Hong Kong protests delay extradition bill

Hong Kong delays extradition bill debate as thousands take to the streets in protest.

The massive protests through several days, the biggest on Thursday 12, in Hong Kong have led to the closure of some government offices in the financial district and a delay in the second reading of the controversial extradition bill, with no certainty on its next reading.

The bill seeks to make provisions to allow extradition of persons, with alleged criminal activity, to mainland China. In an attempt to prevent lawmakers from participating in the debate on the bill, activists in tens of thousands blockaded key streets around the government headquarters in central Hong Kong. Tensions boiled over as protesters tried to storm key government buildings demanding the bill be scrapped.

Police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets to block protesters and get them to disperse.

Despite the widespread opposition, the Hong Kong authorities have not backed down. The widespread protests compelled Hong Kong's Legislative Council to delay its second reading, with no certainty of when it will take place.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, has proposed amendments to the extradition laws that would allow extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoing such as murder and rape, with requests would be decided on a case-by-case basis. She has so far not agreed to the widespread demands to do away with the bill. The extradition move came after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while they were holidaying together in Taiwan, in February last year. The man, who fled to Hong Kong, could not be extradited to Taiwan because the two do not have an extradition treaty, although Hong Kong has entered into extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the UK and the US. No extradition agreement with China has been reached.

The protesters in Hong Kong, reportedly over a million, are worried bill is passed would bring Hong Kong more decisively under China's control, and lead to its use for the extradition of political critics and opponents.

Hong Kong - Background

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years - part of it, Hong Kong Island, was ceded to the UK after a war in 1842. Later, China also leased the rest of Hong Kong - the New Territories - to the British for 99 years. It became a busy trading port, and in the 1950s it became a manufacturing hub, and a place popular with dissidents and migrants fleeing instability, poverty and oppression in mainland China.

In the early 1980s, as the deadline for the 99-year-lease approached, Britain and China began talks on the future of Hong Kong - with the communist government in China arguing that all of Hong Kong should be returned to Chinese rule.

The two sides reached a deal in 1984 that would see Hong Kong return to China in 1997, under the principle of “one country, two systems”.

This meant that while becoming part of one country with China, Hong Kong would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs” for 50 years, enabling Hong Kong to have it own legal system, borders and rights including freedom of assembly and speech. While Hong Kong still enjoys freedoms not seen on mainland China, critics see them on decline. Rights groups accused China of meddling in Hong Kong, such as legal rulings that have disqualified pro-democracy legislators, and the recent disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers, and a tycoon who later turned up in custody in China. Writers and media personnel also see increased pressure leading to self-censorship.

Another sticking point has been democratic reform, which is being increasingly criticized with rising control from Beijing, and moving away from the democratic process. The protestors show the worry that should the extradition bill pass; it would bring Hong Kong more decisively under China's control.

Most people in Hong Kong are ethnic Chinese but the majority of them don't identify as Chinese - with some young activists even calling for Hong Kong's independence from China.

Critics of the bill, including lawyers and rights groups, say China's justice system is marred by allegations of torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions. But Ms Lam's government says the amendments are required to plug loopholes in laws that effectively make Hong Kong a haven for those wanted on the mainland. She has also said there will be legally binding human rights safeguards.

While the protests have quietened down, the protesters are expected to return when the second reading of the bill eventually takes place. Analysts of Hong Kong politics and governance see the bill not likely to be scrapped, especially due to the makeup of the Hong Kong legislature, where pro-Beijing lawmakers support the bill. The passage of the bill will add to increasing political disagreements between Mainland China and the former British colony.

UK – Leadership contest

Former Foreign Secretary and Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson secured the highest number of votes in the first ballot to select the Conservative party leader and next prime minister, to succeed Theresa May. Mr. Johnson received 114 votes, Jeremy Hunt was second with 43, and Michael Gove third with 37 votes, in a ten MP contest, which saw three contenders Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey been knocked out, in first round of secret ballot voting held in the House of Commons.

Seven candidates progress to the next round of voting next week, with ballots scheduled to take place on June 18, 19 and 20 to bring down the contenders until only two are left.

The final pair, the two most popular in the Commons voting, will then be put to a vote of members of the wider Conservative Party in a postal ballot from June 22, with the winner expected to be announced about four weeks later. Boris Johnson is regarded as the frontrunner in the contest, with more public endorsements from MPs than any of his rivals. In his pitch to MPs, he has pledged to take Britain out of the EU by the end of October, gave little detail of his plan for Brexit, but stressed it was not his aim to leave without a deal, amidst much controversy over suggestions of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and dodged questions on whether he had ever taken cocaine, which matter arose after a rival Michael Gove admitted earlier he had taken cocaine many years ago, as a journalist, and knowing it was illegal. The contest for the party leadership and office of Prime Minister is very keen and cutting. Another runner, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, described Boris Johnson as “yesterday's news”. Johnson did seek leadership of the party in 2016, as a leader of the Brexit campaign, but was defeated, where the final choice was Theresa May.

“We need tomorrow's leader, today,” Sajid David said. “Not the same old insiders with the same old school ties - but a new generation, with a new agenda.” Mr. Javid’s candidacy for the party leadership and Prime Minister is interesting as he hails from Pakistani origins, and has become a prominent business figure in the UK.

More than a quarter of the 313 Conservative MPs eligible to vote have yet to state openly whom they are supporting - and, with it being a secret ballot, MPs could in theory vote differently to their declared intention.

The leadership race has so far been dominated by Brexit and arguments over whether a deal can be renegotiated with the EU by October 31, and whether talking up a no-deal Brexit is a plausible promise.

The current ballots to choose Theresa May’s successor take place under new rules agreed by the Conservative Party earlier this month designed to speed up the contest. Any candidate who fails to gain 5% of the vote in the first round will be out.

The search for a new UK leader comes following the overall failure of Theresa May to negotiate an exit from the European Union, as decided in a national referendum in 2016, and it remains the key issue in this contest, with major questions of the leadership capabilities of the contestants.

Oil Tankers hit in Gulf

Dozens of crew members have been rescued after abandoning two oil tankers hit by explosions in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran said it had rescued the 21 crew members on board the Kokuka Courageous and the 23 on the Front Altair, though the US said its Navy had rescued some. The cause of the blasts in one of the world's busiest oil routes is unclear and both vessels are still afloat.

An Iranian official told the BBC: “Iran has no connection with the incident, and somebody is trying to destabilize relations between Iran and the international community.”

This strike comes a month after four oil tankers were attacked off the UAE, and after President Donald Trump tightened America's sanctions on Iran in May, and the US recently strengthened its forces in the area - saying there was a danger of Iranian attacks.

The two vessels attacked are the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, of BSM Ship Management.

Regarding the four tankers were hit by explosive devices close to a UAE port, a report presented jointly by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway last week to the UN Security Council concluded they had been placed there by frogmen, but did not assign blame to any country. On Thursday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ruled out any negotiations with the US aimed at easing the tensions in the region, He was quoted as saying during talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he did not see President Trump as being worthy of any exchange of messages.

The Gulf of Oman lies at one end of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and this incident will further increase tension in a vital shipping lane through which hundreds of millions of dollars of oil pass.


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