Why is Hong Kong protesting?

Why are people in Hong Kong so angry?

Hong Kong has not seen a protest on this scale for years.

Those out on the streets have been angered by the Chinese government’s ruling limiting who could stand as a candidate in elections for Hong Kong’s leader, due in 2017.

At the heart of this is a civil disobedience movement launched by democracy activists Occupy Central. When China made its ruling, Occupy Central promised demonstrations.

Then students in Hong Kong began a separate class boycott in late September and when they broke into the main government compound on 26 September, Occupy kicked off its campaign early.

The police use of tear gas on supporters on 29 September further fuelled protesters’ anger. The initial sit-in at the Central district spawned more protests at Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, and a fourth site opened up at Canton Road days later.

Protesters have since called for the resignation of Chief Executive CY Leung for his handling of the situation, but the Chinese government has publicly pledged its support of his administration through the Chinese Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily.

What lit the fuse?

It was always unclear exactly how much support Occupy Central could count on. They say that when the demonstrations began a spontaneous outpouring helped boost crowds.

Tens of thousands of ordinary Hong Kong residents have taken to the streets, mostly young, but pensioners and young families have also been seen among those protesting.

Occupy Central say there is no single group in charge of the protests and that people refused to disperse even when they asked them to after the police let off teargas canisters.

How violent could it get?

Hong Kong rallies are generally peaceful and well-organised. But as Hong Kong’s politics has become more polarised so protests have become more confrontational.

Most witnesses report a peaceful and co-operative atmosphere, but tear gas has already been deployed so much may also depend on how the police responds to the crowds.

Occupy Central insists it is a non-violent movement, but the rapid growth of the student-led campaign could also change the dynamic.

Might the protest change China’s mind?

Before these protests began, activists admitted the movement was unlikely to sway China.

Public protests play an important role in Hong Kong. Locals have free speech and the right to protest, even though they cannot directly elect their government.

And they have used this right to effect in the past. A controversial national security law known as Article 23 was proposed in 2002, but dropped after large protests the following year. More recently, the government was forced into a U-turn on “patriotic education” classes.

The size and passion of these protests have taken observers by surprise, but the demands strike at the very heart of the nature of Beijing’s authority.

Demanding full democracy would radically change how Hong Kong is governed and China is unlikely to cave in on this – it would be seen as a dangerous precedent.

Does everyone agree with the protests?

No. There is a large spectrum of opinion in Hong Kong which analysts say appears increasingly polarised.

The campaigners and protesters want political reform and democratic elections that meet international standards.

But Hong Kong is also a business-minded city, and many will be reluctant to take part in civil disobedience, or anger Beijing, fearing it could hurt the economy.

On 3 October, anti-Occupy protesters began heckling the pro-democracy demonstrators at the Mong Kok site, which later escalated into scuffles and violence.

 

Who are the key players?

Occupy Central have led the way in campaigning for more direct democracy. Its leaders – law professor Benny Tai, sociologist Chan Kin-man and church minister Yiu-ming – are seen as moderate pro-democracy figures.

It is supported by many political parties in Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp.

But in the last few weeks student leaders like Alex Chow and Lester Shum have come to the fore. Joshua Wong who was at the helm of the campaign against “patriotic education” and is also a force in these latest protests.

All three were arrested as the student demonstrations erupted but have since been released.

Pro-Beijing and pro-business parties tend to be against the campaign, and several anti-Occupy Central groups have also been set up. They claim to own the silent majority.

What are China’s biggest fears?

China does not want any movement that could be perceived as a challenge to its authority. Nor does it want a pro-democracy campaign spreading from Hong Kong to the mainland.

The fury in state media is palpable. It has accused”external forces” of meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and encouraging “separatist sentiments”.

There has also been speculation over whether China would get involved in a crackdown. That would almost certainly be seen as an absolute last resort, given the likely international and business repercussions.

The demonstrations have been denounced by China.

So what happens next?

On 2 October, CY Leung offered to hold talks between the Hong Kong government and protesters, which student activists accepted.

But it remains to be seen if the dialogue will bear fruit. On 3 October pro-democracy leaders threatened to call off talks if the government did not adequately protect them from attacks by anti-Occupy groups.

To enable direct elections in 2017, the Hong Kong government will have to present a political reform plan to Hong Kong’s law-making body, the Legislative Council, for a vote. Pro-democracy lawmakers, who hold enough seats for a veto, have said that they will vote down any proposal based on China’s ruling.

If the proposal is voted down, Hong Kong will be unable to implement universal suffrage, and its elections are expected to proceed as before, with a committee of 1,200 mostly pro-Beijing figures selecting the leader.

Before any of this, however, it needs to find a way out of the current impasse on the streets.

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Parliament recalled over air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq

Parliament is to be recalled on Friday to discuss the UK’s possible involvement in air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.

Prime Minister David Cameron said MPs should respond to the Iraqi government’s request for help.

He added that the UK “should not turn away from what needs to be done”.

The Liberal Democrats are backing air strikes in Iraq and Labour leader Ed Miliband has confirmed his support, saying the UK cannot “opt out”.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office has said it is “aware” of reports that a British national has died in Syria, but it has “no further information at this moment”.

IS – also known as Isil – has taken control of large areas of Iraq and Syria in recent months and seized several Western hostages.

It has threatened to kill British aid worker Alan Henning, having released footage of the killing of another British man, David Haines, earlier this month.

Mr Cameron, who is in the US, tweeted: “I have requested that Parliament be recalled to debate the UK response to the Iraqi Govt’s request for support against Isil. The Speaker has accepted my request to recall Parliament on Friday.”

He later said: “What we are doing is legal and it is right. It does not involve British combat troops on the ground.”

He added that “when we are threatened in this way, we should not turn away from what needs to be done”.

“I’m confident we will get this through on an all-party basis,” Mr Cameron said.

“If there was a question of taking action against Isil in Syria, it would be a separate parliamentary debate. I want to be very clear about that.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told the BBC his party would support air strikes in Iraq.

He said they were “legal” and the UK would be “part of a much bigger coalition, a whole array of countries, crucially including a number of Arab countries which deprives Isil of the ability to somehow portray it as a west verses the rest crusade”.

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Ed Balls sets out priorities for ‘first Labour Budget’ – UK

Ed Balls has said he will increase the minimum wage and the top rate of income tax and extend child benefit curbs in his first Budget if Labour wins power.

The shadow chancellor told Labour’s conference the party had “more work to do” to persuade people it can deliver the change he said people wanted.

He said he would act swiftly after the election to reverse housing benefit cuts and boost jobs for young people.

And he hinted that Labour would be prepared to accept Heathrow expansion.

In his last conference address before next year’s election, Mr Balls said Labour had learnt from its “past mistakes” and will not “flinch” from tough decisions if it regains power.

Anticipating his first Budget, which he would be expected to deliver in the summer of 2015 if Labour is elected, Mr Balls said his priorities would be:

  • Rise in minimum wage
  • Cut in business rates
  • Mansion tax on properties worth over £2m
  • 20-month freeze in energy bills
  • Jobs guarantee for young people
  • 50p top rate of income tax
  • Scrapping the “bedroom tax”
  • Extending the 1% cap on child benefit rises to 2017

Mr Balls said Labour was serious about “balancing the books” in the next Parliament and would not “make any promises it cannot keep or afford”.

“The country is crying out for change,” he said. “But we have more work to do to show Labour can deliver the change that people want to see.

“To show that we have learned from our time in government, that we will make the tough decisions we need to get the deficit down and that we can change our economy and make it work for working people.”

As part of what he said was a “fully costed” programme, he announced that the value of child benefits would continue to fall in real terms for the first two years of a Labour government.

Under his plans, child benefit payments would not rise in line with inflation but by a fixed rate of 1% per year until 2017. The policy is already in place until 2016, having been announced by the coalition, but Labour’s move would see it continue for another year.

Millions of households which receive the benefit would be affected by the move.

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UK announces £10m in extra humanitarian aid for Iraq

The UK is to give an extra £10m in humanitarian aid to Iraqis displaced by the conflict in the country.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced the funds on the second day of a visit to Iraq.

She said the situation there was “deeply worrying”, with thousands of people forced from their homes by the fighting and living in makeshift camps.

The UK has already given £13m, including 62 tonnes of food, 1,574 tents and 840 water filtration sets.

RAF planes have undertaken seven missions to deliver aid to thousands of Yazidi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar while there have been eight flights by the Department for International Development to the northern city of Irbil.

The Iraqi authorities and Kurdish militia are battling militants from Islamic State and allied Sunni groups, which control large parts of the north and west of the country.

The United Nations Refugee Agency has estimated there are up to a million internally displaced people in Iraq, as well as up to 500,000 refugees from the civil war in Syria and 100,000 stateless people.

The UK had already given £13m in aid.

Of the new funds, £6.5m is being given to non-government organisations (NGOs) working on the ground while £2m is to ensure the rapid delivery of emergency supplies.

About £500,000 is going to the International Red Cross to help communities cut off from forms of outside help while £20,000 will go to setting up a camp for displaced people near Dahuk.

Other resources will go to supporting logistics and to facilitate a safety hub for humanitarian workers.

Speaking after meeting Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in Irbil and meeting displaced people at a camp in Bakhara, Ms Greening said the UK was “scaling up” its efforts to help the most vulnerable.

“Hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes and thousands are surviving in makeshift camps as the fighting continues,” she said.

“I am particularly concerned about increasing reports of human trafficking and violence against women, as well as children suffering terrible trauma.

“Britain has been quick to respond and I have seen for myself how lifesaving supplies of food, water and shelter are making a real difference to people who have been left with nothing.

“But we can do more, and will do more.”

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South Africa economy avoids recession

South Africa has avoided being tipped into recession after second-quarter GDP figures showed the economy grew by 0.6% during the April-to-June period.

The economy had contracted by 0.6% in the first quarter. A platinum strike in the country was blamed for the poor performance in the first three months.

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South Africa was last in recession in 2008 amid the global financial crisis.

By 2011 it had made a substantial recovery, but there have been worries recently that it would slip back.

Africa’s most advanced economy, and the continent’s second largest, grew by 1% on an unadjusted year-on-year basis in the quarter, against growth of 1.6% in the previous quarter.

South Africa’s agriculture and financial sectors grew 4.9% and 1.5% respectively in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the under-pressure mining sector contracted 9.4% quarter-on-quarter in the second three months of the year, and manufacturing contracted by 2.1%.

The wholesale and retail trade sales shrank by 0.2%, while construction expanded by 5%.

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Iraq crisis: Sunni leaders propose deal with new PM

Some leaders of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority have said they may work with the new prime minister, a move that could help break political deadlock.

The mainly Shia Muslim government is locked in a fight with Islamic State (IS), an extreme Sunni group leading an insurrection in the north.

Late on Friday, reports emerged of IS militants killing at least 80 men and taking women and children captive.

In New York, the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on IS members.

Six people associated with IS or the Syria-based Nusra Front will now be subject to an international travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo, while backers of the two groups may also face sanctions

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Faith ‘massacre’

In Iraq, reports and Kurdish officials said rebels targeted a village called Kocho, 45km (28 miles) south-east of Sinjar, killing men of the Yazidi faith and abducting scores of women and children.

“They arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon,” one Kurdish official Reuters news agency. “We believe it’s because of their creed: convert or be killed.”

Yazidi and Christian people in northern Iraq have faced persecution by the jihadists, prompting US-led air strikes and aid drops and calls for other Western states to arm opponents of IS.

At an emergency EU meeting in Brussels, the 28 member-states were left to decide individually whether they would arm Iraq’s Kurds, the main opponent of IS in the north.

Separately, fighting has flared up in mainly Sunni Anbar province, west of Baghdad, parts of which have been under IS control.

IS-led violence has driven an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes. Whole communities of Yazidis and Christians have been forced to flee in the north, along with Shia Iraqis, whom IS do not regard as true Muslims.

Chink of hope

A group of leaders from restive Sunni provinces issued a joint statement addressed to new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took over from Nouri Maliki on Thursday.

They said they could join the new government if the security and civil administrations in their areas were given equal status to that of the central government.

But they demanded that the Iraqi authorities stop the bombardment of Sunni provinces and cities, and said that local people should be allowed to run Sunni provinces.

Calling for a reform of the Iraqi army, they asked for the release of political detainees, an end to executions and the withdrawal of militias from Sunni cities.

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Gaza-Israel conflict: Explained!

Fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip is currently on hold after both sides agreed to a short-term ceasefire. The conflict has seen the deadliest violence in years and there is no sign of a long-term truce yet. Here is a look at what is going on.

What is the root of the conflict?

The Gaza Strip, sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, has been a recurring flashpoint in the Israel-Palestinian conflict for years.

Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and only pulled its troops and settlers out in 2005. Israel considered this the end of the occupation, but it still exercises control over most of Gaza’s borders, waters and airspace. Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border.

Israel has imposed tight restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip, measures it says are vital for its own security.

However, Palestinians in Gaza feel confined and are suffering socio-economic hardship. The dominant Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas and other militant groups say the restrictions are intolerable.

Hamas’s charter is committed to Israel’s destruction but in recent years it has said it will consider a long-term truce with Israel. It cites Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as reasons for its attacks on the Jewish state before and after 2005.

It says it is also acting in self-defence against Israeli air strikes, incursions and other military assaults.

What caused the latest escalation?

Rocket fire from militants in Gaza and Israeli air strikes on the territory increased after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June, which Israel blamed on Hamas and which led to a crackdown on the group in the West Bank. Hamas denied being behind the killings. Tensions rose further after the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem on 2 July, after which six suspects were arrested.

On 7 July, Hamas claimed responsibility for firing rockets for the first time in 20 months, after a series of Israeli air strikes in which several members of its armed wing were killed.

The next day, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, which it said was aimed at stopping rocket attacks and destroying Hamas’ capabilities.

Since then, there have been thousands of air strikes and thousands of rockets have been fired.

Analysts point to the fact that Hamas has become increasingly isolated in Gaza after losing the support of its former staunch ally Syria and to a lesser extent Iran, and seeing the Egyptian authorities crack down on smuggling tunnels following the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Attacking Israel, they say, may be a way for Hamas to try to boost its popularity and obtain concessions in any eventual long-term ceasefire.

Why has it been so hard to get the sides to agree to a long-term ceasefire?

There have been multiple efforts to get both sides to agree to a ceasefire, but truces have been short-lived.

The first truce plan was proposed by Egypt after one week – Israel accepted it but Hamas said it was not consulted and later on rejected it as “a surrender”.

There were several attempts to stop the fighting over the next four weeks, including trying to achieve pauses for humanitarian reasons. There were brief respites but none which endured. Israel says it accepted successive truce proposals but resumed fire after continuous rocket attacks from militants.

On 4 August, Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire, beginning at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT) the following day.

Both sides sent representatives to Cairo to participate in indirect negotiations on a long-term truce. The Israeli military also announced that all its forces had withdrawn from Gaza and taken up “defensive positions” after completing their main goal of destroying tunnels used by militants.

Hamas said it would accept a lasting ceasefire so long as it led to a lifting of the blockade of Gaza – something Israel insisted it would not consider without the demilitarisation of Gaza.

Israeli officials said the government was willing to extend the ceasefire after three days of talks, but Hamas did not agree and rocket fire resumed on the morning of 8 August. Israel subsequently launched a series of air strikes and recalled its delegation from Cairo, saying it would not “negotiate under fire”.

After a surprise deal on 10 August for a second 72-hour ceasefire, Israeli negotiators returned to Cairo to resume indirect talks with the Palestinian delegation on 11 August.

Negotiations have been complicated by the Egyptian government’s stance on Hamas, which it considers a threat. The US has no formal contacts with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, and while Qatar and Turkey, both supporters of Hamas, have been involved in ceasefire discussions, Israel does not trust them.

How long will the conflict go on for?

The fighting has now lasted longer than the previous Israel-Gaza conflicts in 2008-09 (22 days) and 2012 (eight days).

He has said Operation Protective Edge will carry on for as long as it takes to restore quiet and safety for Israelis.

According to the Israeli military, after the first four weeks Hamas’s rocket arsenal was depleted by about two-thirds, through air strikes, ground operations or the firing of the rockets.

The Israeli military said at the same time that it had destroyed the last of the 32 tunnels inside Gaza that had been dug by Hamas to infiltrate southern Israel. However, officials said some tunnels might have gone undetected and that troops were prepared to destroy them in the future.

Hamas has vowed to fight on until it can be guaranteed the Israeli blockade will be lifted, and insisted it will not accept the presence of any Israeli troops in Gaza.

What are the two sides’ goals?

Israel’s main declared aim is to stop rocket fire from Gaza once and for all. It has also said it aims to destroy Hamas network of tunnels running between Gaza and Israel and wants the territory to ultimately be demilitarised. However, Mr Netanyahu has warned Israelis that there is no guarantee of “100% success”.

Palestinian militants have used tunnels to carry out attacks, some of which have been thwarted by the Israeli military. Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas gunmen, who ambushed Israeli troops via a tunnel in 2006. On the morning of the day the ground offensive was launched, the Israeli military intercepted 13 militants who had used a tunnel to infiltrate Israel, and were believed to be planning to attack a nearby kibbutz.

Hamas’ political leaders say they will only stop fighting when there is an end to the blockade of Gaza. The group’s armed wing though has said it will only accept a long-term ceasefire if:

  • Israel stops “all aggression” in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza
  • Commits to the 2012 ceasefire
  • Stops trying to undermine the recently formed Palestinian unity government
  • Frees prisoners released in exchange for Gilad Shalit in 2011 but who have recently been re-arrested

How come civilians are bearing the brunt?

Gaza is a small territory with a large population and Palestinian officials say many of the casualties were caused by air strikes in residential areas. President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of committing “genocide” while human rights groups have warned Israel that air strikes in densely populated areas or direct attacks on civilian homes could violate international law.

Israel has said the homes it has bombed belonged to senior militants and served as command centres where rocket attacks were co-ordinated. It says militants deliberately fire rockets from civilian areas and store rockets in places like homes, school and hospitals – a charge Hamas denies.

Israel also points out that the hundreds of unguided rockets that have been fired at its territory directly threaten its civilians.

Long-range rockets have been launched towards population centres such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as further north. Human rights groups have said the firing of indiscriminate rockets endangers civilians and constitutes a war crime.

 

The two sides have fought wars before. How did they end?

Israel launched a ground offensive in December 2008 dubbed Operation Cast Lead in response to rocket fire. It ended when Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire 22 days later, saying its goals were “more than fully achieved”. An estimated 1,300 Palestinians were killed, many of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died, including four soldiers in a “friendly fire” incident. Gaza’s civilian infrastructure was damaged extensively.

Four years later, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence, again with the stated goal of stopping rocket fire and crippling Hamas’s capability to launch attacks. Eight days into the operation, Egypt brokered a ceasefire agreement that included a promise from both sides to stop attacks. At least 167 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

What are your thought?

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