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Hong Kong students to boycott classes in democracy battle

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Thousands of Hong Kong students will begin a week-long boycott of classes Monday, the start of what democracy activists say will be a wider campaign of civil disobedience against Beijing’s refusal to grant the city full universal suffrage.

China dashed hopes last month for full and unfettered democracy in the former British colony when it announced plans to vet nominees who want to stand as its next leader.

A coalition of pro-democracy groups, led by Occupy Central, have labelled Beijing’s restrictions a “fake democracy” and have vowed a series of actions including a blockade of the city’s financial district.

Laying the groundwork for what activists call “a new era of civil disobedience”, thousands of students from more than 25 universities and colleges will take part in the week-long strike from Monday to voice their anger.

The strike could breathe new life into the democracy campaign, which recently lost some steam after its senior leaders conceded that Beijing was highly unlikely to change its mind whatever they do.

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“This is a turning point,” Alex Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told AFP. “The government has to respond to what so many Hong Kong people are calling an unfair election system.”

The student agitation comes a week after more than 1,500 activists marched through Hong Kong’s streets carrying huge sheets of black cloth and banners demanding genuine universal suffrage.

That marked the first sizeable protest since China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) ruled in late August that candidates for the 2017 polls will be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee — and just two or three approved nominees will be allowed to stand.

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The city’s democracy activists are demanding free and open nominations for the chief executive, the top government post.

The success of the university strike — an echo of the student-led Tiananmen movement in Beijing that was brutally crushed 25 years ago — will be determined by the scale of the turnout, Chow said.

– ‘Battle for public opinion’ –

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The students can point to their success in 2012, when they were at the forefront of protests against plans by the Hong Kong government to institute a “national education” curriculum seen as pro-China. The government eventually backed down.

But in Beijing, the rhetoric in official media has remained unrelenting against any concessions to the Hong Kong democracy movement, which some in the Communist regime see as an insidious threat to their rule of the country as a whole.

More than 3,000 students from Hong Kong’s two main prestigious universities alone are expected to join the strike, organisers predict.

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“The legitimacy of the Hong Kong government is very, very low at this stage, and in this situation we wish to redefine the direction of Hong Kong,” said Yvonne Leung, president of the Hong Kong University student union, urging the NPC to reverse its ruling.

The strike marks the beginning of the “battle for public opinion” in Hong Kong, said Sonny Lo, a professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

“The class boycott is… a testimony to the students’ affinity to the Hong Kong political and legal identity,” Lo added.

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The NPC’s verdict still needs to win two-thirds support in Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature, where pro-democracy lawmakers control slightly over a third of seats. All 27 pan-democrats have pledged to reject the vetting plan.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement which allows civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.

Public discontent has been growing over rising inequality, increased political interference and the perceived cosy relationship between the city’s powerful business elite and Beijing.

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However, opinion polls suggest only lukewarm support for direct action such as the mass sit-in of the Central district promised by the Occupy movement, which will be watching the student strike closely as it plots its next move.


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Judge blocks effort to conceal details in Trump campaign crimes case as Bill Barr’s DOJ mysteriously closes the probe

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A federal judge confirmed on Wednesday that the Justice Department has ended its investigation into campaign finance crimes committed by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, indicating that no one else will face charges in the case. But Judge William Pauley also announced that, over the government’s objections, he will be making many of the underlying documents in the case public without requested redactions.

The case stemmed from Cohen’s efforts during the 2016 campaign to secure hush money payments for two women who said they had affairs with Donald Trump. Since investigators determined these payments were done in order to help secure Trump’s victory, the spending counted as campaign contributions that were never recorded and were, in fact, illegally concealed. The Trump Organization, Cohen has said, helped repay him for the costs of the hush money while disguising the payment falsely as a legal retainer.

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Rand Paul just blocked the 9/11 victim fund because it isn’t paid for — but didn’t care when it was a $1.5 trillion tax cut

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked a call for unanimous consent on Wednesday to push forward with a funding extension for the victims of 9/11, claiming that the new spending should be paid for.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for the bill to be passed in the Senate by unanimous consent, but even a single lawmaker’s objection can block the move and slow down the process. The measure is still widely expected to pass, but Paul wants to use the opportunity to complain about the national debt.

“We need to address our massive debt in this country,” he said “We have a $22 trillion debt. We’re adding debt at about a trillion dollars a year. And therefore any new spending that we are approaching, any new program that’s going to have the longevity of 70-80 years, should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable. We need to at least have this debate.”

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Breakthrough technique eradicates mosquitoes

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A breakthrough technique harnessing two methods to target disease-carrying mosquitoes was able to effectively eradicate buzzing biters in two test sites in China, according to research published on Thursday.

The mosquitoes targeted are a type that is particularly difficult to control called Aedes albopictus -- more popularly known as the Asian tiger mosquito -- which are a major vector for diseases including Zika and dengue.

The study "demonstrates the potential of a potent new tool", wrote Peter Armbruster, a professor at Georgetown University's department of biology, in a review of the work.

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