RIVAL RALLIES AS DIVISIONS DEEPEN IN HK
18th Aug 2019
Thousands of school teachers joined an 11th weekend of anti-government protests in Hong Kong on Saturday, as shops pulled down their shutters and braced for another restive summer night. Weeks of increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the city into turmoil. Water-filled barricades fortify the airport and government offices. Posters showing bloody clashes are stuck on street corners and there is a protest nearly every night. The unrest began in June in opposition to a now-suspended extradition bill, and have since grown to include broader demands. Following an escalation in violence over the past few days, rallies on Saturday and Sundayare a test of whether the movement can retain the broad support it has appeared to enjoy. The new marches came as thousands of pro-government supporters-many waving Chinese flags-gathered in a park to condemn their opponents and support the police, a stark illustration of the polarisation now coursing through the city. Saturday's mostly peaceful protest suggested that it may, though thousands also attended a pro-police counter-rally, and a clearer picture is not likely to emerge until Sunday when a protest is scheduled that could draw tens of thousands. "The government has been ignoring us for months. We have to keep demonstrating," said CS Chan, a maths teacher at a rally of teachers, which police said up to 8,300 people had attended, in heavy rain. Organisers said 22,000 were present. Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the "one country, two systems" arrangement. TRUMP ASKS IMRAN KHAN TO RESOLVE KASHMIR ISSUE BILATERALLY U.S. President Donald Trump asked Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to resolve the Kashmir issue with India bilaterally during a phone call on Friday. The phone call took place before the UN Security Council held closed consultations on the fallout of India's abrogation of Article 370 (special status for Jammu & Kashmir), according to a PTI report. "Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan to discuss regional developments and to follow up on the Prime Minister's successful visit to Washington, D.C., last month. The President conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through bilateral dialogue regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir," read a statement from Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley, released on Friday afternoon. Friday's call also discussed the strained U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which Mr. Khan's July visit to Washington sought to reset. The U.S. sees Pakistan as a crucial player in its attempt to reach a peace deal with the Taliban and pull out from Afghanistan. "The two leaders further discussed how they will continue to build on the growing relationship between the United States and Pakistan and the momentum created during their recent meeting at the White House," Mr. Gidley said. AFGHANISTAN: BOMB RIPS THROUGH WEDDING IN KABUL A suicide-bomb blast ripped through a wedding party on a busy Saturday night in Afghanistan's capital and dozens of people were killed or wounded, a government official said. More than 1,000 people had been invited, one witness said, as fears grew that it could be the deadliest attack in Kabul this year. Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi said the attacker set off explosives among the wedding participants. Both the Taliban and a local affiliate of the Islamic State group carry out bloody attacks in the capital. The blast occurred near the stage where musicians were and "all the youths, children and all the people who were there were killed," witness Gul Mohammad said. One of the wounded, Mohammad Toofan, said that "a lot of guests were martyred." Officials were not expected to release a toll until daytime on Sunday. "There are so many dead and wounded," said Ahmad Omid, a survivor who said about 1,200 guests had been invited to the wedding for his father's cousin. "I was with the groom in the other room when we heard the blast and then I couldn't find anyone. Everyone was lying all around the hall." Outside a local hospital, families wailed. Others were covered in blood. The blast at the Dubai City wedding hall in western Kabul, a part of the city that many in the minority Shiite Hazara community call home, shattered a period of relative calm. PORTLAND BRACED FOR FAR-RIGHT RALLY AND ANTIFA COUNTER-DEMO Far-right groups are rallying in the north-western US city of Portland, Oregon, amid fears of clashes with left-wing counter-protesters. Police have mounted a major operation to keep the two sides apart. At least four people have been arrested after skirmishes between the rival groups broke out. The stated aim of the far-right gathering is to urge that the antifa (anti-fascist) movement be declared a domestic terror organisation. Portland, one of the most liberal cities in the US, is regarded as an antifa stronghold. Proud Boys - which The Southern Poverty Law Center, a major US civil rights organisation, has classified as a hate group - have been involved in previous far-right rallies, and violent street clashes, in Portland. Proud Boys says incidents of violence allegedly involving members of the loosely organised antifa movement, an international coalition of militant activists and protesters opposed to the far right - justifies a ban. Members of the local Rose City Antifa group are mounting a counter-demonstration in the city. A statement on its website accuses far-right groups of planning "to bring their branded political violence to our streets" and encourages people "to defend Portland against far-right attack". As well as Proud Boys, a number of other far-right groups have said they will be there - for example the American Guard, which the Anti-Defamation League has called "hardcore white supremacist", and the militia group Three Percenters. BANGLADESH FIRE: 15,000 HOMES DESTROYED IN DHAKA SLUM A massive fire has swept through a slum in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, leaving 50,000 people homeless. About 15,000 homes were destroyed in the Chalantika slum late on Friday. Many homes had plastic roofs, which helped the flames to spread. No deaths have been reported, although several people were injured. Most residents are low-wage earners and many were away after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. There is no word on the cause of the fire. An investigation is under way. Firefighters took more than six hours to put out the flames. The government says relief will be provided for the many thousands who are now without shelter. SENIOR BALOCH LEADER, THREE OTHERS SHOT DEAD A senior politician was shot dead along with his minor grandson and two security guards on Saturday in Pakistan's Balochistan province. Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) leader Amanullah Zehri was returning to his residence in the wee hours when his convoy was ambushed by unidentified gunmen in Khuzdar district, said Deputy Commissioner Major Muhammad. "Zehri, his 14-year-old grandson Mardan Zehri and his two guards were killed on the spot," Muhammad said. BNP-M chief Nawab Akhtar Mengal mourned the loss of lives. "Another dark day for BNP and the people of Balochistan. This loss has deprived us all. I'm lost of words today (sic)," he said. On Friday, the brother of an Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah was among five killed when a bomb ripped through a mosque inside a seminary during Friday prayers in Balochistan province. SUDANESE ARMY AND CIVILIANS SEAL INTERIM POWER-SHARING DEAL Sudan's main opposition coalition and the ruling military council on Saturday signed a final power-sharing deal that paves the way for a transitional government, and eventually elections, following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir. Stability in Sudan, which has been grappling with an economic crisis, is seen as crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya. One of Sudan's top generals, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is deputy head of the military council, and opposition alliance representative Ahmad al-Rabie had initialed the agreement on Aug. 4 and were the main signatories on Saturday. Those in the room clapped and cheered and an orchestra played a patriotic song. Also present were African Union and Ethiopian mediators, who helped broker the accord, and representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which see themselves as influential in Khartoum. Sudanese troops are operating in Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels. Leaders of Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya were also present. HEAVY DOWNPOURS WREAK HAVOC IN ISTANBUL, FLOODING HISTORIC GRAND BAZAAR Strong rains in Istanbul on Saturday flooded several neighbourhoods, as well as the Grand Bazaar, while officials said one person was found dead in the city. Rain started early in the day in parts of Istanbul and picked up pace around noon. Footage from parts of the Grand Bazaar showed shopkeepers, ankle-deep in water, clearing the water out of their stores and the halls. It also showed water pouring out of a hole on the wall into the bazaar, as well as a manhole left open to drain the flood. A homeless man was found dead in the Unkapani area on the European side of the city due to the flood, the spokesman for the Istanbul municipality said on Twitter. Several roads across Istanbul, including parts of the road on the shores of the Bakirkoy district and a section of one of the city's main highways, had also been submerged, Istanbul municipality's Disaster Coordination Centre (AKOM) said. The rains also flooded an underpass where several shops are located in the Eminonu neighbourhood, it said. Footage on Turkish media showed hundreds of books and goods floating in the water as shopkeepers submerged up to their waists worked to clear the area. AKOM said 114 kilograms of rain per square metre had fallen in the Fatih district, where the Grand Bazaar, as well as the Unkapani and Eminonu areas, are located.