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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Hong Kong

  • Protesters in Hong Kong are commemorating the student who died yesterday after falling from a ledge in a parking lot that police were trying to clear, and rallying around his memory.
  • Local media confused the situation—and enraged protesters—by publicizing that he died of cardiac arrest. There’s now a serious effort underway to investigate his fall, though protesters are unlikely to accept any official conclusion. A WSJ article about that is pasted below.
  • In addition, seven pro-democracy lawmakers have either already been arrested, or face arrest under charges of obstructing a local assembly meeting over the cancelled extradition treaty in May. It’s peculiar that the charges are just coming up now, and they’re bound to further inflame tensions, too.

India

  • India’s Supreme Court ruled that a Hindu temple can be built on the site of a 16th-century mosque that stood until 1992 (when it was destroyed by Hindu mobs), closing a highly contentious dispute over the site. Hindus are the majority in the area—north-Indian Ayodhya—but the Muslim residents who lost the case could cause trouble over it.

Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry challenged SIGAR’s claim (from its latest quarterly report) that the U.S. has spent almost $9 billion fighting drugs in Afghanistan since 2002, saying—correctly—that much of the money was wasted, and suggesting the problem wasn’t that serious.

Iraq

  • Several rockets that appeared to originate in Mosul targeted Qarraya base in Iraq, which houses U.S. troops, in addition to Iraqi ones. Nobody was hurt.

Saudi

  • Reuters reports that Saudi Aramco plans to sell only 0.5% of its company in an upcoming IPO. That’s smaller than the 1-2% analysts expected recently, and much smaller than the 5% they targeted last year. It would also make it highly unlikely that it would raise more than Alibaba’s $25 billion IPO. Aramco hasn’t confirmed the report or float yet.

Venezuela

  • The mayor of Urdaneta in oil-rich Zulia, western Venezuela bullied Baker Hughes into closing its office there over “chronic” non-payment of local taxes—but Baker Hughes had regained control of its facility by morning today, and says it’s back to “regular operations” (as regular as they can be in Venezuela).
  • After a political siesta, Spain’s National Court decided that it would, after all, allow Venezuela’s former top spy, Hugo Carvajal, to be extradited to the U.S. on drug trafficking allegations. Carvajal had initially seemed willing to go, and was reportedly promised leniency in exchange for his insight on Pres. Maduro and the inner workings of Maduro’s government—but in his last court appearance, he appeared to have reneged, and told judges he feared what would happen to him in the U.S. It’s not clear what made the court change its mind now.

Europe

  • Germany commemorated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today, with Chancellor Angela Merkel—who was born in East Germany—leading ceremonies. Several articles have highlighted some stark differences that still separate East and West: for example, East Germany’s GDP per capita is still only 75% of West Germany’s…vs. 43% in 1991—so more equal, but still not fully there.

Death of a Student Riles Protesters, Puts Hong Kong on Alert (WSJ)

Circumstances of the death are unclear but people are demanding an investigation of police actions; incident will likely inflame tensions in the city

A university student died after being comatose for days from injuries sustained near the scene of a clash between police and protesters, sparking fresh anger that has fueled antigovernment demonstrations and unrest for five months.

Chow Tsz-lok, a 22-year-old student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, fell down a level in a multistory parking garage early Monday morning, the government said, sustaining brain injuries that left him in a coma. Around the time of his fall, officers were nearby dispersing protesters using tear gas and rubber bullets in a residential area.

The exact circumstances of Mr. Chow’s fall are unclear, but the incident has spurred demands that police actions relating to his death be investigated, including whether officers caused a delay in the ambulance reaching the injured student.

Mr. Chow died Friday, the Hospital Authority said. Local media said the cause was cardiac arrest.

The incident is likely to inflame tensions over the weekend, which had been expected to be relatively quiet after weeks of intense street battles.

After the news of his death, rallies and vigils were organized throughout Friday at various locations in the city. Online and on the streets, people demanded to know what had happened, and expressed sorrow for his death.

At the parking garage where Mr. Chow fell, several thousand people—many dressed in black and wearing masks—gathered in the evening to pay respects to Mr. Chow, leaving white flowers and lighting candles at the scene. Hundreds of black-clad protesters stayed behind to prepare for a fight with police, digging up bricks from sidewalks and building barricades.

Rallies elsewhere also turned into confrontations with police later in the night, as officers in riot gear arrived to disperse protesters who build barricades and set fires to block traffic. In some locations, demonstrators and bystanders shouted anti-police invective and retreated without a fight, while protesters elsewhere hurled bricks and petrol bombs at officers. Police fired tear gas and made a number of arrests.

Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests were sparked by an extradition bill that, if passed, would have allowed criminal suspects in this semiautonomous city to be tried in mainland China, which has a more opaque legal system. The bill has since been withdrawn, but the movement has snowballed into calls for greater democracy and a demand for a judge-led inquiry into how police have handled the protests.

At a graduation ceremony at Mr. Chow’s university, President Wei Shyy wiped away tears as he announced the news of Mr. Chow’s death, asking for a moment of silence. The Hong Kong government released a statement expressing great sorrow and regret about the death, and said the police crime unit was investigating to find out what happened. Police said they attached “a great importance to the incident.”

Earlier in the week, Link REIT, a real-estate management firm that operates the parking lot, released CCTV footage through its Twitter account. None of the clips captured the moment of Mr. Chow’s fall. The police said they were collecting other footage that could help with the investigation.

Mr. Chow, an undergraduate computer science student and a member of the university netball team, had been in the intensive care unit of Queen Elizabeth Hospital through the week. Friends and supporters had been holding vigil outside the ward, some leaving get-well notes.

At the campus courtyard of Mr. Chow’s university, the mood turned to a mix of solemn anger and sorrow. An undergraduate graduation ceremony had been canceled. Instead of graduation robes, the courtyard filled with students dressed in black, nearly all with faces covered by surgical masks and scarfs.

Young protesters and students took the stage and spray painted “never forget never forgive” in large red letters. They posted a picture of Mr. Chow smiling in a river-rafting scene, along with posters memorializing his life.

Throughout the week, police had been accused by students and protesters of using excessive force on the night he fell. In a letter to the university community, Mr. Shyy, the president, demanded a thorough investigation into the death. “We saw footages of ambulance being blocked by police cars and that ambulance officers needed to walk to the scene, causing a delay of 20 minutes in the rescue operation of our student,” his letter said.

On Friday afternoon, a Fire Services Department official said the ambulance had been hindered by traffic.

Police denied allegations they hindered the ambulance’s access. The police said they fired 44 shots of tear gas, 11 rounds of rubber bullets, three beanbag rounds and one sponge bullet on that night.

On Friday, Police Senior Superintendent Foo Yat-ting said sent condolences to the family and said the police pledged to “spend every effort to investigate this incident.” She said the force would recommend an inquest be held with findings to be openly presented.

The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has in recent weeks softened her stance on an independent inquiry into how the police has handled the protests. After the existing watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Council, releases its findings on the events, the government would consider further measures if they are found to be inadequate. Critics don’t trust that watchdog and say it lacks objectivity.

“We still don’t know the truth of what happens to him, but we know it was because of the police and the tear gas and the weapons they use,” said a 22-year-old student wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and a blue-and-gold graduate’s gown. He said he was supposed to take part in the canceled ceremony today.

A 21-year-old student—her identity hidden behind a black scarf, sun glasses and a black windbreaker—began to wail in grief as she spoke about Mr. Chow.

“I just hope someone can find some justice for him,” she said. “I hope Hong Kong can get better.”

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