Hong Kong protesters throng streets as government urges calm

Authorities gave the green light to Civil Human Rights Front to hold the rally, the first time the group has been granted permission for a protest since Aug. 18. (AFP))
Updated 08 December 2019

Hong Kong protesters throng streets as government urges calm

  • March comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections
  • Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that China is stamping out the city’s liberties

HONG KONG: Thousands of black-clad protesters from all walks of life thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a sign of broad support for anti-government demonstrations that have roiled the Chinese-ruled city for six months.

With chants of, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” anti-government activists, young and old, marched from Victoria Park in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay to Chater Road near the heart of the financial district.

Authorities gave the green light to Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) — organizer of largely peaceful million-strong marches in June — to hold the rally, the first time the group has been granted permission for a protest since Aug. 18.

“I will fight for freedom until I die because I am a Hong Konger,” said June, a 40-year-old mother dressed in black seated on the grass in Victoria Park. “Today is about standing with Hong Kong, and the international community.”

The former British colony is governed under a “One Country, Two Systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not allowed in mainland China, but many fear Beijing is tightening the screws on the city and increasingly meddling in its affairs.

Beijing denies meddling, has condemned the unrest and blamed foreign governments, including the United States and former colonial power Britain, of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Echoes of “five demands, not one less” echoed through the streets, referring to protesters’ calls for universal suffrage in choosing the city’s leader, among other demands.

Police said earlier on Sunday they had arrested 11 people, aged 20 to 63 and seized weapons including army knives, firecrackers, 105 bullets and a semi-automatic pistol, the first seizure of a handgun in six months of protests.

Roads that would normally be jammed with traffic on a Sunday near the heart of the city were empty, as a snaking crowd that included young families, students, professionals and the elderly clogged the streets of the Asian financial hub.

The violence in six months of demonstrations has escalated as protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police, dropped debris from bridges onto traffic below and vandalized shopping malls, while police have responded with tear, gas, water cannon and, at times, live fire.

The large turnout on Sunday signaled still broad support for the anti-government demonstrations despite the escalating unrest in a city where violence is rare.

The protest comes two weeks after democratic candidates secured almost 90 percent of 452 district council seats in local elections that saw a record turnout, posing a fresh conundrum for Beijing and piling pressure on Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam.

The protests intensified in June over a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, but have now evolved into broader calls for democracy, among other demands.

In a statement on Saturday, the government appealed for calm and said it has “learned its lesson and will humbly listen to and accept criticism.”

Hong Kong’s new police commissioner, Chris Tang, said his force would take a flexible approach to demonstrations, using “both the hard and soft approach.”

The former British colony has been rocked by more than 900 demonstrations, processions and public meetings since June, with many ending in violent confrontations between protesters and police, who have responded at times with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Demonstrators are angry at what they perceive are more curbs on freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the then British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The chairman and president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong were separately denied entry to the neighboring Chinese-ruled city of Macau on Saturday after being detained by immigration officials.

Hong Kong has enjoyed relative calm since local elections on Nov. 24 delivered an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates.

Nearly 6,000 people have been arrested in the protests since June, more than 30 percent aged between 21 and 25.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 24 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”