Options narrow for last Hong Kong campus protesters as arrests take a toll

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The last band of anti-government protesters trapped inside a besieged Hong Kong university were weighing a narrowing range of options early on Wednesday as police outside appeared ready to simply wait them out.

Reuters witnesses said fewer than 100 protesters remained inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University after more than 1,000 were arrested since late on Monday.

Some simply surrendered, while others were nabbed in escape attempts that included trying to clamber down ropes onto waiting motorbikes or sneak through sewer pipes.

Police searched for potential escapees overnight with spotlights rather than using the tear gas and rubber bullets that had marked clashes in recent days, heeding calls from Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam for a humane end to a siege that saw the most intense clashes since the protests escalated more than five months ago.

They also tightened barricades in the streets surrounding the university, making them secure enough to be visited late on Tuesday night by the force’s new commissioner, Chris Tang, at the end of his first day on the job.

Tang earlier urged the support of all citizens to end the unrest triggered by fears that China’s central government is stifling the former British colony’s freedoms and extensive autonomy guaranteed in its handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

Chinese leaders say they are committed to the “one country, two systems” formula and have accused foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, of stirring up trouble.

The unrest marks the most serious popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Some protesters emerged as the sun rose above the campus after a night spent sleeping on yoga mats to express a range of feelings, from defiance to uncertainty.

Others mulled hiding in the maze of campus buildings, as they said a teacher had advised them to do.

“I already know where I will hide,” a 19-year-old student, who gave his name only as Paul, said as he emerged in a hoodie, shorts and slippers to ask about breakfast in the canteen.

“I have enough food for at least a week and then will see what happens,” he said.

Two protesters in full body armor, wielding metal rods, were going to get some sleep in the library after their night shift watching police movements outside.

“We need some energy to get ready for the big fight. Now that there’s not many of us left they may want to come in,” said a former student named Marc, 26.

“We know this place, it’s our home and it is a maze. And we have weapons. We’re not going to give up now, it’s too late for that,” he said.

Protesters still have stocks of petrol bombs, bows and arrows and other makeshift weapons after a weekend of fiery clashes.

One protester practiced firing arrows at a campus tower shortly after dawn.

The university on the Kowloon peninsula is the last of five that protesters had occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city over the past 10 days, blocking the central Cross-Harbour Tunnel outside and other arteries.

“It’s still incredible we defended it for such a long time,” said a 21-year-old student named Ricky. “Since the police have taken control, many started to feel afraid and left and now many of us feel desperate and unhappy because we lost some support.”

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Poland sees bigger state role in economy, more court reforms

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s prime minister set out plans on Tuesday to strengthen the state’s role in the economy and deepen an overhaul of the justice system that has put Warsaw on a collision course with its European Union partners.

Mateusz Morawiecki said the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party would continue increasing welfare spending and the share of Polish capital in domestic companies, underlining its break with the free-market reforms of liberal governments before it.

“Neoliberals have fueled a sense of confusion in our value system. Many people were led to believe that the state is a ball and chain,” he said in a policy speech to parliament after an Oct. 13 election that gave PiS four more years in power. “Extremes are not good. We are building a normal state.”

Morawiecki spoke repeatedly of a return to “normality”, referring both to PiS’s economic policies and its conservative vision of the traditional family which has won over voters but has been criticized by opponents for encouraging homophobia.

He promised new welfare programs to help families with at least three children and the elderly.

In separate comments, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said: “Our society… must be based on the Polish family, the family in its traditional sense. A family which takes the form of a relationship between a man and a woman.”

Opposition lawmakers criticized PiS’s vision of normality.

“The desire for normality means the rule of law and economic prudence, and you break those principles day after day,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the largest opposition party, Civic Platform.

Morawiecki’s government won a vote of confidence in a late-evening session on Tuesday, with 237 deputies out of 454 lending him their support.

CONCERNS OVER RULE OF LAW

Since returning to power in 2015, PiS has introduced changes to how courts are run and altered some of the rules governing the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court.

The European Commission, the EU executive, responded by launching legal action over reforms which it says threaten the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

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The European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that it was up to Poland’s Supreme Court to decide on the independence of the Disciplinary Chamber and the National Judiciary Council, offering some criteria on adherence to EU law.

Morawiecki gave no details of the next steps PiS plans to take in its reforms of the judiciary. The party says further reforms are intended to make the court system more efficient but opponents say the reforms made so far have politicized it.

PiS has said it will keep a balanced budget in 2020, benefiting from one-off revenues and fast economic growth, although some economists say such plans are too ambitious at a time when the European economy is slowing down.

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In testy leadership debate, UK PM Johnson promises speedy Brexit

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson doubled down on his Brexit promises on Tuesday, saying only he could take Britain out of the European Union quickly in a testy leadership debate with opposition Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

After the hour-long debate, polls showed the public were split over who was the victor: 51% said it was Johnson while 49% backed Corbyn – a result that analysts said reflected better on the Labour leader, who is trailing in opinion polls.

Both leaders tried to undermine the other in the first such debate before a Dec. 12 election, called by Johnson to break the Brexit deadlock that has hurt Britain’s standing in the world and weighed on the world’s fifth largest economy.

At one point, the host, ITV’s Julie Etchingham, asked the two men to shake hands and promise to improve the tone of political debate in Britain, which is deeply divided since voters backed leaving the EU in a 2016 referendum.

“We certainly will come out on January the 31st, because we have a deal … that is oven ready,” Johnson said.

Johnson is promising to implement the exit deal he negotiated with Brussels and lead Britain out of the EU by Jan. 31. He pledged to meet a 2020 deadline to secure a trade agreement for Britain’s long-term relationship with the EU.

But Corbyn said, instead of speed, Johnson was promising years more of talks to secure a Canada-style trade deal, in which he said the government planned to sell off Britain’s beloved public health service. Johnson denied the charge.

“The idea that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal, can be dealt with and finished by the end of January is such nonsense,” Corbyn said to applause.

Corbyn wants to negotiate a new exit deal and put it to a referendum within six months alongside the option to remain in the bloc. Corbyn said during the debate he would honor whatever the result of that vote was.

Johnson countered by attacking Corbyn on his refusal to say whether he would campaign for leave or remain in any future Brexit referendum.

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Polling conducted immediately after the debate by YouGov showed the public were evenly split.

“On balance this is probably better for the Labour leader. Why? Because a dead heat when you are significantly behind in the polls is probably better news for you that the person who is leading,” said YouGov’s Political Research Manager Chris Curtis.

Polls looking to gauge how the public intend to vote put Johnson’s Conservatives as much as 18 percentage points ahead of Labour, but the election is difficult to call because of pacts and alliances on both sides of the Brexit argument.

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US Congressman Eric Swalwell accused of dropping massive fart live on TV after mystery sound shocks viewers

TWITTER has exploded after a US Congressman was accused of dropping a resounding fart live on TV.

Eric Swalwell was speaking live from Capitol Hill to discuss witnesses publicly testifying on the Donald Trump impeachment probe this week when he appeared to let out a belter.

 

 

 

 

His report on the US President allegedly using "taxpayers dollars to ask the Ukrainians to be paid to cheat an election" was dramatically interrupted by what appeared to be the trumpeting sound of breaking wind.

Swalwell appeared to smile slightly before carrying on with his report on MSNBC, barely pausing in his delivery.

Social media has since erupted as commentators discussed at length the veracity of the source with the viral hashtag #fartgate.

Ron Placone tweeted: "I leave the United States for just over the week and #fartgate is trending.

"I've never been more homesick or proud to be an American."

While Avid Yemini added: "Am I the only one checking @realDonaldTrump’s feed every two seconds to see if he’s tweeted #fartgate yet?"

Across the pond, Piers Morgan was left in stitches on Good Morning Britain, posting: "Sometimes, all it takes is a farting politician… and the world seems OK again."

 

DENIAL

Eric Swalwell felt the need to deny his alleged far, writing in capital letters: "Total exoneration!" as Hardball, the programme he appeared on, said the sound was the "#hardball mug scraping across the desk".

Calling on the rhetoric of Trump, Smarie responded: "#fartgate was a hoax and total witchunt sir".

While another Twitter user added: "Lordy I hope there are tapes".

And Shane Roth wrote: "Who was on the Gassy Knoll?"

But there were some who strongly believed in Swalwell's innocence. Jamie Scavotto wrote succinctly: "If you believe #Fartgate is real, you're stupid.

"Swallwell would've had to mike his own ass to produce that sound via flatulence".

When Swalwell can return to his day job of reporting politics, he will likely be focusing on the latest in the impeachment hearings.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, will both appear this morning to voice concerns after Trump spoke on July 25 with the newly elected Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Russia offers job to Maria Butina, woman convicted by U.S. of being an agent

MOSCOW (Reuters) – In her first public appearance since being deported by U.S. authorities who had jailed her for being a Russian agent, Maria Butina was on Monday offered a job by Moscow to defend Russians imprisoned abroad.

During an event for the media, Russia’s human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova, offered Butina, 31, a job working for her commission.

“I invite you to work in our group defending compatriots abroad. I’m sure together we’ll be able to do a lot of good for people who’ve ended up in tough situations abroad,” Moskalkova said.

Butina, who flew back to Russia on Oct. 26 after being deported, did not say whether she would accept the offer made at what she called her first public appearance since she was mobbed by wellwishers in front of the media at the airport on her arrival home.

Butina pleaded guilty in December last year to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia by infiltrating a gun rights group and influencing U.S. conservative activists and Republicans, a conviction slammed as ridiculous by Moscow.

Russia accused Washington of forcing Butina to confess.

The case put strain on relations that were already under pressure from an array of issues including U.S. allegations of Russian election meddling and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Moscow denies any inteference in U.S. elections.

Moskalkova invited Butina to help her commission defend the rights of Russians abroad such as Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot serving 20 years in the United States for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the country.

Moskalkova said she also knew that Butina had been offered a job in the State Duma, the Russian lower house of parliament, and urged her to accept that one too.

The case of Yaroshenko, who was arrested by U.S. special forces in Liberia in 2010, and others like it have prompted Russia to accuse the United States of hunting its citizens across the world.

The United States has accused the Russians in question of specific crimes and sought their extradition and arrest with regard to those crimes.

Russia said last week it had lodged a formal diplomatic protest after Israel extradited a Russian man to the United States where he faces a slew of serious cyber crime charges.

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China tells U.S. and Britain to stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs

LONDON (Reuters) – China’s ambassador to London on Monday accused foreign countries including the United States and Britain of interfering in Chinese internal affairs through their reactions to the violent clashes taking place in Hong Kong.

The Asian financial hub, which was handed over to China by former colonial ruler Britain in 1997 but enjoys a degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula, has been plunged into chaos for almost six months.

In a dramatic escalation, Hong Kong police were laying siege to a university in Hong Kong, firing rubber bullets and tear gas to push back anti-government protesters armed with petrol bombs and other weapons to stop them from fleeing.

In London, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming called a news conference at the Chinese Embassy to comment on events in Hong Kong and criticise Western governments and media for their responses to the crisis.

“Some Western countries have publicly supported extreme violent offenders,” he said.

“The U.S. House of Representatives adopted the so-called Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to blatantly interfere in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs.

“The British government and the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons published China-related reports making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong.”

Liu also said that by criticising violent actions by the authorities as well as by the protesters, Britain was in effect taking sides.

“I think when the British government criticises Hong Kong police, criticises the Hong Kong government in handling the situation, they are interfering into China’s internal affairs,” he said.

“They look like they are balanced but as a matter of fact they are taking sides. That is our position.”

The ambassador also attacked Western media, saying that reporting on Hong Kong was misleading and did not give enough prominence to violence perpetrated by the protesters. He also dismissed Western media reports on the separate issue of what U.N. experts and activists condemn as repression in China’s western Xinjiang region as “pure fabrication”.

As the ambassador’s news conference was unfolding, the British Foreign Office issued the latest in a series of statements about Hong Kong.

“The UK is seriously concerned by the escalation in violence from both the protesters and the authorities around Hong Kong university campuses,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

“It is vital that those who are injured are able to receive appropriate medical treatment, and that safe passage is made available for all those who wish to leave the area. We need to see an end to the violence, and for all sides to engage in meaningful political dialogue ahead of the District Council elections on Sunday.”

Also during the news conference at the embassy, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on all sides to show restraint.

The European Commission on Monday also called on law enforcement authorities to keep their action “strictly proportionate”.

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British PM Johnson refuses to comment on Prince Andrew scandal

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson twice refused on Monday to comment on Prince Andrew who has faced a backlash after denying he had sex with a teenage girl and talking about his relationship with late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, said in an interview aired on Saturday that he could not have had sex with a teenage girl at a socialite’s London home because he returned to his house after a children’s party on the night in question and has no recollection of ever meeting her.

Andrew’s interview drew scorn in the British media which said his explanations were unsatisfactory while lawyers for Epstein’s victims said that the prince showed little sympathy for those abused.

“I won’t get dragged into commentary about matters concerning the royal family,” Johnson said when asked about Andrew by reporters.

In the BBC interview, Andrew gave an at times rambling and contradictory account. He said Epstein’s behaviour had been “unbecoming”, but that he does not regret their friendship because of the opportunities it gave him to meet business people.

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'We can't take it anymore': As Lebanon economy skids, jobs in firing line

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Karim Daya was one of the last of his friends and family still in Lebanon. Now that his job is gone, he’s packing his bags.

“That’s it. It’s just getting worse and worse, and where are we headed? Nobody knows,” said Daya, 27, a graphic design graduate. “I’ll be very sad. But there’s no future for me here.”

His feelings reflect the frustration of many young Lebanese caught in the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

The coffee shop chain Daya worked at had struggled even before huge protests, driven by anger at corruption and cronyism, toppled the government last month. The latest turmoil dealt the fatal blow.

He plans to go to Bulgaria, where his sisters live, to look for work – a decision he had tried to put off. But with 37% of Lebanon’s youth already unemployed, the prospects are bleak.

Across Lebanon, banks are closed and business is grinding to a halt.

Beirut’s streets are lined with empty restaurants and shuttered shops. More and more companies have either gone bust or suspended work, firing workers en masse to try to survive.

Employees at 15 companies told Reuters they had been laid off or taken a pay cut in the past month, along with dozens of colleagues.

“NO CASH”

“This economic choking reached a point where it erupted,” said Pierre Boutros, an engineer who runs a contracting company and a furniture factory. “It’s a miracle that we’ve made it this far.”

He had to cut salaries and lay off dozens of workers in recent weeks. He will likely let more people go. The firm is down to 70 staff, from a peak of 425 people before 2016.

“Credit facilities stopped, there’s no cash…Traders who used to give you time now only deliver if you pay upfront. People don’t have the money to buy. At the end of the day, money is not coming in. We shrank.”

If the crisis drags on, Boutros may freeze work “for a month or two or three until it is solved,” he said. “Then dust ourselves off and get to work again.”

The losses for companies come after years of low growth, government paralysis, regional conflict, and capital inflows from abroad drying up.

Banks, which closed for half of October, have blocked most dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad to avoid capital flight. They shut again this week after a staff strike over safety fears as people demand access to their money.

The hard currency squeeze in turn has stymied trade, pushed people to stash cash at home, and pressured the Lebanese pound’s 22-year-old peg to the dollar.

Business owners say they must make most transactions in cash on the black market, where the pound has weakened to about 20% below the pegged rate. Suppliers now demand payments in dollars or in local currency based on an unofficial rate that changes by the trader and the day.

“STUCK HERE”

“We can’t take it anymore. I can’t spend on my children,” said Ali, a sales worker and father of two whose salary was cut in half. “There will be much more chaos if things keep going this way.”

Some families have stocked up on supplies like canned food, rice, and flour. Several people said their bank told them they must repay loans in U.S. dollars.

With a tiny industrial sector and few natural resources, the economy relies on imports and cash injections from Lebanese abroad, which have fallen in recent years, pressuring central bank foreign currency reserves.

Lebanon creates six times fewer jobs than its labor market needs and exports more graduates than any country in the Arab world, a 2019 government study said.

Amale’s three children all work abroad. A 60-year-old nurse, she lost her job at a hospital that laid off 40 people. “They might close down entire floors,” she said. “I cried a bit.”

Majd Chidiac, 23, a copywriter, was also laid off. “The people who haven’t left yet will leave. And those who can’t afford to leave, they’ll get stuck here and get poorer. It’s the sad reality.”

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UK government will publish Russia report after election: minister

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government will publish a parliamentary report examining alleged Russian meddling in British politics after the country’s Dec. 12 election, security minister Brandon Lewis said on Sunday.

Opponents have accused the government of sitting on the report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which has been cleared by the security services, because it might contain embarrassing revelations about Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his party.

Lewis told Sky News the report could not be published during the so-called “purdah” period which sets rules on government announcements during an election campaign.

“We want to make sure, particularly where national security is involved, we go through that process properly and thoroughly,” he said. “We can’t publish things during the general election … but after the general election that report will be published.”

Last week the government had said the report had not been published because of necessary procedure whereby vetting it would take several weeks.

Britain has accused Russia of meddling or trying to interfere in western elections, accusations denied by Moscow. The ISC was examining allegations of Russian activity aimed at the United Kingdom, including in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, when Johnson was a leading campaigner to leave.

The Sunday Times said the report concluded Russian interference may have had an impact on the Brexit referendum but the effect was “unquantifiable”.

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Hong Kong police say media officer hit by arrow in standoff with protesters

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police said one of their media liaison officers was hit in the leg by an arrow on Sunday in a standoff with anti-government protesters around a barricaded university.

Activists hurled petrol bombs, some by catapult, and shot arrows with bows at police who fired tear gas and water cannon in response in the standoff at the Polytechnic University in Kowloon.

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