Protesters arrested in Hong Kong over proposed China extradition law

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police on Friday arrested five women who staged a protest inside the government’s headquarters over a proposal to allow fugitives to be extradited to mainland China, stoking human rights concerns.

In February, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau submitted a paper to the city’s legislature, proposing amendments to extradition laws that would include granting the city’s leader executive power to send fugitives to jurisdictions not covered by existing arrangements, including mainland China and Taiwan.

The proposal has been strongly opposed by some lawmakers, legal and rights groups who fear such it could be exploited by Beijing’s Communist Party leaders and lead to an erosion of Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

In video footage posted online, the five, who were demanding the extradition amendments be scrapped, rushed into the lobby of government headquarters where they staged a sit-down protest.

“Oppose legalized kidnapping,” the women, including several members of the pro-democracy party Demosisto, shouted. They were later hauled out by police into vehicles.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement a total of nine protesters were “removed” for blocking the lobby of its headquarters, and that a female security guard had been injured in a skirmish. A police spokesman gave no immediate comment.

Since Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee that it would enjoy a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not allowed in mainland China, there has been no formal mechanism for the surrender of fugitives to mainland China.

The Hong Kong Bar Association said in a statement that this was not an oversight, but a result of “grave concerns” about China’s legal and judicial system.

It said authorities were “jumping the gun” in seeking to force through such ad hoc rendition arrangements with China without a full consultation.

Some business groups, including the American Chamber of Commerce, expressed “serious reservations” about the proposal in a submission to Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee, and said they would “undermine perceptions of Hong Kong as a safe and secure haven for international business operations”.

The proposal also seeks to remove legislative oversight on individual extradition requests that may arise by giving the city leader executive authority to make such decisions.

In the February paper, the Security Bureau said “human rights and procedural safeguards” would remain unchanged. Requests in relation “to offences of a political character” shall be refused, the bureau said.

But some critics have expressed concern over how a political offense might be defined.

Demosisto, in a statement, described the proposed extradition reform as “an attempt to prepare to entrap oppositional voices for China”.

A former Chinese deputy minister for public security, Chen Zhimin, told reporters in Beijing this week that more than 300 “fugitives” wanted by mainland authorities were hiding in Hong Kong. He did not give details.

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Russia-UK tensions risk escalating over ex-spy's poisoning

Russia has missed Britain’s deadline for answers on the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

    UK Prime Minister Theresa May has asked for answers as to why a Soviet-era nerve agent was used to poison former Russian spy Skripal and his daughter.

    The Kremlin says it will not respond without samples of the substance.

    May is expected to discuss Britain’s reply when she meets her National Security Council later on Wednesday.

    Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips reports from Westminster.

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    Sri Lanka: UN condemns anti-Muslim violence

    Communal violence in central Kandy region has led to the deaths of at least two people with dozens injured.

      The United Nations on Sunday condemned a string of anti-Muslim attacks in Sri Lanka including the burning of mosques and businesses.

      Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the Sri Lankan government the people behind the violence should be brought to justice.

      During his visit, Feltman “condemned the breakdown in law and order and the attacks against Muslims and their property”, a UN statement said.

      Feltman, who met with local Muslim leaders to show solidarity, “urged swift and full implementation of the government’s commitment to bring the perpetrators of the violence and hate speech to justice, to take measures to prevent recurrence, and to enforce non-discriminatory rule of law”. 

      Violent attacks against Muslims swept the central district of Kandy over the last week.

      The violence, triggered by the death of a Sinhalese Buddhist man after being beaten by a group of Muslim men over a traffic dispute, left at least two dead with and mosques, dozens of homes, and businesses torched or destroyed.

      Several dozen people were wounded in the riots.

      Authorities declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in an attempt to curtail the violence, but Sri Lankan Muslims told Al Jazeera they were concerned the attacks would continue.

      Police have arrested the suspected instigators of the riots.

      On Saturday, President Maithripala Sirisena announced a three-member panel will be appointed to investigate and lifted the curfew. However, soldiers remained in the streets.

      The violence has raised fears of instability in Sri Lanka, a South Asian island nation still struggling to recover from nearly three decades of ethnic civil war.

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      Stormy Daniels 'threatened over Trump affair'

      Adult film star says she was accosted by an unidentified man in 2011, who told her to ‘leave Trump alone’ over affair claims, which the US president denies.

        An adult film star who alleges she had an affair with US President Donald Trump in 2006, says she was threatened with violence after she first tried to go public with the story.

        Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, told CBS she was accosted by an unidentified man in 2011, who told her to “leave Trump alone”.

        The alleged threat came just weeks after she had agreed to sell details of her affair to a magazine.

        In the US interview, she declined to discuss whether she had evidence of her affair with Trump.

        Trump denies having had an affair with the actress.

        Al Jazeera’s Diane Eastabrook reports from Washington, DC.

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        Zimbabweans doubt over Mnangagwa's corruption crackdown

        Zimbabwe’s president says $591m in state funds have been returned during an amnesty on stolen state funds, but it’s less than half of what he had hoped and Zimbabweans don’t expect senior officials to be prosecuted.

          Nearly four months after he was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, says significant progress has been made in reversing the endemic corruption under Robert Mugabe’s rule. His government set up a 90-day amnesty to return stolen assets or face prosecution.

          But critics say more needs to be done to make sure the recovered money benefits ordinary people.

          Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reports from Harare.

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          Sri Lanka unrest: Political rhetoric leaves minorities insecure

          Sri Lanka says it has blocked social media sites, including Facebook, to stop the spread of tensions between religious communities.

            Sri Lanka says it has blocked social media sites, including Facebook, to stop the spread of tensions between religious communities.

            The president has declared a week-long state of emergency to try and stop violence between Buddhists and the Muslim minority.

            The latest unrest began when a Buddhist driver died following a fight with four Muslims.

             

            Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez reports from the city of Kandy.

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            PSI: Indonesia's new millennials party

            The Indonesian Solidarity Party leader has been allowed to take part in the next elections.

              A new political party dubbed the “millennials party”, officially called the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), has risen in Indonesia and is set to take part in next years general election.

              The PSI is one of four new parties the General Election Commission is allowing to compete in next year’s legislative and presidential elections.

              Two of the new parties are fronted by establishment figures. The United Indonesia Party (Perindo) is headed by US President Donald Trump’s business partner in Indonesia, Hary Tanoesoedibjo, while the Berkarya Party is led by Soeharto’s youngest son, Tommy, who advocates a return to the “New Order” values of his late father.

              Change 

              PSI leader Grace Natalie, a former television journalist, believes the time has come for a new generation of politicians who would be genuinely accountable to the people.

              Its workers call each other “bro” and “sis”, and their leader sets the sartorial standard with a pair of ripped jeans, it hopes to tap into young voters’ contempt for the entrenched corruption and divisive identity politics of the ruling elite.

              Her party interviews members seeking nomination for a seat in parliament, and live-streams the discussions on social media platforms. Teachers, corporate lawyers, doctors and bankers are among those whose interviews have aired on Facebook and YouTube.

              “No other party is offering what we are in terms of transparency,” she told Reuters at PSI’s headquarters – referred to by party staff as “base camp” – where a wall poster says “Make Art, Not War”.

              The downfall of the long-serving Soeharto in 1998 – amid a crisis widely blamed on a culture of nepotism and corruption was seen as the beginning of change and opportunity. But two decades later, the 190 million voters of the world’s third-largest democracy are still asked to choose from a crowd of candidates who began their political careers during that period. 

              The 2019 presidential election looks set to be a repeat of 2014, when current leader Joko Widodo narrowly defeated Prabowo Subianto, an ex-armed forces general who was formerly married to a daughter of Soeharto.

              Critical demographics 

              Natalie, 35, and a mother of two toddlers, set up PSI in 2014, determined to offer an alternative for young voters. It’s a critical demographic with people between the ages of 17 and 25 accounting for about 30 percent of the electorate. Two-thirds of the party’s roughly 400,000 members are under 35.

              PSI relies on crowdfunding and donations to run operations across the vast archipelago of Indonesia, and to keep costs down it works from members’ houses and uses donated vehicles.

              “This way, no one person can claim that they own the party. Everyone is contributing something,” said Natalie, who was educated in Jakarta and the Netherlands, and speaks proficient English.

              So far, PSI has raised 2.6 billion rupiah ($180,000), a tiny sum compared with the coffers of mainstream parties that benefit from poor enforcement of laws limiting political donations.

              Youth vote

              Over the years the participation of young voters has dwindled, and the PSI is also struggling to get traction with the youth it is targeting. 

              Data from the elections commission showed that less than half of voters between 17 and 29 years old cast a ballot in the 2014 legislative election compared with around 90 percent among those over 30.

              Ella Prihatini, a researcher at the University of Western Australia, found that in a survey of 253 young voters many were uninterested in politics.

              “On parliament, the dominant answer from respondents was that their MPs are not actually representing them, so why bother voting?” Prihatini said.

              Ibrahim Irsyad Hasibuan, a 20 year old journalism student from Tangerang outside Jakarta, said young voters are apathetic because they have no faith in the political system, and so PSI could be a wake-up call for his generation.

              “But I can’t relate to PSI,” he said. “It is a new political party and has no track record yet.”

              Achmad Sukarsono, a Singapore-based political analyst for Control Risks, was dismissive of the new party, arguing that an anti-corruption stance alone will not be enough to win over voters more interested in local and bread-and-butter issues.

              “It is a nice utopian effort that shows desire for change from the educated, Westernised elite,” he said.

              Ideological tension

              Winning support is also likely to be particularly challenging for Natalie, an ethnic Chinese-Indonesian, in a climate of ideological and ethnic tensions.

              Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country with a secular constitution, but the seculars of Indonesia do not want Islam to have a role in shaping Indonesian social life. 

              Jakarta’s former governor, an ethnic-Chinese Christian, was overthrown last year after some Muslim groups organised massive protests over allegations he insulted Islam. He was later found guilty and jailed for blasphemy.

              The 14 parties contesting next year’s polls include the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which leads the ruling coalition, several other secular parties as well as rising Islamic-oriented parties.

              Natalie, who plans to run for parliament next year, conceded she and PSI need a far bigger budget to win support in rural areas, home to nearly half of Indonesia’s population. Her party will back Widodo – a popular reformer – for re-election as president, rather than try to field a candidate of its own.


              Counting the Cost

              The trouble with leading Indonesia

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              Staff of closed embassies in Qatar in limbo after Gulf crisis

              Some workers at foreign embassies in Qatar say they have been abandoned because of the nine-month blockade by neighbouring countries, including Saudi Arabia. Some staff have not been able to work since embassies were closed and diplomats sent home.

                Some workers at foreign embassies in Qatar say they have been abandoned because of the nine-month blockade by neighbouring countries, including Saudi Arabia. Some staff have not been able to work since embassies were closed and diplomats sent home. They are turning to the Qatari government for help.

                Al Jazeera’s Rob Matheson reports.

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                A look back at Trump and Tillerson's turbulent relationship

                Al Jazeera takes a look back at the turbulent relationship between the US president and his top diplomat, Rex Tillerson.

                  US President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson regularly clashed over Middle East policy, even briefly backing opposite sides in the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

                  Al Jazeera’s Osama bin Javaid looks at the turbulent relationship between the president and his top diplomat.

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                  Kashmir: Civilian killings threaten new anti-India protests

                  Families of the deceased recount their ordeal, sceptical that justice for slain loved ones will ever be delivered.

                    Shopian, Indian-administered Kashmir – When darkness descends on the quiet villages of Shopian, everything falls silent.

                    But Sunday evening was different. A quick rattle of gunfire echoed through Pahnoo village in Shopian, a southern Kashmir district that has witnessed increasing violence in recent months. 

                    Six men, all locals and two of them rebels, were killed in an ambush that threatens to push the disputed region into a spiral of protests.

                    Hundreds of police and paramilitary forces guarded the streets on Tuesday as the region remains tense. While high-speed internet was restricted in most parts, services were completely suspended in the southern part of the region, including Shopian.

                    The killing of the men is one of the bloodiest single incidents in Kashmir in recent years and sparked spontaneous protests with tens of thousands taking to the streets.

                    On Monday, the day of funerals, the streets of Shopian were deserted as people came to the six villages where they offered prayers for the dead and made vows to continue the fight against decades of Indian rule.

                    Helicopters hovered in the air as soldiers and police were restricted inside their fortified bases to avoid confrontations with mourners.

                    ‘Complete shock

                    When he was late to return home on Sunday evening, Gowhar Ahmad Lone knew his mother would be anxious. He called her and promised to return in half an hour.

                    Throughout the night, the family says, they made several calls to him but without an answer. 

                    At 7am on Monday morning, the restlessness and wait of the family turned into a tragedy when they received a call that Gowhar’s body – a bullet pierced through his back – was lying on the driver’s seat in his car.  

                    He was one among the six young men – two of them rebels and four civilians – killed by the Indian army in the southern part of Indian-administered Kashmir’s Shopian village. 

                    The men were killed at a checkpoint in a quiet village of Shopian, a district known for producing apples and has become a bastion of anti-India rebels. The killings brought thousands out of their houses to funerals and to the streets to express solidarity with the rebel cause.

                    “We are in complete shock. We had no idea that he has been killed,” Gowhar’s father Abdul Rashid Lone told Al Jazeera, while meeting dozens of mourners at his single-story house in Mool village.

                    Gowhar was the youngest of his siblings and had recently returned to Kashmir after pursuing a degree in physical education from the Indian city of Nagpur. He took a job in the fertilizer business to support his family.  

                    “He called us in the evening and said he will reach home in some time, that’s the last time we heard of him,” his father said.  

                    The whole night, the family kept on dialing his number, hoping that he might revert. “We really don’t know what happened to him. We just received his dead body,” Gowhar’s father said.

                    ‘Cold-blooded murder’

                    In adjacent Pinjoora village, surrounded by apple orchards, men and women gathered in six separate rooms at the two-story house of Suhail Ahmad Wagay, 22, another civilian killed on Sunday evening. 

                    Suhail, a class XII student, belonged to a well-to-do family of apple merchants and was killed just a kilometre away from his home where the soldiers had set-up the checkpoint. The villages lie adjacent to each other and are now united by grief.

                    He was driving his car along with Shahnawaz Ahmad, 23, and another civilian Shahid Khan, the family told Al Jazeera.

                    Suhail’s family, like the families of the others, has no idea what exactly happened as the incident took place in the darkness on Sunday evening.

                    “Suhail was supposed to pick up his mother. We were continuously calling him. We heard the firing shots for five minutes and after that, his phone was switched off,” says Suhail’s brother-in-law, Nissar Ahmad. “This is a cold-blooded murder. He was just a student.” 

                    The situation in Kashmir continues to deteriorate since the killing of a young rebel leader, Burhan Wani, in July 2016. The incident triggered large-scale protests for five months resulting in the killing of more than 100 unarmed protesters.

                    Angry with media 

                    The grief-stricken families initially refused to talk to media, angry with the coverage of Indian news channels “labeling everyone as a terrorist”.

                    “We don’t want to talk to any media. We don’t want any Indian news channel to spread lies about us. They call everyone a terrorist. They justify the killing of our children by one or the other way,” a family member of Suhail said.

                    The army says the civilians killed in the incident “were accompanying the terrorists”, a claim that their families and residents strongly denied. 

                    “This is what works here, no one listens to us. Our brothers leave home and never return,” says Suhail’s 19-year-old cousin. 

                    Of the four civilians killed on Sunday, Shahid Khan, 18, was the youngest. Shahid left home in the late afternoon to play cricket and didn’t return, his father Bashir Ahmad Khan told Al Jazeera. 

                    “He left home saying he will go to play cricket. We waited for him but when he didn’t return, we called him. But his phone was switched off. At night, we learned that he was killed,” he said. 

                    Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in a tweet said the civilians were caught in the crossfire adding she was “deeply distressed”.

                    The Kashmir police chief, Swayam Prakash Pani, told Al Jazeera that they are investigating the matter.

                    The family of Shahnawaz Ahmad, a school dropout from Trenz village, had no idea about his death until late at night.

                    “He dropped school to help family and now he has been killed without any reason,” says his brother, Farooq Ahmad, a carpenter. “We can’t ask questions. We are numb. We don’t know what to say.” 

                    Dozens of young people who gathered outside Shahnawaz’s home were angry and agitated. “Innocent killings force youth to pick guns,” says Naveed, 26.

                    Kashmir continues to be one of the longest unresolved conflicts between India and Pakistan as both states claim it in its entirety. 

                    Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population, and most support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule, despite a decades-long military crackdown on dissent.

                    Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.


                    The Listening Post

                    Kashmir: Tortured politics, fractured media

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