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Britain to become first G7 country with net zero emissions target

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong surrounded the city’s legislature on Wednesday, forcing it to postpone a second round of debate on an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial. The protesters, most of them young people dressed in black, erected barricades as they…

Britain to become first G7 country with net zero emissions target

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong surrounded the city’s legislature on Wednesday, forcing it to postpone a second round of debate on an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

The protesters, most of them young people dressed in black, erected barricades as they prepared to hunker down for an extended occupation of the area, in scenes reminiscent of pro-democracy “Occupy” protests that rocked the city in 2014.

Protesters rallied in and around Lung Wo Road, an important east-west artery near the offices of embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as hundreds of riot police warned them to stop advancing.

Some protesters erected barricades to block traffic in the heart of the Asian financial center, with many defying police calls to retreat, in scenes reminiscent of pro-democracy protests that rocked the city in late 2014.

The government advised staff to avoid driving to government buildings because roads were blocked.

Lam has defiantly vowed to press ahead with the controversial legislation despite deep concerns across the Asian financial hub that triggered on Sunday its biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Demonstrators from across a wide spectrum of Hong Kong society began joining the overnight protesters earlier on Wednesday as businesses across the city prepared to go on strike.

The bill, which has generated unusually broad opposition at home and abroad, is due for a second round of debate on Wednesday in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council, although it was not immediately clear if that would go ahead as planned.

The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

Lam has sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.

In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned that pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.

Sunday’s protest, which organizers said saw more than a million people take to the streets, in addition to a snowballing backlash against the extradition bill could raise questions about Lam’s ability to govern effectively.

That protest rally plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.

A spokesman for bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) said a cocktail reception on Wednesday evening to celebrate 19 years of being listed, at which Lam is guest of honor, would go ahead.

The protesters, mostly young people, wore makeshift protective gear such as masks and goggles as they dragged steel barriers on to roads, wreaking commuter havoc in the morning rush hour.

The demonstrators rallied just a stone’s throw from the heart of the financial center where glittering skyscrapers house the offices of some of the world’s biggest companies, including HSBC.

HSBC and Standard Chartered, in addition to the Big Four accounting firms, had all agreed to flexible work arrangements for staff on Wednesday, Hong Kong media reported.

Strikes and transport go-slows were also announced for Wednesday as businesses, students, bus drivers, social workers, teachers and other groups all vowed to protest in a last-ditch effort to block the bill.

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong called on the government not to pass the bill “hurriedly” and urged all Christians to pray for the former British colony. Lam, who warned against “radical action” at the latest protest, is a Catholic.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China 22 years ago under a “one-country, two-systems” formula, with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.

However, many accuse China of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with local elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.

Beijing rejects those accusations and official Chinese media said this week “foreign forces” were trying to damage China by creating chaos over the extradition bill.

Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, as reasons why the Hong Kong bill should not proceed.

China denies accusations that it tramples on human rights.

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UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election…

UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges. More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms.The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades. When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted by court.Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.Members of Parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi’s campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only growing worse.In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24%, which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% this year, said Shahabuddin Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.The Association of Democratic Reforms found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal in central India, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party’s 52 lawmakers face serious charges.“This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people,” said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, ADR’s founder.“What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power,” said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.“In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn’t they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them,” Quraishi said.In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.The total value of the seized goods was $500 million, including $120 million in cash — nearly three times what was found in the 2014 general election, according to the Election Commission.Analysts say that political parties seem to prize electability over ethics.“They think that people with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win because of their money and muscle power,” Qureshi said.In the days of paper ballots before electronic voting machines were introduced, gangs would use brute force to take over polling stations to rig the vote.One reason for the increasing number of criminal suspects going into politics is the sheer cost of elections. In the general election that concluded in May, political parties and candidates are estimated to have spent about $8.65 billion. That’s double the amount in the 2014 election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi.The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total. The Congress party accounted for between 15% and 20%.Analysts say a key cause of corruption is the way political parties are funded in India. Parties are permitted to receive foreign funds, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party, and any individual, group or company can donate money anonymously through electoral bonds.Donors do not need to disclose the party they have donated to, nor does the party have to reveal the source of its money.Quraishi is calling for more transparency in campaign funding as well as a cap on election spending.“The people want transparency, the donor wants secrecy. Whose wish should prevail?” he said.

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Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election…

Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges. More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms.The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades. When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted by court.Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.Members of Parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi’s campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only growing worse.In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24%, which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% this year, said Shahabuddin Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.The Association of Democratic Reforms found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal in central India, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party’s 52 lawmakers face serious charges.“This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people,” said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, ADR’s founder.“What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power,” said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.“In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn’t they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them,” Quraishi said.In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.The total value of the seized goods was $500 million, including $120 million in cash — nearly three times what was found in the 2014 general election, according to the Election Commission.Analysts say that political parties seem to prize electability over ethics.“They think that people with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win because of their money and muscle power,” Qureshi said.In the days of paper ballots before electronic voting machines were introduced, gangs would use brute force to take over polling stations to rig the vote.One reason for the increasing number of criminal suspects going into politics is the sheer cost of elections. In the general election that concluded in May, political parties and candidates are estimated to have spent about $8.65 billion. That’s double the amount in the 2014 election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi.The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total. The Congress party accounted for between 15% and 20%.Analysts say a key cause of corruption is the way political parties are funded in India. Parties are permitted to receive foreign funds, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party, and any individual, group or company can donate money anonymously through electoral bonds.Donors do not need to disclose the party they have donated to, nor does the party have to reveal the source of its money.Quraishi is calling for more transparency in campaign funding as well as a cap on election spending.“The people want transparency, the donor wants secrecy. Whose wish should prevail?” he said.

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World News

Mediterranean countries ramp up efforts to find missing migrants

THE HAGUE: Mediterranean countries say they have taken a key step toward finding out the fate of thousands of migrants — many fleeing Syria’s war — who have gone missing while trying to reach Europe.At a meeting of the International Commission for Missing Persons in The Hague this week, Cyprus, Greece and Malta pledged to…

Mediterranean countries ramp up efforts to find missing migrants

THE HAGUE: Mediterranean countries say they have taken a key step toward finding out the fate of thousands of migrants — many fleeing Syria’s war — who have gone missing while trying to reach Europe.At a meeting of the International Commission for Missing Persons in The Hague this week, Cyprus, Greece and Malta pledged to coordinate and beef up their efforts to trace nearly 18,500 migrants who have disappeared since 2014 while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.Italy — which has taken a hard line on migrants under its populist government and interior minister Matteo Salvini — did not sign up to that new joint statement due to what the ICMP described as internal government issuesThe four countries are the main point of entry to Europe for many of the migrants fleeing the war in Syria and other regions.Finding out what happened to those missing — whether they are eventually found alive or whether they have been confirmed dead and their remains found — provides crucial closure for families.“We are starting a process that is extremely important,” Queen Noor of Jordan, one of the ICMP’s longest-serving commissioners, told AFP in an interview.“Helping the families and communities that have lost their members in conflict can create a path to truth, justice and reconciliation — and where possible, accountability,” said the Jordanian royal.Born out of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and set up in 1996 in Sarajevo by then US president Bill Clinton, the ICMP uses increasingly sophisticated DNA technology to trace missing persons.It has already succeeded in identifying around 70 percent of the 40,000 people who went missing in the Balkans conflicts of the 1990s, including around 90 percent of the nearly 8,000 killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.But it is now turning its attention to one of the biggest human catastrophes of recent times — the migration crisis that has hit the Middle East, North Africa and Europe since 2014.The plan to better locate and identify missing migrants fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa was launched in Rome last year.But this week’s meeting of the southern European states was key to pushing the process forward.Top ICMP representatives nevertheless called for more to be done to help find the missing migrants, particularly those from Syria’s war where the fate is of an estimated 85,000 people is not known.“What we are implicitly saying to states is that they have a responsibility to deal with this, but that it is also in their interest to deal with it,” former Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders told AFP.The ICMP also wants to obtain permission from Syria’s neighbors to start mapping the thousands of refugees fleeing the bitter eight-year war — in a move that could one day help identify war crimes, Queen Noor said.Collecting and having access to data about these refugees will make it easier in future to identify “where crimes may have occurred, where mass graves exist — and where families and relatives may be,” she said.But the longer-term aim is to bring millions of displaced people back to their homes.“I can see in a future that is hopefully not too far off that we can set in motion steps that will provide greater hope for many of the migrants and refugees to Europe.”“To give them hope that they can return home,” she said.

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