Hong Kong, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — Hong Kong's leader said Saturday the murder suspect whose case inadvertently helped ignite the city's protest movement wants to surrender to authorities in Taiwan.
Carrie Lam told reporters that Hong Kong's government would "actively follow up on" a letter she received from Chan Tong-kai requesting help to give himself up.
Chan is wanted by Taiwan authorities for allegedly killing his girlfriend during a trip to the self-ruled island last year. He was not sent back to face charges because there's no extradition agreement.
He was however jailed in Hong Kong on money laundering charges and is due to be released this week.
Lam has cited Chan's case as one of the main reasons that she wanted to close the loophole with proposed extradition amendments.
But the proposals sparked massive protests over fears they would put residents at risk of being sent into mainland China's Communist Party-controlled judicial system.
The protests mushroomed into the biggest political turmoil to rock the Asian financial center in decades. The demonstrators have been taking to the streets for five months and clashed frequently with police, as their demands have broadened to include full democracy and an independent inquiry into police tactics.
Lam told local broadcaster RTHK that she felt "relief" at Chan's decision to hand himself in to Taiwanese authorities.
Taiwan's Ministry of Justice urged Hong Kong on Thursday to keep Chan in prison and investigate him for the killing, but Lam and other Hong Kong officials have ruled that out.
Seoul, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — South Korean police said Saturday they beefed up security at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Seoul after a group of anti-American students used ladders to break into the compound.
They were protesting demands by the Trump administration that South Korea pay more to help cover the costs of keeping U.S. troops in the country.
Officials from three Seoul police stations didn't immediately say whether they will seek to formally arrest any of the 19 university students who were detained Friday afternoon at the residence of Ambassador Harry Harris.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police agency said Saturday the number of officers guarding the residence was more than tripled to 110.
The demonstrators, who broadcast parts of their protest on Facebook, used two steel ladders to climb over the compound's wall. They shouted anti-U.S. slogans and held up signs that read "The United States has called for a five-fold increase in defense costs!" and "Harris, leave this land!" before police officers dragged them out.
At the time of the protest, Harris was at Seoul's presidential Blue House attending a reception for foreign ambassadors hosted by President Moon Jae-in.
Harris tweeted about the incident on Saturday, saying, "Big shout out to Embassy guards & Seoul Metro Police Agency for responding to protesters who breached perimeter around my residence. 2nd incident in 13 months in Heart of Seoul. This time they tried to forcibly enter my home itself. 19 arrested. Cats are OK. Thanks @polinlove!," referring to the Twitter account of South Korea's National Police Agency.
South Korean police in September last year detained a Chinese woman who had trespassed into the residence, but said she wasn't making a political statement.
About a dozen leftist students rallied in front of Seoul's Namdaemun district police station on Saturday calling for the immediate release of the "righteous" protesters.
"You may have the support of foreign powers, capitalists, police and the military, but we have the united voice of like-minded colleagues bound by loyalty!" shouted one of the students.
Another student said South Koreans would see the United States as "nothing but an invader" if it continues to "disrespect" the country with excessive demands on defense costs.
The U.S. State Department has expressed "strong concern" over the illegal entry and urged South Korea to strengthen its efforts to protect all diplomatic missions.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry criticized the protest, saying in a statement that "any attack or harm inflicted on foreign diplomatic missions cannot be justified under any circumstances." It said the government will take "every appropriate measure" to protect the facilities.
In a country deeply divided along political, ideological and generational lines, the United States is a source of anger for some leftist South Koreans.
Washington backed the South during the 1950-53 Korean War against the North and still stations about 28,500 troops here, but some anti-U.S. activists view the U.S. military presence as a major obstacle to their goal of an eventual reunification of the rival Koreas.
There was a major security scare in 2015, when a leftist activist slashed the face and arm of then-U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on a street in downtown Seoul to protest the annual U.S.-South Korea military drills. Lippert recovered from the injuries.
Friday's protest came as Washington and Seoul prepare to begin negotiations over sharing the costs for the U.S. military presence. The countries struck a one-year deal in February where South Korea agreed to contribute about 1.04 trillion won ($880 million) for 2019, which represented an 8.2% increase from last year.
Seoul's Foreign Ministry said Friday that the countries are scheduled to talk in Hawaii on Oct. 23-24 to negotiate a new deal and that Seoul is seeking a "reasonable and fair share of costs."
Kabul, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — An explosion rocked a mosque in eastern Afghanistan as dozens of people gathered for Friday prayers, causing the roof to collapse and killing 62 worshippers, provincial officials said. The attack underscored the record-high number of civilians dying in the country's 18-year war.
Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar Province, said the militant attack wounded 36 others. He said it was not immediately clear if the mosque was attacked by a suicide bomber or by some other type of bombing.
"Both men and children are among those killed and wounded in the attack," he said.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, strongly condemned the attack on his official Twitter account. "The Afghan government strongly condemns today's suicide attack in a mosque in Nangarhar province," he tweeted.
"The Taliban and their partners heinous crimes continue to target civilians in time of worship," he added.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially Nangarhar province.
However, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's spokesman in a statement condemned the attack in Nangarhar and called it a serious crime.
Zahir Adil, spokesman for the public health department in Nangarhar Province, said 23 of the wounded were transferred to Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and the rest were being treated in the Haskamena district clinic.
The violence comes a day after a United Nations report said that Afghan civilians are dying in record numbers in the country's increasingly brutal war, noting that more civilians died in July than in any previous one-month period since the U.N. began keeping statistics.
"Civilian casualties at record-high levels clearly show the need for all parties concerned to pay much more attention to protecting the civilian population, including through a review of conduct during combat operations," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan.
The report said that pro-government forces caused 2,348 civilian casualties, including 1,149 killed and 1,199 wounded, a 26% increase from the same period in 2018.
The report said 2,563 civilians were killed and 5,676 were wounded in the first nine months of this year. Insurgents were responsible for 62 percent. July to September were the deadliest months so far this year.
Efforts to restart talks to end Afghanistan's 18-year war picked up earlier this month, just weeks after President Donald Trump last month declared the talks "dead," blaming a surge in violence by the Taliban that included the killing of a U.S. soldier.
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan and met with the Taliban's top negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar is a co-founder of the hard-line Islamic movement and was head of a Taliban delegation to the Pakistani capital.
U.S. officials said Khalilzad was only in the Pakistani capital to follow up on talks he held in September in New York with Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan. They insisted he was not in Pakistan to restart U.S.-Taliban peace talks.
In western Herat province, six civilians including four children were killed Thursday when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, said Jelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor. He added that five other civilians were wounded in the attack in the Zawal district.
Hong Kong, Oct 18 (AP/UNB)— Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters are donning cartoon character masks as they form a human chain across the semiautonomous Chinese city, in defiance of a government ban on face coverings.
Gathering along the city's subway lines on Friday night, protest supporters masqueraded as Winnie the Pooh and Guy Fawkes.
The protesters were taking a lighthearted approach to oppose the government's decision to invoke colonial-era emergency regulations banning face masks at rallies as it struggles to contain the chaotic protest movement.
Hong Kong's leader has said the ban on masks, which have become a hallmark of the protests, is aimed at deterring radical behavior.
But the protesters say they wear them out of fear of retribution and concern that their identities will be shared with China's massive state security apparatus.
Hong Kong, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — No tiresome wait for hugs and kisses from Mickey and Minnie Mouse. No queue at all for Hyperspace Mountain, where thrill-seekers are so scarce that Star Wars' Admiral Ackbar speaks to himself in the dark.
Tinker Bell gazes out over rows of empty seats on the train to Hong Kong Disneyland that was far busier before tourists were scared off by anti-government protests shaking this international hub for business and fun.
That's tough for local business but great for Disney fans like Yunice Tsui and her 7 and 4-year-old daughters, adorable in Minnie headbands. With an annual pass to the park she's already toured nine times, Tsui is better placed than most to size up the body-blow to Hong Kong visitor numbers from the often violent demonstrations, now in their fifth month.
"Before June, you'd generally queue for more than 30 minutes for each ride. For the last few times since July, we've been here about two-to-three times, every time it's about a five-to-six minute wait to queue up for a ride. There are certainly less people, I would say 60% less. Kids are very happy because after a ride, they can go queue up for another one and play again."
The impact of the protests on tourism is verging on catastrophic for Hong Kong, one of the world's great destinations and geared up to receive 65 million visitors a year.
On Victoria Peak, restaurants with knock-out nighttime views of the city's neon-lit skyscrapers stand empty. The snaking lines of tourists for the clicketty-clacketty 19th-century tram to the top are now just a memory.
The Dragon Boat Carnival in June, when protests started: canceled. A Wine & Dine Festival scheduled for the end of this month: scrapped, too. Hong Kong received 2.3 million fewer visitors in August compared with a year earlier, largely trips that people from elsewhere in China are no longer making to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. September visitor numbers, due Oct. 31, are unlikely to be any better, given recent protest-related violence and chaos.
"It's deserted," said Dyutimoy Chakraborty, who runs the Gordon Ramsay Bread Street Kitchen & Bar opposite the Peak Tram. The tram now closes at 10 p.m. instead of midnight, because of "potential demonstrations and protests in the nearby area."
"Normally, there would be a huge queue," Chakraborty said on a recent weeknight. "Since the protests started, it has been like this."
The eatery has lost nearly half of its weekday business, he added.
"You think of what you could have made and what you are making at the moment," he said. "That difference, yes, it hurts."
Protester leaflets advise, "You've arrived in a broken, torn-apart city," and the protests have at times caused monumental disruptions of traffic and public transport.
But even when the protests have involved hundreds of thousands of people, they've generally been confined to only a few areas in this semi-tropical former British colony of 7 million.
And the tourists who come anyway are finding bargain-basement hotel rates, two-for-one deals, easy late checkouts and other sweeteners.
Visiting this month from Taiwan, where he works as a teacher, South African traveler Winand Koch paid the equivalent of just US$65 per night for a room in a comfy hotel that was charging nearly quadruple that rate when he first checked a few months back. Of all his trips to Hong Kong, the two-day stay with his sister, Betro, was "one of the best," he said.
"I've never seen Hong Kong this quiet before," he said. "We didn't have to queue anywhere. We could get in everywhere."
Trundling along with suitcases through crowds of demonstrators, hoping to catch a train to the airport a day after protest violence shut down the entire rail network, Koch said he'd enjoyed being "part of history."
"By accident ran into the protest today," he said. "But it was fun, actually, the people were all friendly, helping us through ... they even gave us masks."
Aside from the risk of stumbling unawares into street battles and clouds of police tear gas — as some tourists have to their coughing, spluttering dismay — Hong Kong remains a pleasant city. Visitors of either sex needn't think twice about venturing out late at night or while wearing valuables. For the moment, the U.S. State Department still only recommends that visitors exercise extra caution. A similarly worded travel advisory from the British government says, "most visits are trouble free."
Edgar Ruiz said he flew from Mexico "just to see the protests."
"I wanted to experience it firsthand. This is big!" he said. "I want to be telling people that I was here when this happened, because it is going to be major in history."
Even some Hong Kong residents are enjoying a respite from the usual floods of visitors, mainly from mainland China. The number of total arrivals has almost doubled over the past decade, from 36 million in 2010 to 65 million last year.
Up on the Peak, Hong Kong-born Isaac Mercado, a 26-year-old banking analyst, was luxuriating in the unusual emptiness.
"We used to have a quiet city," he said. Now, with fewer visitors, "I get the chance to explore more a bit on my own, and not be crammed with loads of tourists. So, it's getting more like my home, rather than a tourist city."