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Protesters Trapped at Hong Kong University After Another Weekend of Violence

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  • 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. 

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.

https://twitter.com/HongKongFP/status/1196055332490891266/photo/1

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.

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)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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