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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Hong Kong

  • The situation in Hong Kong continued to escalate. A 70-year-old man died yesterday, after being hit in the head with a brick during clashes between protesters and police the day before, and Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping advocated for an even tougher police response to the protests.
  • The protesters who had occupied the Chinese University of Hong Kong started leaving, but it’s not clear why, or where they’ll go. The university’s president urged everyone to leave, saying the situation was out of control—but the protesters responsible for that chaos probably didn’t leave because of his warning.
  • A good WSJ article about this week’s wild confrontations is pasted below.
  • Far away in London, Hong Kong’s Justice Secretary—who’s a legal advisor to Chief Executive Carrie Lam—was confronted by protesters and fell (or was pushed?) to the ground, in what Hong Kong officials called a “barbaric” attack. She injured her arm, but seems to be fine: she was released from a medical treatment shortly after the incident.

Afghanistan

  • The prisoner swap that traded three high-level Taliban and Haqqani leaders for two Western hostages “did not work,” according to Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani: “probably some party did not do what they promised they are going to do, so, unfortunately, the two professors may not be released.”
  • Neither side has confirmed whether the Taliban / Haqqani prisoners were already released.
  • Sepately, the police chief of Takhar’s Warsaj district was assassinated—along with three bodyguards—on the Takhar-Baghlan highway. The Taliban claimed the attack.

Venezuela

  • Opposition Pres. Guaido is calling for a new round of protests starting this Saturday, after several weeks of not staging demonstrations.
  • Guaido’s envoy to Brazil told reporters that Guaido was holding “exploratory” talks with China—one of the last holdouts supporting other-Pres. Maduro over Guaido. China hasn’t confirmed…and probably never would confirm something like this.
  • Meanwhile, Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Anez—who herself isn’t fully recognized in her own country yet—recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president.

Egypt

  • The WSJ reported that the U.S. is threatening to sanction Egypt, over Egypt’s decision to buy Russian warplanes.
  • Egypt was historically a top recipient of U.S. foreign aid, but the transfers declined significantly after Pres. Sisi’s electoral coup in 2014.

IS

  • A federal judge in the D.C. District Court ruled that IS bride Hoda Muthani is not a U.S. citizen, given that her father was a Yemeni diplomat when she was born in the U.S. (diplomats’ children are among the few exceptions to the rule that everyone born in the U.S. is a citizen).
  • However, this ruling was limited to Muthani’s specific case, and shouldn’t be seen as a broader indication of where the U.S. judiciary will land in decisions about IS members’ / brides’ rights to return.

U.S.

  • The White House released a rough transcript of Pres. Trump’s first phone call to Ukrainian Pres. Zalensky, in which he congratulated Zalensky on his election win. It seems far less contentious than the July call that started this impeachment inquiry.

Other News

  • Pres. Trump is reportedly demanding that South Korea pay around 400% more than it does now ($4.7 billion, vs. approx. $1 billion now) for the U.S. troops stationed there by 2020. Unfortunate SecDef Esper landed in Seoul yesterday to deliver / rationalize the news to South Korea.

Hong Kong’s Week of Rage Boils Over: ‘All Day All Night We Are Gonna Fight’ (WSJ)

Clashes between protesters and police since Monday have turned universities into battlefields and gridlocked the city

Antigovernment protesters and police shocked Hong Kong with some of the ugliest incidents in nearly six months of unrest this week, leaving the city’s leaders scrambling for a way to restore order under increasing pressure from Beijing.

A 70-year-old man died Thursday night after being hit in the head with a brick during a clash a day earlier. A 15-year-old boy was in critical condition on Wednesday, according to the Hospital Authority, which declined to comment on his current status. Local media said he sustained injuries after appearing to be hit in the head by a tear-gas canister. And police shot a 21-year-old protester on Monday; later, pro-democracy demonstrators set a man who argued with them on fire.

On Thursday in Brazil, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged a tough police response to the protests.

The Chinese government will “firmly support the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing the law and firmly support the Hong Kong judicial bodies in severely punishing the violent criminals in accordance with the law,” Mr. Xi said. He made his comments on an international stage at a summit of leaders from emerging markets.

Clashes between protesters and police this week turned universities into battlefields, rendered highways and tunnels unusable, disrupted public transit and frequently left the city’s bustling financial district under a fog of tear gas. Shops across the city closed, further crippling an economy that has already tumbled into a recession. The Hang Seng Index, the city’s stock market, dropped 4.8%, its worst week since early August.

Schools shut down because of the violence and it isn’t certain if district council elections, scheduled for Nov. 24, can go forward.

Both sides have taken more aggressive stances in recent days, with black-clad youths throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks while police have made heavy use of tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and water cannons to try to disperse crowds. Police have arrested 653 people this week, ranging in age from 12 to 82.

In addition, a member of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s cabinet was injured during a trip to London on Thursday after falling as protesters gathered around her.

The escalation in violence has hurt the already low public perception of police and risks additional erosion of support for the protesters. On Wednesday evening, demonstrators set a courthouse in the northern part of the city on fire, an attack that was condemned by the Hong Kong Bar Association.

“It is difficult to think of anything that is more corrosive to the rule of law,” the bar association said. “Attacks on private property are bad enough but if attacks on court buildings continue, the constitutional fabric of [Hong Kong] will be torn asunder with disastrous consequences for every Hong Kong resident.”

Government officials, including Ms. Lam, gathered Wednesday for a late-night meeting, although Matthew Cheung, the city’s chief secretary, described it the next day as an ordinary assembly. Mr. Cheung said it wasn’t the first time government officials met at night because of their busy schedules. He said Wednesday’s meeting was intended “to find ways to ease the current situation.”

Antony Dapiran, a lawyer and the author of a forthcoming book on the protests, said he has seen an increase in disruption this week to the everyday lives of people who aren’t involved in the protest movement.

“This anger is not subsiding. It seems to be getting worse,” he said, adding that the behavior of the police, the inaction of the government and comments from pro-Beijing politicians have inflamed the situation.

The protests, sparked earlier this year by a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to China for trial, have morphed into a broader antigovernment movement. Many demonstrators are focusing their anger on alleged police brutality. Paralyzing the city for an entire week marked an escalation in the protesters’ strategy, as they previously demonstrated mainly on weekends.

This week’s outpouring of anger was ignited by the death of a student from injuries caused by a fall from a parking garage close to where police had been using tear gas to disperse protesters.

Streets across the city were still filled with bricks Friday. Protesters had cemented some of them into place, building walls and other obstacles to block roads and slow police. Thousands of protesters spilled out into the financial district around lunchtime each day, using trash cans, bricks and traffic cones to build roadblocks.

Many companies told employees they could work from home. Goldman Sachs advised workers on Thursday to “exercise a high level of vigilance in the vicinity of any protests.”

In a video that circulated on social media, police appeared to arrest a man who said, “I work at Citibank, OK? My office is like 500 meters away from here.” A Citibank spokesman said: “We are aware of this incident and are investigating further. We expect all our employees to adhere to the law.”

Students turned several university campuses into battlezones. During Thursday’s morning commute, protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University shot arrows at police officers, who responded with volleys of tear gas. Elsewhere, protesters stockpiled Molotov cocktails. At the Chinese University of Hong Kong—the fiercest front line of citywide clashes this week—protesters built a wall of bricks and spray painted the phrase, “All day all night we are gonna fight.”

Both universities had largely emptied out by Friday after they and others suspended classes for the rest of the semester, which ends in early December. Hundreds of mainland Chinese students fled across Hong Kong’s border into Shenzhen, seeking temporary shelter. Some said they were worried about their safety.

As for the hard-core protesters, the ones who left said they were resting for later demonstrations. At CUHK, the few hundred student protesters who remained were filling up commandeered trucks with donated supplies that they planned to store for later use.

“We have more than enough. It would be a waste to just leave all the supplies here when we can use it later,” said a skinny protester who gave his name as Martin, a 17-year-old high-school student whose brother attends CUHK.

At PolyU, dozens of students walked around the enclosed central promenade. Some operated a school snack bar, giving out free soup and iced cappuccinos.

Fortifications remained at the entrances to both universities. At PolyU, the protesters informed visitors they were at a “border crossing” and checked identification and bags.

After a week of violence, it was unclear how long the more tranquil scenes on Friday would hold.

“We don’t know what will happen next,” said a 20-year-old junior at CUHK who was wearing black sweatpants and a black scarf over her face.

Winnie Poon, a finance professor at Lingnan University, said university officials have suggested teachers shift their lessons online after suspending classes for the rest of the term. She said she prepared PowerPoint presentations and accompanying audio lectures on this week’s topics that included mergers and acquisitions and capital structure.

“We live in extraordinary times,” she said, adding that this was the first time she had ever recorded her lectures and distributed them online for students.

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