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Hong Kong protesters hit subway to disrupt morning commute
By KATIE TAM | Tue, July 30, 2019 05:49 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — Commuters in Hong Kong argued Tuesday with demonstrators who blocked subway train doors in their latest protest action to demand greater accountability from the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s government.
Service was delayed and partially suspended on the Island and Kwun Tong lines, subway operator MTR said. It cited “a number of train door obstructions” as well as someone activating a safety device at a platform on the Kwun Tong line.
The action targeted rush hour traffic at several stations. MTR responded by providing minibuses to replace delayed trains and normal service was restored by around noon.
Protester Ken Chan said he wanted MTR officials to explain why they allegedly failed to take action on July 21 when a large gang of men in white shirts brutally beat dozens of people inside a train station as a massive protest was winding down. Hong Kong’s government and the central authorities in Beijing have blamed protesters for sparking the confrontation.
“How could they let the triads in white attack people on the platform randomly, including the elderly and children in the train?” said Chan, 32, using the common term for members of organized crime groups. “Some of the elderly got smacked on their heads, but (MTR staff) turned a blind eye to it.”
Lorraine Lee, 26, said the subway disruption was an attempt to remind people of the government’s alleged failure to deal with social, economic and political injustices.
“The government has not been addressing the problems in our society,” Lee said. “That is why now Hong Kongers have no choice but to use different ‘creative’ approaches to remind people what is happening in Hong Kong.”
AP video showed heated exchanges at Tiu Keng Leng station, where a crowd of protesters and commuters filled the platform and a stopped train.
The disruption is part of a pro-democracy movement that has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets this summer for marches and rallies. The protests have shaken the government in Hong Kong and raised concerns in Beijing. Hong Kong is part of China but has a fair degree of autonomy in local affairs.
Posts on Twitter showed long lines of commuters waiting for free shuttle buses provided by MTR to other subway stops.
Protesters conducted a similar action to block trains last week.
Activists began protesting in early June for the government to withdraw an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their legal rights would be threatened. The government suspended the bill, but the protests have expanded to calls for democracy and government accountability.
On Sunday, police repeatedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back protesters blocking Hong Kong streets with road signs and umbrellas.
The protesters have demanded an independent inquiry into police conduct at the protests, which they say has been abusive.
China on Monday accused unidentified foreign actors of encouraging the protests. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday that the central government “resolutely opposes any foreign forces’ attempts to intervene in Hong Kong affairs.”
“We have the determination and ability to safeguard peace and stability in Hong Kong,” Hua said at a daily briefing.
On Saturday, Hong Kong police fired tear gas, swung batons and forcefully cleared out protesters who defied warnings not to march.

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Officials say 57 dead in Brazil prison riot; 16 decapitated
By DIANE JEANTET | Mon, July 29, 2019 07:09 EDT
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — At least 57 prisoners were killed by other inmates during clashes between organized crime groups in the Altamira prison in northern Brazil Monday with 16 of the victims being decapitated, according to prison officials.
Para state prison authorities a fight erupted around 7 a.m., between the Rio de Janeiro-based Comando Vermelho and a local criminal group known as Comando Classe A.
“Leaders of the (Comando Classe A) set fire to a cell belonging to one of the prison’s pavilions, where members of the (Comando Vermelho) were located,” the statement read.
State prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said the fire had spread rapidly, with inmates held in old container units that had been adapted for the prison while another building is under construction.
The fire prevented police forces from entering the building for several hours, he told a news conference.
Two prison staff members were held hostage, but eventually released.
“It was a targeted attack. The aim was to show that it was a settling of accounts between the two groups, not a protest or rebellion against the prison system,” Vasconcelos said.
Authorities have not found any firearms following the riot, only makeshift knives.
Prison authorities said 46 inmates will be transferred to other prisons, 10 of which will go to stricter federal facilities.
President Jair Bolsonaro was elected on the promise of curbing widespread violence in Brazil, including in the country’s often overcrowded, out-of-control prisons.
The Associated Press obtained a July 2019 report from the National Justice Council that it says was filed by a local judge in charge of the facility, showing that the prison had 343 detainees for a maximum capacity of 163.
Yet Vasconcelos said the situation did not meet the official requirements to be considered overcrowded. “It is not a unit that has a prison overcrowding, we consider overcrowding when it exceeds 210%,” Vasconcelos said during the press conference.
The judge who filed the report described the overall state of the prison in the city of Altamira as “terrible.”
In many of Brazil’s prisons, badly outnumbered guards struggle to retain power over an ever-growing population of inmates who are able to run criminal activities from behind bars.
The killings echoed those of 55 inmates who died in a series of riots in May in several prisons in the neighboring state of Amazonas.
In early 2017, more than 120 inmates died in prisons across several northern states when rival gangs clashed over control of drug-trafficking routes in the region. The violence lasted several weeks, spreading to various states.
Para state authorities spent the afternoon in Altamira, drafting a security plan to avoid possible retaliations in the region. Police forces from the nearby municipality of Santerem were sent as reinforcement in the coming weeks.
Prison authorities said they had not received any prior intelligence reports of an upcoming attack.
The prison is run directly by the state, not a third-party private operator as in the Manaus prisons where the riots took place in May.
Last year, inmates had already set fire to another wing inside the same prison unit, according to the state prosecutors’ office.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Serbia’s leader praises Putin for boosting its military
By DUSAN STOJANOVIC | Mon, July 29, 2019 08:04 EDT
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s leader on Monday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for boosting the Balkan nation’s military with battle tanks and armored vehicles, amid Western fears that the arms buildup could threaten fragile peace in the region.
President Aleksandar Vucic inspected the delivery of 10 recently arrived Russian armored patrol vehicles at a Serbian army military base, part of the promised supply of 30 secondhand T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles.
The vehicles have been delivered despite neighboring Romania’s refusal to let them transit via the Danube River because of international sanctions in place against Moscow over its actions in Ukraine. Romania is a NATO member while Serbia claims military neutrality despite close ties with Moscow.
Media reports say Russia flew the 10 armored vehicles to Serbia last week on its transport planes using Hungarian airspace.
“The most important thing for us is that we managed to transport the vehicles to Serbia,” Vucic said. “How and which way they came, that is our business.”
Russia has been helping its ally Serbia beef up its military, raising concerns in the war-scarred Balkan region. During the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Serbia was at war with neighbors Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Serbia, the only remaining Russian ally in the region despite its proclaimed goal of joining the European Union, has already received six MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia and expects the delivery of additional attack and transport helicopters by the end of this year.
Vucic thanked Putin for “the strengthening of the combat capability of our armed forces.”
Russian Ambassador Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, who attended the ceremony on Monday, stated that Moscow was ready to continue its support for Belgrade, claiming that the strengthening of Serbia’s military is the “strengthening of the security of the region.”
“Russia is ready and will always be ready for military and technical cooperation with Serbia,” he said, adding: “We will continue working in this direction.”
There are fears in the West that Russia could push Serbia toward another war, especially against its former province of Kosovo that proclaimed independence in 2008. Serbia and Russia don’t recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

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Police: Slain Italy cop didn’t have gun when attacked
Tue, July 30, 2019 07:12 EDT
ROME (AP) — Italian authorities say a carabinieri police officer who was fatally stabbed during a confrontation with two American teenagers over a botched drug deal had forgotten his gun that night — but that regardless, there wasn’t time for him or his partner to use their weapons and the suspects then fled.
Carabineri Gen. Francesco Gargaro defended the police response during a press conference Tuesday, providing the first details about the confrontation in which Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega was fatally stabbed.
Americans Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, were arrested early Friday in the slaying of Cerciello Rega.
He and his partner, Andrea Varriale, had responded to the scene after a man reported to police that the two Americans had stolen his bag during a drug deal.

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Boris Johnson tries to reassure on Brexit as pound slumps
By JILL LAWLESS 08:18 EDT
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Wales on Tuesday as part of a national tour intended to reassure Britons that his hard-Brexit push won’t hurt the economy and rip apart the U.K.
Currency markets were far from reassured, however, as the pound slid to a new 28-month low. And Johnson faced a tough reception from farmers — a group central to the Welsh economy — who fear economic havoc if Britain leaves the European Union without a divorce deal. They say millions of sheep might have to be slaughtered if tariffs are slapped on lamb exports to the EU.
“The bottom line is we’re exporting 40% of our sheep production, we are the second-largest producer of sheep meat in the world, so if we are priced … we’re tariffed out of the EU market, where does that 40% go?” said Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union.
The government argues that leaving the 28-nation bloc and its rules-bound Common Agricultural Policy will be “a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farming” and will open up new markets for U.K. agricultural exports.
The government’s Wales Secretary Alun Cairns said “90% of global growth will come from outside of the EU.” However, trade with the EU accounts for almost half of all British exports, and any new trade deals are years away.
The trip follows a visit Monday to Scotland, where Johnson was booed by protesters and warned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that his vow to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a deal, was “dangerous.”
Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the EU divided the country and also strained the bonds among the four nations that make up the U.K.: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A majority of voters in England and Wales backed leaving in the referendum, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. That has emboldened Scotland’s nationalist government to demand a vote on independence, arguing that Scotland should not be forced out of the EU against its will.
In Parliament last week, Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford mockingly welcomed Johnson as “the last prime minister of the United Kingdom.”
Johnson also plans a visit to Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. to share a land border with the EU. The status of that currently invisible frontier with the Republic of Ireland has become the main stumbling block to a Brexit deal.
The pound has fallen sharply in recent days as businesses warn that no amount of preparation can eliminate the economic damage if Britain crashes out of the 28-nation trading bloc without agreement on the terms. The currency fell early Tuesday to $1.2120, its lowest value since March 2017.
Fiona Cincotta, senior market analyst at City Index, said sterling had lost 4.3% of its value since the beginning of July.
“Investors’ main concern remains a hard no-deal Brexit which has the potential to pull the economy into chaos,” she said. “Boris Johnson’s new cabinet did little to alleviate those fears, taking a hard-line with Europe on forthcoming negotiations.”
Johnson became prime minister last week after winning a Conservative Party leadership contest by promising the strongly pro-Brexit party membership that the U.K. will leave the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal.
The EU struck a withdrawal agreement with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, but it was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament. Johnson is insisting the bloc make major changes to May’s spurned deal, including scrapping an insurance policy for the Irish border that has been rejected by U.K. lawmakers.
The EU insists it won’t reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement it spent two years negotiating with May’s government.
Johnson’s government has been accused of sending mixed messages on Brexit that have unsettled markets.
Michael Gove, who heads a new Brexit delivery committee in Cabinet, has said the government is “operating on the assumption” that the U.K. will leave without a deal.
But Johnson — who just weeks ago put the odds of leaving without a divorce agreement at a million to one — said Monday he was “very confident” of getting a new deal.
There are currently no new negotiations planned between Britain and the bloc.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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