- University students in Hong Kong won control of a bridge from riot police Tuesday night after a day of dramatic and violent clashing.
- The situation follows the first official death in Hong Kong where a student fell from a parking garage while protesters were being dispersed by police.
- Some universities have canceled their semesters early and others have suspended classes, prompting many students originally from mainland China to flee over the Hong Kong border.
Battle at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong gained control over a bridge near the Chinese University of Hong Kong Tuesday night after a day-long dramatic clash with police.
The incident started when police began to occupy the bridge, signaling a shift in an unspoken rule to leave universities alone.
Student protesters then set up a barricade on campus to keep police from entering. Following that, the two groups began to clash, with students throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails while police fired multiple rounds of tear gas at the protesters. Police also physically wrestled some of the protesters to the ground as students yelled at police to leave the campus.
After the first clash, the protesters retreated to an athletic field and locked the gate. Police then continued to fire tear gas by lobbing it over the gate. At one point, the field reportedly caught fire and the students retreated to bleachers.
The ongoing violence then prompted the university’s president, Rocky Tuan, to try and act as a common ground between students and police.
At one point during those negotiations, a man walked down the street while revving a chainsaw, but a group of protestors then convinced that man to put down the chainsaw and enveloped him in a hug.
Later, Tuan struck a deal with police, saying that university security would guard the bridge instead of police if students dispersed and stopped throwing objects onto the highway below the bridge. That then prompted students to ask why police were even on campus. Refusing to disperse, protesters then asked about the safety of those who had been arrested.
The battle over the bridge continued into the night as more clashes broke out with protesters carrying umbrellas, shields, barricades while police filled the area with tear gas and fired rubber bullets.
Other protesters threw more Molotov cocktails at police in an attempt to gain ground while people used leaf blowers to blow away the tear gas. Some students even practiced firing flaming arrows from bows.
We’re almost to the other side of the bridge now pic.twitter.com/oELMRXlGnk— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Students later retreated after police fired a water cannon.
We’re almost to the other side of the bridge now pic.twitter.com/oELMRXlGnk— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Soon after, however, they then came back and ultimately forced police to retreat. Students pushed forward and built more barriers with golf carts and a burned-out car to hold their ground gained.
I legit don’t even know how they did this but protesters just carried the burnt out car that was on fire earlier this afternoon to the bridge?? And added it to the barrier, and cheered when they lifted it and tipped it on its side pic.twitter.com/sEs5yHslDR— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Protesters remained on the bridge throughout the night while passing supplies to each other and making more Molotov cocktails in case police came back.
Chinese Students Flee Hong Kong
On Wednesday morning, the Chinese University of Hong Kong ended its semester early. It was originally scheduled to end its semester on Nov. 30.
Another university also suspended its on-campus semester and switched to online classes. At the same time, other universities suspended classes for a week.
Additionally, Hong Kong canceled all schools in the city on Thursday due to transportation and safety reasons.
As universities canceled classes, students originally from mainland China fled over the Hong Kong border with the help of police.
While those students said they had felt safer on campus than in the streets, some said many of them didn’t openly express pro-China views on campus. Those students also said they felt the need to avoid talking loudly in Mandarin, which is the main language in China.
On the other side of the border, hotels offered those students free rooms, with some of those hotels filling to near capacity.
What Led to Tuesday’s Clash?
Tuesday’s clash between student protesters and riot police comes after the death of student Chow Tsz-lok, who went by the name Alex. Chow’s death is the first death from clashes that have been consistently escalating since they began nearly six months ago.
Chow died while demonstrating with other protesters at a parking garage on Nov. 4. When police tried to break up that crowd, Chow reportedly fell one story from the structure.
Chow sustained head and pelvis injuries and was rushed to the hospital; however, he died from his injuries on Nov. 8.
Later that same day, students at Chow’s university held a vigil and an on-campus march for him. Protesters held other vigils across the city, including at the parking garage where Chow fell.
Protesters called for an investigation into the use of force by riot police, which has been one of the five key demands of the protesters.
As protesters called for revenge, some of the demonstrations that night once again became violent.
On Monday, another protester was shot several times, this time at point-blank range. Other protesters shouted at that officer and called him a murderer. That officer then doused the crowd with pepper spray.
That same day, protesters set a different man on fire after he reportedly yelled at them, telling them they lacked patriotism for mainland China.
Hospital officials said both those men were in critical condition.
In October, both an 18-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy were shot by police.
What is the Hong Kong Government Doing?
Last month, the extradition bill that sparked the protests was finally formally withdrawn. Still, that’s not enough for these protesters. They are also calling for complete amnesty, a retraction of the official characterization of the protests as “riots,” and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
On Nov. 24, Hong Kong is scheduled to hold elections; however, those elections have also faced controversy as Hong Kong has barred a prominent pro-democracy activist from running. Other pro-democracy lawmakers and candidates have been arrested, and one pro-China lawmaker was stabbed.
Also because of all of the violence, there is some worry that those elections might not end up happening. Lam has said she will do everything possible to ensure that elections are fair and safe, saying on Tuesday that the government “hopes that the elections can continue as planned.”
Also on Tuesday, the pro-China newspaper The People’s Daily—which has acted as a mouthpiece for Beijing—said that elections should only proceed if calm is restored to Hong Kong.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (BuzzFeed News)
Thousands Paralyze France in Pension Reform Protests
- Massive worker strikes and protests have shut down schools, transportation services, and museums in France.
- Though largely peaceful, there have been reports of protesters throwing projectiles at police, smashing windows, and setting fires.
- The strike, which is expected to last into the weekend, is in protest of planned pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron.
- Under Macron’s policy, many workers fear they would need to work longer before accessing a pension that would ultimately give them less money.
Strikes Shut Down Trains, Flights, and Schools
Hundreds of thousands of French workers went on strike across the country on Thursday in protest of a proposed new pension reform system.
Under the new system, many unions worry people will need to work longer to see less money than they would under the current system.
As of midday, French officials are reporting that more than 280,000 people have joined protests across the country; however, that figure doesn’t include counts from major cities like Paris and Lyon.
The protests, which are expected to continue Friday and likely to extend into the weekend, have shut down train lines and canceled flights.
According to reports, 90% of high-speed and inter-city trains have been canceled. In Paris, only five of 16 of the city’s metro lines ran Thursday. Further, the international train company Eurostar said it will be operating with a reduced timetable until Tuesday.
Air France has also canceled 30% of domestic flights and 10% of short-haul international flights, that coming amid mass walkouts by air traffic controllers.
If all of that wasn’t enough to cripple transportation, one group is reportedly drawing over the QR codes on e-scooters like Bird so that people can’t use them.
Additionally, according to the education ministry, half of primary school teachers and 42% of secondary school teachers are on strike today. The end result led to some school closing for the day.
Tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower and museums were also closed, but more notably, many feared hospital staffing shortages as many medical workers walked out to demonstrate.
For their part, several trade union leaders have promised to continue to strike until Macron abandons his planned pension overhaul.
Reports of Violence
In Paris alone, 6,000 police have been deployed. Reports indicate that 71 people have been arrested in Paris by 3:30 p.m. local time.
With those arrests, there have also been several reports of clashing between police and protesters, with protesters hurling projectiles at police. Police in several cities have since responded with tear gas.
Videos of protesters setting fires to object in the streets have also surfaced.
Because the protest in Paris is so huge, the city’s police chief told all businesses and restaurants along the major march routes to close. Later within the day, new reports surfaced that some protesters had smashed in the windows of some businesses.
French President Emmanuel Macron, however, was described by one senior official as “calm and determined” in the face of the strikes —
Macron is “watchful that public order be respected, watchful as to the difficulties for French people, and watchful also that the right to strike is respected,” the aide said.
Why is France Considering Pension Reform?
Currently, France has 42 different pension systems across both the private and public sectors. That means that people retire at different times and will see different benefits.
Under different forms of the system, for example, aircrews and rail workers get to retire earlier, but people like lawyers and doctors pay a lower tax.
The official age of retirement in France is 62, which is one of the earliest retirement ages in wealthy countries, but that hurdle has already been raised from 60 within the last decade.
Macron, who campaigned on the promise of pension reform, now says he wants to introduce a universal, points-based pension system. While Macron says such a pension system would help the country compete globally in the 21st century, such a system would mean that some of the most advantageous pension plans would be scrapped.
Secondly, if a person were to retire before 64, they would end up seeing a lower pension. For example, if they retire at 63, they would see about 5% less.
French people, however, have generally supported pension reform, with one poll showing 75% of people saying they believed pension reform was necessary. Of those polled, only one-third of people said they thought the government could pull off reform.
House Passes Bill to Sanction China for Treatment of Uighurs
- The House passed a bill condemning the Chinese treatment of Uighurs and recommending sanctions on top Chinese officials.
- The Senate passed a version of the bill in September. The two chambers must now come up with a unified version to pass on to President Trump.
- China responded by condemning the legislation, and saying it “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
- The move comes as the U.S. is already in hot water with China following Trump’s decision to sign an act last week authorizing the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses, among other things.
House Passes Uighur Bill
The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would place sanctions on top Chinese officials involved in perpetrating human rights abuses against China’s Muslim Uighur minority, as well as formally condemn the country’s treatment of the Uighurs.
The bill, which was passed with an overwhelming vote of 407-1, also details the efforts of the Chinese government in recent years to ramp up control of the Xinjiang region where the Uighurs reside.
In addition to implementing advanced AI surveillance systems all over the region, the Chinese government has also detained upwards of one million Uighurs in internment camps.
Numerous reports, as well as both public and leaked Chinese government documents, show that the Uighurs are detained against their will in the camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and renounce their faith.
There have also been multiple reports of torture and other human rights abuses, prompting rights groups and countries all over the world to argue that the camps are systems of mass-incarceration for an ethnic minority and a violation of human rights.
China, which originally denied the existence of the camps, now claims that they are vocational boarding schools where they help the Uighurs by giving them job training and education skills. They also claim that it is a safe way to combat terrorism.
Contents of House Bill
The House bill comes a few months after the Senate passed a similar version of the legislation back in September.
According to the text of the bill, the purpose of the Act is to “direct United States resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uighurs” and other Muslim minorities in the region.
The Act also accuses the Chinese government having policies that have “systematically discriminated” against the Uighurs, including:
- “Pervasive, high-tech surveillance across the region, including the arbitrary collection of biodata, such as DNA samples from children, without their knowledge or consent.”
- “The use of QR codes outside homes to gather information on how frequently individuals pray.”
- “Facial and voice recognition software and ‘predictive policing’ databases.”
- And “severe restrictions on the freedom of movement across the region.”
The bill also accuses China of using the threat of terrorism as a justification for “pervasive restrictions on, and gross human rights violations against, the ethnic minority communities.”
If implemented, the legislation would direct the president to “condemn abuses against” the Uighurs and call on President Xi to “recognize the profound abuse and likely lasting damage” of China’s policies, “immediately close” the camps, and “lift all restrictions on and ensure respect for internationally guaranteed human rights across the region.”
Perhaps most significantly, the bill would also “impose targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government and other officials who have been involved in these abuses.
This would include officials who have been “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.”
Among other things, the Act would also direct the Secretary of Commerce to consider prohibiting the sale of U.S. products and services to state agents in Xinjiang.
China condemned the House’s actions in a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“This bill deliberately smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China’s efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism and viciously attacks the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy,” the statement said.
“It seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations, and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
The statement went on to say that the situation is not about human rights, but “fighting violence, terrorism and separatism.” The ministry also claimed that “the international community speaks highly” of its policies in Xinjiang.
“We urge the US to correct its mistakes at once, prevent this bill from becoming law, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere China’s internal affairs,” the statement concluded. “China will take further reactions according to how the situation develops.”
Congress and U.S.-China Relations
Now, the House and Senate will have to work together to decide on a final version before passing it off to President Donald Trump, who has not said if he will sign the bill.
Despite the legislation’s bipartisan nature, whether or not Trump will sign it up in the air.
The president is already in hot water with China after signing an Act last week, which, among other things, authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses.
Trump had initially been hesitant to sign the Act because he was worried it would complicate trade talks with China, but he ultimately went forward with it after pressure from Republican leaders.
China responded by imposing sanctions on several U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations.
With the Uighur bill almost certain to further disrupt trade negotiations, it remains unclear if Trump will risk sacrificing a possible deal to approve the legislation.
Trump may find himself stuck in double-bind if Congressional leaders again pressure him to sign this bill, and especially if Congress has a veto-proof majority, as was the case with the Hong Kong legislation.
As divided as Congress is right now, they have recently worked together to push through a number of bills targeting China with huge bipartisan support in both chambers.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)
Trump Calls Trudeau “Two-Faced” After Hot Mic Video Surfaces
- A video featuring multiple world leaders appearing to make fun of Donald Trump was recorded at a NATO summit reception on Tuesday.
- The clip, which has now gone viral, features Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among other prominent figures, chatting in a circle at Buckingham Palace.
- Trump responded to the video by calling Trudeau “two-faced” and accusing the Prime Minister of being upset that Trump was pushing him to up Canada’s military spending.
- Trudeau later admitted he was talking about Trump while the others in the video have either flatly denied it or declined to comment.
A video of several world leaders appearing to bash U.S. President Donald Trump at a NATO summit reception went viral on Tuesday.
The 25-second clip shows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands huddled together, chatting.
There is a fifth in the circle whose face is never fully seen, but many believe that it is British royal Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter.
In the video, first shared online by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, only snippets of the conversation were picked up.
“Is that why you were late?” Johnson asks Macron in the clip, smiling at him.
“He was late because he takes a forty-minute press conference off the top,” Trudeau says, fiddling his drink.
Trump is never mentioned by name in the video, but many viewers speculate that the group seems to be referencing the U.S. President’s actions earlier that day.
“You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau adds later in the video, after more inaudible discussion.
Rutte stands by, listening. Macron chimes into the conversation, but his words are inaudible in the recording.
The video was released just hours after a tense meeting between Trump and Macron, in which the French President pressed the American leader about his involvement with the military conflict in Turkey.
When asked about the video by reporters on Wednesday, prior to his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump responded with an insult—and then a compliment-—aimed at Trudeau.
“Well he’s two-faced,” Trump said of the Canadian Prime Minister. “And honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy, I find him to be a very nice guy.”
Trump went on to blame Trudeau’s frustration on the dispute over how much Canada is doling out on military spending. All NATO members are required to spend at least 2% of their GDP on national defense, a number that Canada is not currently meeting.
“I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying two percent, and I guess he’s not very happy about it,” Trump said.
“Look, I’m representing the U.S. and he should be paying more than he’s paying and he understands that,” Trump added. “So I can imagine he’s not that happy, but that’s the way it is.”
Trudeau Admits to Talking About Trump
While Trudeau initially ignored reporters’ questions about the video on Wednesday, he later publicly admitted that it was indeed Trump that he was referring to in his comments about a 40-minute press conference.
“Last night I made reference to the fact that there was an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with President Trump,” Trudeau said. “I was happy to be part of it but it was certainly notable.”
Trudeau confessed this in a press conference on Wednesday evening, according to CNN. He also addressed his “jaw drop” remarks, saying that they were referencing Trump’s announcement that the upcoming G7 summit will be hosted at Camp David.
“Every different leader has teams who now and then [had] jaws drop at unscheduled surprises, like that video for itself, for example,” Trudeau said.
Other Leaders Distancing Themselves From Video
Although Trudeau came clean, the others featured in the video did not want to be associated with the recorded criticism of President Trump. Johnson flatly denied that he was apart of any such conversation.
“That’s complete nonsense, and I don’t know where that has come from,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “I really don’t know what is being referred to there.”
A spokesperson for Macron told CNN that they had “no comment,” and that the recorded conversation “does not say anything special,” while a spokesperson for Rutte told them they do not comment on closed-door sessions.