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Hong Kong descends into chaos again as protesters defy ban
By KELVIN CHAN | Sun, October 20, 2019 08:33 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong streets descended into chaotic scenes following an unauthorized pro-democracy rally Sunday, as protesters set up roadblocks and torched businesses, and police responded with tear gas and a water cannon.
Protesters tossed firebombs and took their anger out on shops with mainland Chinese ties as they skirmished late into the evening with riot police, who unleashed numerous tear gas rounds on short notice, angering residents and passers-by.
Police had beefed up security measures ahead of the rally, for which they refused to give permission, the latest chapter in the unrest that has disrupted life in the financial hub since early June.
Some 24 people were hurt and treated at hospitals, including six with serious injuries, the Hospital Authority said.
Police did not give an arrest figure. One person was seen being handcuffed and taken away to a police van.
As the rally march set off, protest leaders carried a black banner that read, “Five main demands, not one less,” as they pressed their calls for police accountability and political rights in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Supporters sang the protest movement’s anthem, waved colonial and U.S. flags, and held up placards depicting the Chinese flag as a Nazi swastika.
Many protesters wore masks in defiance of a recently introduced ban on face coverings at public gatherings, and volunteers handed more out to the crowd.
Matthew Lee, a university student, said he was determined to keep protesting even after more than four months.
“I can see some people want to give up, but I don’t want to do this because Hong Kong is my home, we want to protect this place, protect Hong Kong,” he said. “You can’t give up because Hong Kong is your home.”
Some front-line protesters barricaded streets at multiple locations in Kowloon, where the city’s subway operator restricted passenger access.
They tore up stones from the sidewalk and scattered them on the road, commandeered plastic safety barriers and unscrewed metal railings to form makeshift roadblocks.
A water cannon truck and armored car led a column of dozens of police vans up and down Nathan Road, a major artery lined with shops, to spray a stinging blue-dyed liquid as police moved to clear the road of protesters and barricades.
At one point, the water cannon sprayed a handful of people standing outside a mosque. Local broadcaster RTHK reported that the people hit were guarding the mosque and few protesters were nearby. The Hong Kong police force said it was an “unintended impact” of its operation to disperse protesters and later sent a representative to meet the mosque’s imam.
As night fell, protesters returned to the streets, setting trash on fire at intersections.
Residents jeered riot police, cursing at them and telling them to leave. The officers, in turn, warned people that they were part of an illegal assembly and told them to leave, and unleashed tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Along the way, protesters trashed discount grocery shops and a restaurant chain because of what they say is the pro-Beijing ownership of the companies. They also set fire to ATMs and branches of mainland Chinese banks, setting off sprinklers in at least two, as well as a shop selling products from Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi.
The police used a bomb disposal robot to blow up a cardboard box with protruding wires that they suspected was a bomb.
Organizers said ahead of the march that they wanted to use their right to protest as guaranteed by Hong Kong’s constitution despite the risk of arrest.
“We’re using peaceful, rational, nonviolent ways to voice our demands,” Figo Chan, vice convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, told reporters. “We’re not afraid of being arrested. What I’m most scared of is everyone giving up on our principles.”
The group has organized some of the movement’s biggest protest marches. One of its leaders, Jimmy Sham, was attacked on Wednesday by assailants wielding hammers.
On Saturday, Hong Kong police arrested a 22-year-old man on suspicion of stabbing a teenage activist who was distributing leaflets near a wall plastered with pro-democracy messages. A witness told RTHK that the assailant shouted afterward that Hong Kong is “a part of China” and other pro-Beijing messages.
The protest movement sprang out of opposition to a government proposal for an extradition bill that would have sent suspects to mainland China to stand trial, and then ballooned into broader demands for full democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality.
Follow Kelvin Chan at twitter.com/chanman
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US defense chief in Afghanistan for firsthand look at war
By LOLITA C. BALDOR | Sun, October 20, 2019 10:12 EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Mark Esper sought a firsthand assessment Sunday of the U.S. military’s future role in America’s longest war as he made his initial visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief. Stalled peace talks with the Taliban and unrelenting attacks by the insurgent group and Islamic State militants have complicated the Trump administration’s pledge to withdraw more than 5,000 American troops.
Esper told reporters traveling with him that he believes the U.S. can reduce its force in Afghanistan to 8,600 without hurting the counterterrorism fight against al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. But he said any withdrawal would happen as part of a peace agreement with the Taliban.
The U.S. has about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan as part of the American-led coalition. U.S. forces are training and advising Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations against extremists. President Donald Trump had ordered a troop withdrawal in conjunction with the peace talks that would have left about 8,600 American forces in the country.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban, but a surge in Taliban violence and the death of an American soldier last month prompted Trump to cancel a secret Camp David meeting where the peace deal would have been finalized. He declared the tentative agreement dead.
“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, that’s the best way forward,” said Esper. He visited Afghanistan in his previous job as U.S. Army secretary.
He would not say how long he believes it may be before a new peace accord could be achieved.
A month after the peace agreement collapsed, Khalilzad met with Taliban in early October in Islamabad, Pakistan, but it was not clear what progress, if any, was being made.
Esper’s arrival in Kabul came as Afghan government leaders delayed the planned announcement of preliminary results of last month’s presidential election. Esper met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other government officials.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was visiting Afghanistan with a congressional delegation at the same time.
Her office said in a statement Sunday night the bipartisan delegation met with top Afghan leaders, civil society representatives and U.S. military chiefs and troops serving there. Pelosi says the delegation emphasized the importance of combating corruption and ensuring women are at the table in reconciliation talks.
Both Ghani and his current partner in the unity government, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, have said they believe they had enough votes to win. The Sept. 28 vote was marred by widespread misconduct and accusations of fraud.
Officials said the announcement of preliminary results has been delayed due to problems with the transparency of the process, delays in transferring ballot papers and delays in transferring data from a biometric system into the main server.
Esper planned to meet with his top commanders in Afghanistan as the U.S. works to determine the way ahead in the 18-year war.
Trump, since his 2016 presidential campaign, has spoken of a need to withdraw U.S. troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan. He has complained that the U.S. has been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and says that’s not the American military’s job.
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Chile’s president rolls back subway fare hike amid protests
By EVA VERGARA | Sat, October 19, 2019 10:55 EDT
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chilean President Sebastián Piñera on Saturday announced the suspension of a subway fare hike that had prompted violent student protests, less than a day after he declared a state of emergency amid rioting and commuter chaos in the capital.
Soldiers patrolled the streets in Santiago for the first time since the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended in 1990, summoned to keep order following protests over a rise in subway fares from the equivalent $1.12 to $1.16. Subway service had been suspended in the capital since late Friday.
“I have heard with humility the voice of my compatriots,” Piñera said before announcing that “we are going to suspend” the fare hike.
It was unclear if the rollback would end the demonstrations and rioting.
The protest by students began on Monday when hundreds of young people mobbed several metro stations in Santiago, jumping over or dipping under turnstiles in a fare-dodging protest against the 4% increase in fares.
Chile doesn’t produce its own oil and must import its fuel, leading to high prices for gasoline, electricity and elevated public transportation costs. The government said the fare increase was necessary because of rising energy costs, the devaluation of the country’s currency and maintenance. But many Chileans are frustrated by rising prices.
By the end of the week the protests had turned violent with thousands of students burning subway stations and damaging dozens of others, and some set fire to a high-rise energy company building. Officials reported 156 police officers and 11 civilians injured and more than 300 people arrested.
On Friday, the operator of Santiago’s subway system announced the suspension of service in three of its six lines. Later Friday, it announced the suspension of all six, stranding hundreds of thousands of furious commuters.
Authorities said that in all, 78 stations along with infrastructure and equipment had been damaged in a system that has long been a point of pride for Chileans.
The conservative Piñera vowed that those responsible for the violence “are going to pay for their deeds.”
Near midnight, Chile’s conservative president declared a state of emergency in affected areas, allowing authorities to restrict rights to assembly and movement. Soldiers were deployed in the streets.
Despite the presence of soldiers and police, thousands of Chileans continued protesting including in cities outside Santiago, not only against public transit fare hikes, but the price of electricity, water and medicines.
By late Saturday, protests had extended to another 20 cities, especially Valparaiso and Concepcion, where states of emergency were declared.
Walmart said in a statement that 60 of its stores in Santiago and six other cities suffered looting.
Police repressed protesters with tear gas, while protesters had set up barricades and looted businesses.
Despite Pinera’s lifting of the fare hike, subway and public transportation services remained suspended late Saturday, and the state of emergency was still in place. Authorities imposed a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. local time curfew for Santiago.
At the San José de La Estrella metro station, mechanical engineer Hugo Millacoy González, accompanied by his young son, said he was protesting the hike “so my son sees that they can’t mock the people.”
But others expressed fury at the commuter chaos and not being able to return to their homes.
If subway service is still suspended Monday, when many Santiago residents return to work and school, it would create further commuter chaos.
Santiago Metro director Louis De Granges said “there is still no clarity” on when subway service would return to normal.
Until Saturday, Chilean governments of left and right have been wary of bringing soldiers back into the streets since the end of a dictatorship during which thousands of suspected leftists were killed and dissent was ruthlessly crushed.
“Piñera’s decision to deploy the military in Chile — a country that experienced a 17-year repressive dictatorship — is troubling and could further destabilize the situation,” said Jenny Pribble, associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond. “It also sends a message to Chileans that the parties of the right still see the military, and not democratic process, debate, and dialogue, as the ultimate solution to social conflict.”
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Qantas completes longest non-stop New York-Sydney flight
SYDNEY (AP) — Australia’s Qantas on Sunday completed the first non-stop commercial flight from New York to Sydney, which was used to run a series of tests to assess the effects of ultra long-haul flights on crew fatigue and passenger jetlag.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner touched down in Sydney early Sunday morning after a flight of 19 hours and 16 minutes — the world’s longest.
Qantas said tests ranged from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels and alertness to exercise classes for passengers. A total of 49 people were on board, in order to minimize weight and give the necessary fuel range.
“Overall, we’re really happy with how the flight went and it’s great to have some of the data we need to help assess turning this into a regular service,” said Capt. Sean Golding, who led the four pilots.
The flight was part of Project Sunrise — Qantas’ goal to operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from Australia’s east coast cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York. Two more research flights are planned as part of the project evaluations – London to Sydney in November and another New York to Sydney in December.
“We know ultra long-haul flights pose some extra challenges but that’s been true every time technology has allowed us to fly farther. The research we’re doing should give us better strategies for improving comfort and wellbeing along the way,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.
Night flights usually start with dinner and then lights off, but he said that for this flight, “we started with lunch and kept the lights on for the first six hours, to match the time of day at our destination. It means you start reducing the jetlag straight away.”
Professor Marie Carroll from the University of Sydney said she and fellow passengers did a lot of stretching and group exercises at prescribed intervals.
“We did the Macarena in the economy cabin,” she said.
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Widodo begins 2nd term pledging to make Indonesia developed
By NINIEK KARMINI and JIM GOMEZ | Sun, October 20, 2019 09:35 EDT
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko Widodo was sworn in Sunday for his second and final five-year term with pledges to champion democracy and take bolder actions against poverty and entrenched corruption in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
Known for his down-to-earth style, Widodo opted for an austere ceremony at the heavily guarded Parliament in contrast to the festive parade and horse-drawn carriage at his first inauguration, a relaxed affair where he was cheered on by thousands of waving supporters.
A knife attack by an Islamic militant couple against his security minister on Oct. 10 prompted a security crackdown for Widodo’s second inauguration. Army troops and police, along with armored vehicles, firetrucks and ambulances, were deployed across Jakarta and major roads were closed. On his way to the ceremony, Widodo left his convoy with some of his security escorts and shook the hands of supporters, who waved national flags, yelled his name and called him “bapak,” or father.
After taking his oath before the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in front of lawmakers and foreign dignitaries, Widodo laid out ambitious targets to help Indonesia join the ranks of the world’s developed nations by its centennial in 2045.
He said in his inauguration speech that he expects poverty — which afflicts close to 10 percent of Indonesia’s nearly 270 million people — to be just about wiped out and the country’s annual GDP to reach $7 trillion by then.
“For those who are not serious, I’ll be merciless. I would definitely fire people,” Widodo warned.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan were among the dignitaries attending. President Donald Trump sent Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for the ceremony in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and a member of the G-20 bloc of nations.
Indonesia is a bastion of democracy in Southeast Asia, a diverse and economically bustling region of authoritarian regimes, police states and nascent democracies.
After decades of dictatorship under President Suharto, the country was convulsed by political, ethnic and religious unrest in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, it has consolidated its democratic transition. While most of the country remains poor and inequality is rising, it is home to a rapidly expanding middle class.
Popularly known as Jokowi, Widodo is the son of a furniture maker who grew up with his family in a rented bamboo shack on the banks of a flood-prone river in Solo city on Java island. He is the first president from outside the country’s super rich and often corrupt, political, business and military elite.
Widodo, 58, presents himself as a man of the people, often emphasizing his humble roots. His popular appeal helped him win elections over the past 14 years for mayor of Solo, governor of Jakarta and twice for president. In a reflection of his popularity, he has nearly 26 million followers on Instagram and more than 12 million on Twitter.
He has been likened to Barack Obama, but since taking office he has been perceived as unwilling to press for accountability that threatens powerful institutions such as the military. Instead, he has emphasized nationalism while also fending off attacks that he is not devout enough as a Muslim.
Widodo was sworn in with his new vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, one of the most important religious figures in Indonesia. He chose Amin as his running mate to shore up his support among pious Muslims. Amin was chairman of Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the country’s council of Islamic leaders, and supreme leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization.
But Amin, 76, has been criticized for being a vocal supporter and drafter of fatwas against religious minorities and the LGBT community. Human Rights Watch says the fatwas, or edicts, have legitimized increasingly hateful rhetoric by government officials against LGBT people, and in some cases fueled deadly violence by Islamic militants against religious minorities.
Widodo has been widely praised for his efforts to improve Indonesia’s inadequate infrastructure and reduce poverty. He inaugurated the nation’s first subway system, which was financed by Japan, in chronically congested Jakarta in March after years of delay under past leaders.
Pressing on is the biggest challenge, however, in his final years in office given the global economic slowdown, major trade conflicts, falling exports and other hurdles that impede funding.
In an interview with The Associated Press in July, Widodo said he would push ahead with sweeping and potentially unpopular economic reforms, including more business-friendly labor laws, because he’ll no longer be constrained by politics in his final term.
“Things that were impossible before, I will make a lot of decisions on that in the next five years,” he said then.