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Hong Kong leader offers mea culpa, but no concessions

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Hong Kong’s unpopular leader Carrie Lam acknowledged Tuesday that public dissatisfaction with her government fuelled a landslide win by pro-democracy candidates in local elections, but she drew fresh criticism by offering no new concessions to resolve months of violent protests.

In China, state media sought to downplay and discredit the weekend ballot that delivered a stinging rebuke to the financial hub’s pro-Beijing establishment.

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Lam admitted that the district council election result revealed public concern over “deficiencies in the government, including unhappiness with the time taken to deal with” the unrest.

In a rout that stunned the semi-autonomous territory, candidates opposing control by China seized an overwhelming majority of 452 elected seats in the city’s 18 district councils, bodies historically dominated by a Beijing-aligned establishment.

It was a humiliating rebuke to Beijing and Lam, who has dismissed calls for political reform and repeatedly suggested that a silent majority supported her administration.

AFP / Philip FONG In a rout that stunned the semi-autonomous territory, candidates campaigning against greater control by China seized an overwhelming majority

Since the polls, pro-democracy politicians have stepped up calls for Lam to meet key demands such as direct popular elections for the city’s leadership and legislature, and a probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.

But in her weekly press briefing, Lam sidestepped those calls, instead denouncing street violence and repeating earlier pledges to step up a cross-party dialogue on the root causes of the turmoil, proposals previously dismissed by her opponents as inadequate.

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– ‘In a coma’ –

Millions of Hong Kongers marched in protest rallies earlier this year after Lam’s government introduced a bill allowing extraditions to China.

It was eventually withdrawn under public pressure, but fuelled growing fears that Beijing was tightening its grip, leading to broader reform demands and violent clashes between police and protesters.

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Lam’s latest comments indicated “no reflection, no response and no resolution” for Hong Kong’s ongoing crisis, said Lam Cheuk-ting, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party, the city’s largest anti-establishment party.

“While the pro-establishment camp was finally awakened by votes, Lam still chooses to remain asleep, as deeply as in a coma,” he said.

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AFP / Philip FONG Millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets earlier this year to protest a bill allowing extraditions to China

China’s state media, however, cast doubt on the vote’s legitimacy, focusing on violence that marred campaigning.

The People’s Daily said “social unrest… has seriously disrupted the electoral process,” while an editorial in the English-language China Daily said the vote was “skewed by intimidation” and “dirty tricks” that hurt pro-establishment candidates.

The electoral drubbing has revived speculation that Lam might be dumped by Beijing, but a Chinese government spokesman on Monday reiterated support for her.

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Asked whether China wanted her to take responsibility for the rout, Lam said she had received no such communications from Beijing.

Officials at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where police and protesters clashed violently more than a week ago, said they searched the entire campus Tuesday to find just one remaining holdout, raising hopes that a police siege of the campus could be nearing an end.

However, campus officials added that they could not rule out the possibility that some protesters remained hidden.

The government announced separately that the busiest road tunnel linking Hong Kong island and the city’s mainland would reopen on Wednesday for the first time since November 13, when it was closed for safety reasons as unrest at the university began to escalate.

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The closure added to the strain on transport in the territory, where subway lines also have repeatedly been shut down due to violent protests.


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Millions expected to join global Women’s March on Jan. 18 to ‘act as a catalyst for political and social change’

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"Together, we will inspire change and launch women and their allies into a new decade of activism."

Millions of advocates for women's human rights are expected to take to the streets in dozens of cities worldwide on Saturday, Jan. 18 for the fourth annual Global Women's March.

"The subversion of women's human rights is extremely detrimental to the significant progress women have made over hundreds of years in their quest for social justice and equality."—Uma Mishra-Newbery, Women's March Global

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Kansas City radio station agrees to broadcast Russian-funded propaganda six hours a day

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Thanks to a lease agreement struck by a local radio operator, a Kansas City area radio station can now broadcast Kremlin-funded propaganda six hours a day, The Kansas City Star reports.

RM Broadcasting LLC has agreed to broadcast programming from the Russian state media program Radio Sputnik.

The Star reports that the lease agreement lets RM Broadcasting air Sputnik's programming "from 6 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. seven days a week. KCXL’s website, which says that it’s the radio station that will 'tell you the things that the liberal media wont (sic) tell you,' lists Radio Sputnik in its morning programming."

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US dumps huge amounts of sand on Miami Beach to tackle climate change erosion

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Dozens of trucks have started dumping hundreds of thousands of tons of sand on Miami Beach as part of US government measures to protect Florida's tourist destinations against the effects of climate change.

"We have erosion hotspots," said Stephen Leatherman, an expert on beaches and the environment at Florida International University.

"When the beach is critically narrow, there's not enough room for recreation for all the people that come here, and more important, perhaps, all these buildings need to be protected," he said Friday.

Leatherman -- known locally as "Dr Beach" -- said that rising sea levels, triggered by climate change, are causing the accelerated erosion of the famous beach, as well as coastal storms and in particular hurricanes.

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