms follow similar moves by France and Germany as leaders across the political spectrum denounce the court’s decision.


Health Minister Makes Announcement

Israel is easing access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister and head of the small left-wing Meretz party, announced Monday.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to abortion is a dark move,” he said in the announcement, “oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backward.”

The new rules, approved by a majority in the parliamentary committee, grant women access to abortion pills through the universal health system. Women will be able to obtain the pills at local health centers rather than only hospitals and surgical clinics.

The new policy also removes the decades-old requirement for women to physically appear before a special committee that must grant approval to terminate a pregnancy.

While women will still need to get approval, the process will become digitized, the application form will be simplified, and the requirement to meet a social worker will become optional.

The committee will only conduct hearings in the rare case it initially denies the abortion procedure.

Israel’s 1977 abortion law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: If the woman is under 18 or over 40, if the fetus is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an “illicit union,” including extramarital affairs, and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.

All of the changes will take effect over the next three months.

The World Reacts

Politicians across the political spectrum from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision since it was announced Friday.

On Saturday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed support for a bill proposed by parliament that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution.

“For all women, for human rights, we must set this gain in stone,” she wrote on Twitter. “Parliament must be able to unite overwhelmingly over this text.”

Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law prohibiting the promotion of abortion Friday, just hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In Israel, abortion is a far less controversial issue than it is for Americans. Around 98% of people who apply for an abortion get one, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Part of the reason for Israel’s relatively easy access to abortion is that many residents interpret Jewish law to condone, or at least not prohibit, the procedure.

In the United States, several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, and the Women’s Rabbinic Network have expressed opposition to the court ruling, and some Jews have protested it as a violation of their religious freedom.

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

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Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the U.K.’s asylum policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.


Saved By The Bell

The inaugural flight in the U.K. government’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled about an hour and a half before it was supposed to take off Tuesday evening.

A last-minute legal intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the flight. Tuesday’s flight originally included 37 people, but after a string of legal challenges that number dwindled to just seven.

In its ruling for one of the seven passengers, a 54-year-old Iraqi man, the court said he cannot be deported until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings.

Another asylum seeker, a 26-year-old Albanian man, told The Guardian he was in a “very bad mental state” and did not want to go to Rwanda, a country he knows nothing about.

“I was exploited by traffickers in Albania for six months,” he said. “They trafficked me to France. I did not know which country I was being taken to.”

A final domestic effort to block the flight in the Court of Appeals failed on Monday. The High Court will make a ruling on the asylum policy next month.

Britains Divided by Controversial Policy

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to lawmakers after the flight was canceled, defending the asylum policy and saying preparations for the next flight will begin immediately.

“We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation including that of hotels,” she said. “We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities.”

“It makes us less safe as a nation because those who come here illegally do not have the regularized checks or even the regularized status, and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country,” she continued.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, told CBC the policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.

“We believe that this is all wrong,” he said. “This is all wrong. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the right, is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’s… I don’t know what it is.”

An Iranian asylum seeker in a British detention center who was told to prepare for deportation before being granted a late reprieve was asked by ABC whether he ever thought the U.K. would send him to Africa.

“I thought in the U.K. there were human rights,” he said. “But so far I haven’t seen any evidence.”

The Conservative government’s plan was announced in April, when it said it would resettle some asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where they can seek permanent refugee status, apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country.

The scheme was meant to deter migrants from illegally smuggling themselves into the country by boat or truck.

Migrants have long made the dangerous journey from Northern France across the English Channel, with over 28,000 entering the U.K. in boats last year, up from around 8,500 the year prior. Dozens of people have died making the trek, including 27 who drowned last November when a single boat capsized.

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

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Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans

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Afrikaans, which is only spoken as a first language by around 13% of South Africa, has not been the country’s national language since apartheid came to an end in 1994.


Airline Won’t Explain Discrimination

Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism after it began requiring South African nationals to complete a test in Afrikaans to prove their passport isn’t fraudulent.

The airline told BBC the new policy was implemented because of “substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the U.K.”

Among other questions, the test asks passengers to name South Africa’s president, its capital city, and one national public holiday.

Ryanair has not said why it chose Afrikaans, the Dutch colonial language that many associate with white minority rule, for the test.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and Afrikaans ranks third for usage below Zulu and IsiXhosa. Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as their first language.

“They’re using this in a manner that is utterly absurd,” Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, told reporters. “Afrikaans, you have roughly 20% of the population of South Africa understand Afrikaans. But the rest don’t, so you’re sitting with roughly 50 million people who do not understand Afrikaans.”

“Ryanair should be careful,” he continued. “Language is a sensitive issue. They may well end up in front of the Human Rights Commission with this.”

Ryanair’s policy only applies to South African passengers flying to the United Kingdom from within Europe, since it does not fly out of South Africa.

The British government has said in a statement that it does not require the test.

Anyone who cannot complete the test will be blocked from traveling and given a refund.

Memories of Apartheid Resurface

“The question requiring a person to name a public holiday is particularly on the nose given that SA has a whole public holiday NEXT WEEK commemorating an historic protest that started in response to language-based discrimination,” one person tweeted.

South African citizen Dinesh Joseph told the BBC that he was “seething” with anger when asked to take the test.

“It was the language of apartheid,” he said, adding that it was a trigger for him.

Officials in the country were also surprised by Ryanair’s decision.

We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the Department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel,” South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

Any airline found to have flown a passenger with a fake passport to the U.K. faces a fine of £2,000 from authorities there. Ryanair has also not said whether it requires similar tests for any other nationalities.

Many people expressed outrage at Ryanair’s policy and some told stories of being declined service because they did not pass the test.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)

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