Hong Kong protesters, police in chaotic clashes

Anti-government protesters walk on the street while people watch from a bridge during a protest in Tai Po district of Hong Kong on Sunday, October 13, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 13 October 2019

Hong Kong protesters, police in chaotic clashes

  • Hardcore black-clad activists trashed shops and metro stations and erected road blocks around the city late Sunday
  • Police made numerous arrests and deployed tear gas to disperse protesters

HONG KONG: Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and riot police clashed in chaotic scenes around the city on Sunday with police in full riot gear chasing protesters through crowds of horrified lunchtime shoppers.
Several rallies in shopping mall started peacefully around midday with a few hundred people at each chanting slogans such as “Free Hong Kong,” but by late afternoon hardcore black-clad activists trashed shops and metro stations and erected road blocks around the city.
Police made numerous arrests and deployed tear gas to disperse protesters, saying they used “minimum force.” Television footage showed shoppers screaming and some injured when police charged inside a mall.
The young protesters, many wearing face masks to shield their identity, were often supported by shoppers.
In one mall a group of riot police, shields out front and pepper spray canisters in, hand were forced to retreat backwards by chanting shoppers until they were outside of the mall.
In another incident, a group of 50 shoppers inside a mall faced off against riot police outside, chanting “Hong Kong police mafia.” The shoppers cheered when police drove off.
Hong Kong’s police, once praised as “Asia’s finest,” have been accused of using excessive force in dealing with protesters and have lost the confidence and respect of many Hong Kongers.
Hong Kong has been battered by four months of often massive and violent protests against what is seen as Beijing’s tightening grip on the Chinese-ruled city.
The protests started in opposition to a now-abandoned extradition bill but have widened into a pro-democracy movement and an outlet for anger at social inequality in the city, which boasts some of the world’s most expensive real estate.
The unrest has plunged the city into its worst crisis since Britain handed it back to China in 1997 and poses the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Hong Kong is facing its first recession in a decade due to the protests, with tourism and retail hardest hit.
Hong Kong’s protests have also taken on an element of civil disobedience by residents angry at what they see as excessive force by riot police and a heavy-hand by the government which introduced colonial-era emergency laws to quell unrest.
Sporadic small protest rallies often now consist of face-mask wearing school children, office workers, shoppers and the elderly. Hardcore activists who clash with police tend to emerge later in the day.
The Hong Kong government introduced emergency laws to ban the wearing of face masks at public rallies, a move that sparked some of the worst violence since the unrest started in June.
The violence has seen police trade tear gas and rubber bullets with protesters throwing petrol bombs and bricks. Two people have been shot and wounded during protests.
Police have arrested more than 2,300 people since June. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said that since September, nearly 40 percent of those arrested were under the age of 18 and 10% under 15, without giving the total number of arrests.
Protesters have targeted Chinese banks and shops with links to mainland China. A group wielding hammers damaged a Huawei store on Sunday.
Demonstrators believe China has been eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula introduced with the 1997 handover.
The now-withdrawn extradition bill, under which residents would have been sent to Communist-controlled mainland courts, was seen as the latest move to tighten control.
China denies the accusation and says foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, are fomenting unrest.


Testimony of former National Security Council aide ties Trump closer to pressure on Ukraine

Updated 13 min 58 sec ago

Testimony of former National Security Council aide ties Trump closer to pressure on Ukraine

  • Former National Security Council aide Tim Morrison recounts that Sondland told him he was discussing the Ukraine matters directly with Trump

WASHINGTON: Gordon Sondland, President Donald Trump’s emissary to the European Union, had a message when he met with a top Ukrainian official.
Sondland said vital US military assistance to Ukraine might be freed up if the country’s top prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” a US official told lawmakers. Burisma is the gas company in Ukraine where Democrat Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.
Sondland relayed the exchange moments later to Tim Morrison, then a National Security Council aide. In his private testimony to impeachment investigators made public Saturday, Morrison recounted that Sondland also told him he was discussing the Ukraine matters directly with Trump.
Morrison’s testimony ties Trump more closely to the central charge from Democrats pursuing impeachment: that Trump held up US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into Democrats and Biden’s family. Morrison’s testimony also contradicts much of what Sondland told congressional investigators during his own closed-door deposition, which the ambassador later amended.
Both Morrison and Sondland are scheduled to testify publicly next week as part of the historic, high-stakes impeachment proceedings into the nation’s 45th president. Democrats charge that Trump abused his office for personal political gain, while the president and his allies argue that the process is politically motivated and that nothing in the testimony so far meets the bar for impeachment.
Transcripts from the closed-door testimony from Morrison, a longtime Republican defense hawk in Washington, and Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence on Russia and Europe, were released Saturday as investigators accelerated and deepened the probe. They provided another window into the alarm within the government over Ukraine pressure.
Immediately after the exchange with Sondland during an international gathering in Warsaw, Morrison called his boss, John Bolton, then Trump’s national security adviser.
“Stay out of it,” Bolton told him, “brief the lawyers.”
For Morrison, Burisma was a catch-all for a “bucket” of investigations — of Democrats and the family of Joe Biden — that he wanted to “stay away from.” They had nothing to do with “the proper policy process that I was involved in on Ukraine,” he testified.
Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken approximately five times between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks that $391 million in US assistance was withheld from Ukraine before it was released.
While some, including Trump himself, have begun to question Sondland’s knowledge of events, Morrison told House investigators the ambassador “related to me he was acting — he was discussing these matters with the President.”
Pressed by Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the probe, as to whether Sondland had actually spoken to the president, Morrison said he had verified it each time.
Pence, so far, has been a more unseen figure in the impeachment inquiry, but testimony from Williams raised fresh questions about what Pence knew about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.
Pence was also at the Warsaw gathering. For the new government of Ukraine, situated between NATO allies and Russia, the security aid Congress had already approved was a lifeline to the West.
Williams was among the staffers in the White House Situation Room who listened and took notes during Trump’s July 25 call when he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor.” A whistleblower’s complaint about that call helped spark the House impeachment investigation.
Williams testified that Trump’s discussion on the call of specific investigations struck her as “unusual and inappropriate” and seemed to point to “other motivations” for holding up the military aid.
After the call, Williams told investigators, she put the White House’s rough transcript into the into the vice president’s daily briefing book.
“I just don’t know if he read it,” she said.
Williams corroborated the testimony of a previous witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an NSC aide on the call, who said the White House dropped the word “Burisma” from the transcript. She said in an addendum to her testimony that Zelenskiy had mentioned the word “Burisma” in the call.
Vindman and Williams at scheduled to testify together during a public impeachment hearing on Tuesday morning.
The White House’s decision to put the transcript of the July 25 call on a highly classified server has drawn keen interest throughout the probe. But Morrison said the unusual move was unintentional.
Morrison said he was concerned if the call got out it would be politically damaging. He talked to White House lawyer John Eisenberg and they agreed that access should be restricted, he testified.
But Morrison said Eisenberg later told him that he did not intend for the call summary to be placed on a highly classified server. Eisenberg’s staff apparently put it there by mistake, he said.
As the transcripts were released, impeachment investigators wrapped up a rare Saturday session interviewing Mark Sandy, a little-known career official at the Office of Management and Budget who was involved in key meetings about the aid package.
Sandy’s name had barely come up in previous testimony. But it did on one particular date: July 25, the day of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy. That day, a legal document with Sandy’s signature directed a freeze of the security funds to Ukraine, according to testimony.
Throughout Morrison’s account, he largely confirmed testimony from current and former officials about what has been described as a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, often at odds with US national security interests.
A few days after the Warsaw meeting, Sondland was on the phone telling Morrison Sept. 7 he had just gotten off a call with the president.
Morrison said Sondland related that Trump assured him there were no strings being attached to the military aid for Ukraine.
“The president told him there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelenskiy must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it,” Morrison testified.
Morrison had what he called a “sinking feeling” that the aid may not ultimately be released. About that time, three congressional committees said they were launching inquiries into efforts by Trump and Giuliani to investigate the Bidens.
At a Sept. 11 meeting at the White House, Pence and GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio “convinced the president that the aid should be disbursed immediately,” said Morrison, who said he was briefed about the meeting but did not attend it. “The case was made to the president that it was the appropriate and prudent thing to do.”