Thursday, 02 October 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines
HONG KONG — One of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy leaders yesterday warned protests would spread like “blossoming flowers” and pleaded with residents to understand why the city has been brought to a standstill.
Occupy Central co-founder Chan Kin-man told reporters it was inevitable the protests, which have already taken over several main roads and intersections, would grow if the government maintained its hardline stance.
“We understand why citizens are continuing to expand the occupation, it is because the government is so cold,” Chan said, regularly having to stop speaking to compose himself.
“Despite such a large occupation, the government is still using such an attitude, so a lot of people think that the action now is not enough and that flowers must continue to blossom everywhere.”
Occupy Central is one of the main organizers of the protest which spread to different parts of the semi-autonomous city after riot police tear-gassed demonstrators last Sunday, prompting more supporters to join them on the streets.
Tens of thousands of protesters have assembled in three major commercial and retail areas of Hong Kong for the past three days.
Demonstrators packed a 500-meter stretch of road between downtown neighborhoods Wanchai and Admiralty Wednesday afternoon after Hong Kong and Beijing politicians gathered to mark Communist China’s 65th anniversary.
With offices closed throughout the semi-autonomous Chinese city for a two-day public holiday, there were much larger daytime crowds than on the previous three days of protest, when numbers increased after dark.
International support has also been growing — a Facebook group calling itself “United for Democracy: Global Solidarity with Hong Kong” said it was planning events from Australia to the United States.
Around 300 persons gathered in New Zealand’s capital Auckland, one of the first protests, while organizers in Taiwan said they were expecting thousands to attend a rally on Wednesday evening.
After an early-morning flag-raising ceremony to mark National Day, Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying chinked glasses of champagne with Chinese officials including Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top man in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong and the mainland are closely linked in their development. We must work hand in hand to make the Chinese dream come true,” he told dignitaries at the city’s convention center, urging the community to work together.
Earlier Wednesday Leung said the community should work together in a “peaceful, lawful, rational and pragmatic manner” while reiterating his commitment to the “Chinese dream.”
The city’s chief executive has asked protesters to end the sit-in, but his request has had no impact on demonstrators.
Thursday, 02 October 2014 00:00 Published in Commentary
HONG KONG — Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters chanted and booed outside a ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of Communist China Wednesday, with crowds expected to reach their biggest yet as the city starts a two-day public holiday.
Politicians from Hong Kong and the mainland clinked champagne glasses to mark China’s National Day while protesters campaigning for free elections gathered in the surrounding streets, after a third night of demonstrations.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying has faced mounting calls to resign and accusations of failing to engage with protesters after their “Umbrella Revolution” campaign for unfettered universal suffrage sparked the biggest civil unrest in decades.
As the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were raised at 8 a.m. in Golden Bauhinia Square, in the downtown district of Wanchai, singing protesters were clearly audible.
The crowds booed as two helicopters flew overhead, one bearing a large Chinese flag and the other a smaller Hong Kong banner.
In a speech following the flag ceremony, Chief Executive Leung did not explicitly reference the protests that have brought swathes of the city to a standstill for days, instead calling for cooperation with China.
“Hong Kong and the mainland are closely linked in their development. We must work hand in hand to make the Chinese dream come true,” he told dignitaries gathered at the city’s convention center.
“It is understandable that different people may have different ideas about a desirable reform package, but it is definitely better to have universal suffrage than not,” he added.
“We hope that all sectors of the community will work with the government in a peaceful, lawful, rationally and pragmatic manner to... make a big step forward in our constitutional development.”
Leung then raised a toast, clinking glasses with Zhang Xiaoming, China’s top official in Hong Kong, as well as with two men dressed in Chinese military uniforms.
Campaigning pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, known as “Long Hair,” was escorted out of the gathering by security for shouting “Hong Kong wants real elections, Leung Chun-ying step down!” just before the Chinese national anthem was played.
District councilor Paul Zimmerman who was inside the ceremony raised a yellow umbrella in support of the protests.
Protests outside the venue remained peaceful with lines of young demonstrators forming a buffer between the crowds and the police lines, though others voiced frustration at being held back.
One mainland demonstrator told AFP he had traveled by train to support Hong Kongers.
“It is a strong message that democracy is not brought by the Western world, but by the students, the locals,” said David Zhang, a 24-year-old software consultant from the Chinese city of Dongguan.
“The Beijing government is afraid of change and uncertainty. If it happens that the Hong Kong people can elect their government, then they have control.”
Many outside the ceremony had stayed through the night, braving thunderstorms and torrential rain.
Crowds are expected to swell as offices are closed for National Day Wednesday and the city sees another public holiday Thursday.
Beijing has been left grappling with one of the biggest challenges to its rule over the semi-autonomous city at a time when the Communist Party is cracking down hard on dissent on the mainland.
In his first public comments since demonstrators were tear-gassed by riot police on Sunday evening, chief executive Leung on Tuesday said the sit-in — organized partly by the Occupy Central group — was now “out of control” and asked them to “stop this campaign immediately.”
But protest leaders rejected Leung’s demands and renewed calls for the Beijing-backed leader to step down.
“We have destroyed the values of Hong Kong earlier this weekend by shooting tear-gas,” district councilor Zimmerman said Wednesday.
The most intense civil unrest Hong Kong has experienced since its 1997 handover from British rule was sparked by Beijing’s decision in August to restrict who can stand for the city’s top post.
Hong Kongers will be able to vote for their next chief executive in 2017 but only two or three candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing committee will be allowed to stand.
Protesters have two demands — that Leung step down and Beijing rescind its insistence that his successor be vetted.
But Beijing has stayed defiant, saying it supports Hong Kong’s handling of the protests, while analysts say the chance of the Chinese government backing down is virtually non-existent.
Thursday, 02 October 2014 00:00 Published in Commentary
TAKHANOV — “Colonel” Pavel Dremov salutes the flag of the Great Army of the Don Cossacks. And he answers to no one.
Cutting a striking figure in his astrakan cap, the stocky 38-year-old shows AFP into his office, a police station commandeered by his men, a stone’s throw from a bronze statue of Alexei Stakhanov — a socialist hero of Ukraine’s eastern rustbelt.
Sandbags protect the windows and slabs of reinforced concrete shore up the main wall, while inside women in camouflage trousers stir pots of borscht.
The town of Stakhanov is on Dremov’s section of the frontline between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian soldiers — his private fiefdom that amounts to a rebellion within a rebellion.
“If I had to obey someone it would be my ataman (chief), Nikolai Ivanovich Kozitsyn,” Dremov said, referring to the head of the Cossacks of the Don River, an eclectic mainly eastern Slavic group with military and cultural traditions dating back to the 16th-century Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible.
“He is my direct superior. We Cossacks are fighting for a cause, a faith, an ideal: the New Russia.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin set off alarm bells when he used the phrase “New Russia” when referring to eastern Ukraine. In Russian, “Novorossiya” is an archaic term for an area that was controlled by Russia under the tsars.
Though Dremov is adamantly his own boss, it is clear where his sympathies lie.
“Of course I am collaborating with the forces of the Donetsk and Lugansk ‘people’s republics’” proclaimed in April by the pro-Russian separatists.
“I am waiting for the Lugansk defence minister. He’s a close friend,” adds Dremov, whose green uniform without insignia is similar to that worn by Russian soldiers who entered Crimea in March before Moscow annexed the peninsula.
He even says he organized and took part in an assault on the Ukrainian secret service building in Lugansk, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Stakhanov.
Then, lowering his voice, Dremov says: “I’m going to tell you a secret. I have 1,200 fighters under my command, but only one broken-down tank and a troop transport. That’s all.”
AFP has no way of verifying the claims of the “colonel,” who gets around in a Japanese SUV painted in camouflage colors, shuttling between Stakhanov and the nearby town of Pervomaisk.
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