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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Afghanistan

  • U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is visiting Islamabad at the same time as the Taliban delegation, and the two sides may be secretly planning to meet: the Taliban’s spokesman said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
  • The NYT believes the Afghan election wasn’t as peaceful as the government reported: there may have been as many as 200 attacks on polling stations—not just the 60 the Interior Ministry reported—and around 40 people died in them—not just three.
  • The NYT also says that the communication troubles delaying election reporting in Afghanistan were actually abnormal events that the Taliban forced, in order to interfere with the vote: the Taliban apparently mailed letters to telecom companies demanding that they take their towers offline on election day, and threatened to blow up towers that continued to operate (they did blow up several).

Iraq

  • Protests against PM Mahdi’s government got violent again, and seven demonstrators were killed yesterday. Officials sealed off the Green Zone and shut down social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp to contain and minimize the rallies.

Hong Kong

  • Demonstrators held fresh lunchtime protests against police violence yesterday, following the point-blank shooting of a student (who—granted—was swinging a metal bar at the officer who shot him, and had been part of a group that had just tackled another officer). A WSJ article about the new direction the movement is taking is pasted below.

Venezuela

  • Pres. Maduro’s UN Ambassador asked the UNSC to rule that the U.S. and other Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance countries have no authority to use force against it via the treaty. A UNSC decision wouldn’t necessarily have much bearing on what happens.

DRC

  • At least 14 people—all illegal miners, including some pregnant women and children—were killed when an unlicensed gold mine collapsed near Kindu, eastern DRC.

Brexit

  • Ireland rejected PM Johnson’s last-ditch Brexit plan for a “two borders for four years” compromise at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but the European Commission liked other parts of the plan.
  • Johnson announced plans to suspend Parliament again—hopefully with more legitimacy than the last attempt, which got quashed by the UK Supreme Court. As before, this would raise the odds of a no-deal Brexit.

Somalia

  • Two days after Al Shabaab’s separate attacks on a U.S. base and an Italian convoy, AS launched another suicide attack on the Danab Brigade, a U.S.-trained special forces unit of the Somali army. At least six Somali soldiers were killed, including two from the Danab Brigade.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. announced that it officially reopened its Embassy in Mogadishu, which is on the high-security grounds of the International Airport.

Saudi

  • Reuters reports that some members of Saudi’s business elite and royal family have grown frustrated with Crown Prince MBS, whose overly aggressive stance towards Iran they blame for last month’s attack on Saudi oil facilities. Some also criticize him for failing to detect and prevent the attack.

DPRK

  • North Korea said the projectile it tested yesterday was a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. The state news agency was quick to point out that the test “had no adverse impact on the security of neighboring countries”—lest we worry that a missile designed to reach anywhere within South Korea or Japan might actually be used to do so.
  • The submarine launching part is scary, too: North Korea’s Romeo-class subs have an estimated range that could almost reach Hawaii, and those are from the 1990s—it could have even longer-range subs by now.

Amazon Fires

  • After a few weeks of alarming stories about a spike in fires in the Amazon, the number of fires in September fell by 35% vs. August—and by 20% vs. September 2018. There have still been more total fires in 2019 than at this point in 2018, but it’s not as bad as it looked over the summer.

Other News

  • Ukrainians are upset that Pres. Zelensky proposed a plan to give the separatist-held east special status that would allow elections under some conditions; critics accuse him of capitulating to separatists.

More Protests Erupt in Hong Kong Over Student Shot by Police (WSJ)

Residents block roads and throw Molotov cocktails in evening demonstrations after clogging business district in lunchtime march against violence

The shooting of an 18-year-old student set off a wave of recriminations in Hong Kong on Wednesday, as protesters vented fresh outrage against the police while others searched for ways to keep the violence from pushing the city into even more dangerous territory.

The reactions reflected disagreement over who bore greater responsibility for Tuesday’s incident, in which a well-armed officer fired his pistol at point-blank range while the student and others swung at him with metal bars. The group of protesters had tackled another officer seconds before the shooting and hurled a Molotov cocktail at the policemen seconds afterward, videos of the incident showed.

The student, Tsang Chi-kin, made it through surgery and was in stable condition Wednesday. Reports also emerged Wednesday that an Indonesian journalist who was shot in the eye by a policeman with a less-lethal projectile Sunday would be left permanently blinded in the eye.

Protests sprung up late Wednesday across the city, as protesters wearing their trademark black marched and sometimes built barricades with people dressed in ordinary street clothes and surgical masks. Police said the demonstrators blocked roads and threw Molotov cocktails in actions that targeted neighborhoods including Causeway Bay and Tsuen Wan, the outlying suburb where the student was shot.

Much of the opposition camp focused on condemning a police force that is already reviled by many in the city, a development that could make a peaceful solution harder to find. Hundreds of protesters clogged the business district of Central and blocked major streets in a lunchtime flash march against police violence.

Online, dozens of images of guns, bullets and bloodshed—as well as of hearts and lungs—circulated on the encrypted messaging app Telegram beginning shortly after Mr. Tsang was shot in the chest Tuesday.

“China 70th birthday. Deathday in HK,” read one digital poster.

Punctuating those concerns, police said Wednesday that they fired around 1,400 rounds of tear gas, 900 rubber bullets, 190 beanbags, 230 sponge rounds and six live bullets in fighting the day before. More than 120 people were injured and 269 arrested—the highest daily totals so far in nearly four months of conflict. The police said it was a measured response to protester violence that included multiple fires, Molotov cocktails and attacks on police, including the one that led to the shooting.

Bill Wong, an 18-year-old student himself, was one of dozens of protesters who gathered at a metro station after the spontaneous march and chanted against police brutality.

“I feel very sad,” Mr. Wong said. “The police used a bullet against a student and nearly killed him. He’s a student and a protester, not a terrorist. He didn’t have a gun. Why can the police do this?”

A video by a local university publication showing the moment Mr. Tsang was shot was viewed more than 2.2 million times in the first 22 hours after it was posted on Facebook.

The reaction evoked memories of the outcry in August after a woman was struck by a projectile and suffered an eye injury. Then, protesters responded by shutting down the city’s airport for two straight days.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized some of the biggest rallies since early June, announced a plan for another mass rally soon—to protest against what it said was an escalation of police force and in solidarity with the protester—but the group didn’t specify when.

Not everyone sympathized with the 18-year-old. Some internet users, responding to video footage showing Mr. Tsang and other protesters attacking police officers, said the shooting could be seen as self-defense.

“Why would you attack the police,” one posted in a Facebook comment.

Discussion about the appropriate and most effective level of violence has become one of the main topics on protester online forum LIHKG. While posts promoting an escalation of violence still get a sizable following, some posts calling for less confrontational strategies are gaining traction.

The protesters have made the targeted use of violence a key part of their repertoire since the early days, and it remains a key tool.

“I don’t think it’s time yet that we should pause and think whether what we do is just,” said a 19-year-old frontline protester who called himself Justin. “The answer is obvious. The red line for me is humanity. That we won’t harm bystanders, the innocent people. The reason the movement could sustain for over three months is because the demonstrators are disciplined.”

Many ordinary residents as well as protesters are increasingly angry at the use of force by the police.

Alvin, a 25-year-old IT worker, said he took a half-day off to participate in Wednesday’s flash march around lunchtime. Donning a black, long-sleeve hoodie, black pants, sunglasses and a blue mask, he marched from Central to Admiralty, where the government has its headquarters.

“The brutality of the police just keeps getting worse,” he said.

He said it looked like many bankers and lawyers were out marching on Wednesday. “It just shows that these aren’t just students. It’s a lot of professionals coming out at lunchtime.”

Veby Indah, an Indonesian journalist working in Hong Kong, was shot in her right eye Sunday when a policeman turned while descending a staircase and fired toward a group of reporters standing on an elevated walkway. Her lawyer said Wednesday the projectile left her permanently blinded in the eye. The police didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michael, a 20-year-old university student, said he expects violence on both sides to intensify unless Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam can convince people that she will address the protesters’ main demands, which include a judge-led investigation of police violence.

“If not, this is only going to get worse,” he said.