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Hong Kong gears up for lunchtime rallies after weekend unrest

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong protesters geared up for a week of lunchtime rallies on Monday, a day after a mass demonstration showed the anti-government movement can still draw people to the streets even after sweeping recent gains by democrats in district elections.

Riot police officers patrol after the “Lest We Forget” rally in Hong Kong, China December 1, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

After a rare lull in demonstrations following the polls, police on Sunday fired tear gas to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters as residents chanted “revolution of our time” and “liberate Hong Kong”.

Protesters are planning two-hour rallies at lunchtime for the next five days in the Asian financial hub’s central business district, according to online posts.

The protests have drawn in a wide swathe of Hong Kong society – from students to pensioners and office workers. The lunchtime rallies in Central were aimed at drawing in white-collar professionals, who occasionally have blocked roads over the past few weeks, leading to some face-offs with police.

The Sunday protest in the busy shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui followed a “thanksgiving” march by hundreds to the U.S. consulate to show gratitude for U.S. support for the demonstrations that have agitated the Chinese-ruled city for about six months.

Shops and businesses in Tsim Sha Tsui closed early as police sprayed volleys of tear gas at demonstrators, including some elderly residents and others with their pets, as they marched past the city’s Kowloon waterfront, home to luxury hotels and shopping malls.

Police made several arrests as the tear gas sent hundreds fleeing towards the harbor.

While the Nov. 24 district elections delivered an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates, activists have pledged to maintain the momentum of the anti-government movement.

The protesters’ demands include an end to Beijing’s alleged meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, universal suffrage and an inquiry into police use of force.

The unrest since June has at times forced the closure of government offices, businesses, schools and the international airport, helping drive the city into recession for the first time in a decade in the third quarter.

Reporting by Kate Lamb and David Dolan; Editing by Stephen Coates

Source: Reuters: World News
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Three rescue workers killed in helicopter crash in France

PARIS (Reuters) – Three rescue workers died after their helicopter crashed near Marseille, southern France, while en route to help people caught up in heavy flooding, the French interior ministry said on Monday.

The crash occurred on the night of Dec. 1, said the ministry, which added that an inquiry was underway to examine the cause of the accident.

France’s Mediterranean coast has been hit by heavy rain over the last week, leading to flooding and widespread transport disruption.

Reporting by Arthur Connan and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

Source: Reuters: World News
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Samoa in Christmas lockdown as measles deaths top 50

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – The small Pacific island nation of Samoa has closed schools and is restricting travel ahead of the Christmas holiday season as the death toll from a measles outbreak tops 50, in the latest flare-up of a global epidemic of the virus.

The highly infectious disease has been crossing the globe, recently finding a susceptible population in Samoa, where vaccine coverage was only about 31% when measles took hold, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In just over two weeks, the official death toll has jumped more than ten-fold to 53 on Monday, the Samoan government said. There are now more than 3,700 cases of measles recorded in the islands’ deeply religious population of around 200,000.

“All our schools are closed, national exams have been postponed,” Reverend Vavatau Taufao, general secretary of the Congregation Christian Church in Samoa, told Reuters.

“We are still having church services but if it gets worse we will have to stop church altogether – and it’s almost Christmas.”

The vast majority of deaths were of children, with 48 out of the 53 aged four or under dying from the disease, according to a government update.

Measles cases are rising worldwide, even in wealthy nations such as Germany and the United States, as parents shun immunization for philosophical or religious reasons, or fears, debunked by doctors, that such vaccines could cause autism.

Other nations, through either poverty or poor planning, have let immunization levels slip, exposing their youngest members to a disease that aggressively attacks the immune system.

WHO warned in October of a devastating comeback in measles epidemics as the number of reported cases rose by 300 percent in the first three months of this year.

Reported measles cases are the highest they have been in any year since 2006, WHO said.

PACIFIC ROUTE

After causing devastation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine, among others, measles cases started appearing en masse earlier this year in the New Zealand city of Auckland, a hub for travel to and from small Pacific islands.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, said there were pockets of the community where immunization rates had slipped, allowing the disease to take hold.

“It’s about being a good global citizen really, in that we all have to do our bit,” said Petousis-Harris.

“I don’t think that the response here has been a shining example. Because first of all we were aware of the possibility or the potential for this and that’s been the case for a long time.”

Samoan authorities have blamed low coverage rates in Samoa in part on fears caused last year when two babies died after receiving vaccinations shots, according to local media reports.

The country’s immunization program was also temporarily suspended. The deaths were later found to have been caused by medications that were wrongly mixed.

Samoa has been racing to administer vaccines to children since declaring a state of emergency on Nov. 20 and has vaccinated 58,150 people so far, the government said on Monday.

Infection rates and deaths are still, however, climbing quickly with five fatalities in the past 24 hours, according to government data, prompting emergency restrictions on public gatherings and travel leading up to Christmas.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters they were sending additional vaccines and dozens of medical professionals to Samoa to help with the outbreak.

The government in Tonga attributed a recent outbreak of measles in the small Pacific island community to a squad of rugby players returning from New Zealand, although higher vaccination rates in Tonga – and in neighboring Fiji – have helped stem the outbreak.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington and Jonathan Barrett in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast

Source: Reuters: World News
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Malta’s premier says he will step down amid crisis over murdered journalist probe

VALETTA (Reuters) – Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, engulfed in crisis over the probe into a murdered journalist, announced on Sunday he planned to step down, saying he would ask his ruling Labour Party to start choosing a new leader for the country next month.

Calls for Muscat to quit had intensified after the investigation into the 2017 car bomb killing of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia led to charges on Saturday against a prominent businessman with alleged ties to government ministers and senior officials.

In a televised address on Sunday evening, Muscat said he was not leaving immediately, rather announcing a process to replace him that will start on Jan. 12.

This drew immediate criticism from some opponents who said he should go right away.

“I will write to the president of the Labour Party so that the process for a new leader is set for 12th January 2020. On that day I will resign as leader of the Labour Party. In the days after I will resign as prime minister,” Muscat said.

“Our country thus will start a short process of approximately a month for the Labour Party to choose a new leader and a new prime minister,” he added.

Thousands of people took part earlier on Sunday in an anti-government protest in Valetta, the capital of the tiny Mediterranean archipelago, with members of the Caruana Galizia family leading the march.

In his address, the prime minister struck a defiant tone, saying that every day since the murder he had shouldered responsibilities in “the interests of the conclusion of the case”. He added, however, that “some decisions were good while others could have been better made”.

“All the responsibility I had to shoulder surely does not compare to the pain that the victim’s family is enduring,” added Muscat, 45.

There was no immediate reaction from the family, which had called for him to step down.

FILE PHOTO: Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference after an urgent Cabinet meeting at the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

Muscat acted after businessman Yorgen Fenech, 38, was taken to a Valletta court late on Saturday and charged with complicity in the murder. He pleaded not guilty to that and other charges.

Fenech was charged after the government turned down his request for immunity from prosecution in return for revealing information about the murder plot and about alleged corruption involving Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri and former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, among others, court filings showed.

Schembri and Mizzi resigned on Tuesday and Schembri was interrogated for two days by police before being released without charge. Schembri has denied any wrongdoing. Mizzi on Tuesday denied any business links with Fenech and any wrongdoing.

Critics are angry with Muscat for sticking by Schembri, an old friend since school, and including Schembri in security briefings on the investigation even after Fenech was identified both as a suspect in the murder and an associate of Schembri.

NOT SOON ENOUGH

Critics have been pressing hard for further police investigation into allegations against Schembri and other ministers, and some said Muscat should have left immediately.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia said in a tweet, the country could not wait another single day for Muscat to go.

“He should have resigned a long time ago. Every day he stays in office means another day where justice is not done and not seen to be done. The prime minister has lost his legitimacy.”

In power since 2013, Muscat won two general elections in a row, the last in 2017. A European Union member with a population of just 400,000, Malta has been rattled by the murder and its fallout.

Muscat appealed to the country to go beyond partisan politics and recrimination. “This case cannot define everything that our country is and what we have accomplished together,” he said.

Slideshow (14 Images)

President George Vella followed Muscat’s address with an appeal for calm, saying in a statement he hoped “justice is done with all those involved in this atrocious act which has cast a dark shadow on the national conscience get what they deserve”.

Referring to the charging of Fenech, Muscat said he had kept his word that justice would be done in the investigation.

After all the controversy over the investigation, he said, “there is a need for a clear signal of a fresh page, and this signal can be given only by me”, even it involved taking responsibility for actions “where I am not involved”.

Editing by Frances Kerry

Source: Reuters: World News
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Failure to unite blunts anti-Brexit threat in UK election

CANTERBURY, England (Reuters) – Caroline Hegey and Emma Kelland both want to stop Brexit but will back different parties in the medieval city of Canterbury when they vote in Britain’s election next week.

Rosie Duffield, the Labour Party candidate for Canterbury, and Emily Thornberry, Labour candidate for Islington South and Shadow Foreign Secretary, meet activists at a rally in Canterbury, Britain December 1, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Hegey, a 64-year-old health service administrator, will back the left-wing Labour Party, which wants a second referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Kelland, a 42-year-old shop worker, will support the centrist Liberal Democrats who want Brexit cancelled.

The decision by the two big opposition parties to run against each other in Canterbury, rather than field a single candidate, makes it more likely the candidate for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives will be elected on Dec. 12.

It is a scenario that could be repeated in dozens of voting districts, known as constituencies, across the country, increasing Johnson’s chances of gaining a majority in parliament and winning its approval for a deal on leaving the EU.

By contrast, the newly created Brexit Party has agreed not to run against Conservatives in about half the constituencies, including Canterbury, to avoid watering down the pro-Brexit vote.

“This election could be decided by very fine margins and I am worried that we are spending time attacking each other when our positions on Brexit are very similar,” Hegey said in Canterbury, close to Britain’s southeastern tip.

She regards a vote for the Liberal Democrats, a much smaller parliamentary force than Labour, as a wasted vote.

But Kelland says she cannot vote for Labour, Britain’s main opposition party, because it has an ambiguous position on Brexit and is led by a long-time eurosceptic, Jeremy Corbyn.

“The Liberal Democrats are the only ‘remain’ vote here. If you vote Labour you don’t know what you are going to get,” she said.

For a graphic on British election opinion polls, click: here

“GET BREXIT DONE”

Johnson’s main campaign slogan is “Get Brexit Done.” He wanted an election because the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority in the last election in 2017.

Over the past two years, support for remaining in the EU has led in almost every opinion poll. But Labour did not join an initiative intended to unite votes behind a single pro-EU candidate in each constituency.

Only the Liberal Democrats and smaller parties agreed to cooperate, but even their agreement covered around 10% of the 650 constituencies.

The result in close-run constituencies such as Canterbury, home to a gothic cathedral, Norman castle and Roman walls about 90 km (55 miles) southeast of London, could be crucial.

In 2017, Canterbury elected a Labour member of parliament for the first time, with former teaching assistant Rosie Duffield winning 187 more votes than her Conservative rival.

Support for Labour in Canterbury is now 42%, the Conservatives are on 41% and the Liberal Democrats are on 15%, according to a recent opinion poll. Another gave Labour a 4 percentage point lead.

Duffield says a divided vote among remainers “is a risk” but hopes Liberal Democrats will vote for her because of her uncompromising support for remaining in the EU.

“My position is I am the biggest ‘remoaner’ in parliament,” she told Reuters, a phrase used to describe someone outraged and frustrated by the outcome of the 2016 referendum.

Research published by a pro-EU campaign group last week suggested fewer than 120,000 “tactical votes” in 57 constituencies could deny Johnson of a majority nationwide.

Tactical voting is the practice of voting for a party other than your first choice to try to prevent another party winning.

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, says that for tactical voting to work, there have to be enough people who want to stop the incumbent winning, and they have to be indifferent about who they vote for instead.

Slideshow (14 Images)

“Don’t deny the possibility it can happen,” he said. “The problem that faces the remain side is that it needs to happen, because their vote is split.”

But the Liberal Democrats’ candidate in Canterbury, Claire Malcomson, said it would not be on her conscience if votes cast for her instead of Labour help the Conservatives win a majority and pull Britain out of the EU.

“If you are passionate about something you don’t let someone else put you off. You continue to speak out,” she said. “People deserve a choice.”

Editing by Timothy Heritage

Source: Reuters: World News
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Guns, Liberals and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear its first Second Amendment case in nearly a decade, and it’s about time. Eleven years after the Court declared in its landmark Heller ruling that the Second Amendment enshrines an individual right to bear arms, liberals are still in denial and need a judicial reminder.

States and cities have exploited the Court’s reluctance to again enter this political battlefield by pressing restrictive policies that hollow out Heller, while lower courts have defined the right down. A textbook example…

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The Five Traits of True Tech

It seems everyone wants to be a technology company these days. But not every company is worth 40 times earnings and 15 times sales in the stock market. How can you tell which growing companies might sustain that valuation? Put more broadly, in the wake of WeWork’s woes, what qualifies a company as highly valued tech?

Any company can call itself tech. Heck, Long Island Iced Tea Corp. changed its name in 2017 to Long Blockchain Corp. and the stock popped 400% to $13 (it’s now $0.16). But can companies that sell razors, glasses…

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Cuba Imprisons a Humanitarian

When Nelva Ortega Tamayo visited her husband José Daniel Ferrer in a Cuban prison in early November, she found him emaciated, hunched over and covered with bruises. He had a laceration on his face.

The Cuban dissident had been in custody for five weeks; the dictatorship had yet to announce charges against him. But his wife, who is a medical doctor, came away convinced that her husband was in grave danger of losing his life. Her concern is justified.

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Free Speech and Profanity

Hadley Arkes says in a nearby letter that he has caught us in a contradiction on free speech and profanity. Alas, our friend and noted legal scholar is so eager to score debating points that he misses a crucial distinction between government and private action.

We opposed the National Labor Relations Board’s intrusion into General Motors’ speech restrictions on employees because private employers have the right to determine the proper rules of workplace conduct. Workers have a right to free speech but they don’t have the…

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The Seminar Course Can Save Civility

The only college courses I remember taking happened around a seminar table. I became an intellectual at those tables by talking about ideas in an intimate, authentic way. Now, I teach seminar courses, and when I walk into the classroom for the first time in the term, I am always moved by the faces around the table, by their distinctiveness and willingness to open their minds to me—and each other.

The seminar format is sometimes called the “Harkness table,” derived from a gift by Edward Harkness to Phillips Exeter Academy…

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