Weekend News Items
10 August 2019. By John Ellis.
1. Hong Kong police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters on Saturday, and demonstrators swiftly gathered elsewhere during another tense and restive weekend. Weeks of increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious political crisis for decades, posing a serious challenge to the central government in Beijing. On Saturday activists rallied across the city - with thousands thronging the airport arrivals hall for a second day - while elsewhere police displayed a new willingness to quickly and forcibly clear them from the streets.
2. Thousands of people are fleeing Kashmir as panic swells and shortages bite amid India’s crackdown on the disputed Himalayan territory. On the eve of the busiest weekend of the year, before the Eid festival on Monday, Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar, remained on lockdown. Indian troops behind barricades and coils of razor wire guarded near-deserted streets. More than 500 people have reportedly been arrested, among them local leaders including two former chief ministers. The phone and internet blackout imposed by the government since it abolished the region’s autonomy this week is unprecedented, spreading fear and anger throughout the Kashmir valley. With mobile and internet networks down, some 12 million people have been silenced and cut off for five days, watching on television as their identity was stripped away.
3. The dispute over Kashmir has long been a flash point between India and Pakistan, with each nuclear-armed country holding the threat of retaliation over the other. But when India stripped the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir of its autonomy this week, Pakistan’s reaction appeared to be limited to high-level hand-wringing. As Pakistan marks its independence day next week, it increasingly feels like a nation with its back against the wall, with few options to protect its existential interests. Its economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, and its international allies have either stayed silent over Kashmir or defected in support of India.
4. China has said it would support Pakistan defending its “legitimate rights and interests” in the Kashmir crisis during an emergency visit by the country’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday night. The meeting in Beijing between Qureshi and his counterpart Wang Yi came ahead of a visit by the Indian foreign minister on Monday and was the latest in a series of high-level diplomatic meetings between China and Pakistan since India moved to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
5. For Indian Prime Minister Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party, the need to end the region’s special status — and legally integrate it into India — was always an article of faith. It gives New Delhi absolute control of the territory’s security. But it was also precipitated by fears that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to renewed violence in Kashmir, as Pakistan turns its attention back to what it considers unfinished business in the region. Analysts warn that with the US effectively vanquished, Pakistan, which claims Kashmir as its own, could redeploy battled hardened militants from Afghanistan back to Kashmir, leading to an upsurge of terror attacks.
6. India’s controversial move to pull the autonomy of the disputed region of Kashmir marks a major moment in the regional politics of South Asia. The decision was motivated by Indian domestic politics — but its implications will reach beyond India. It will force a number of countries, including Pakistan, China, and the United States, to recalibrate their foreign policies — and other key players, such as al-Qaeda, will watch developments closely. Asfandyar Mir says there are four key things to watch: (1) The India-Pakistan rivalry will get worse, (2) It will affect regional politics, including Afghanistan, (3) Terrorist groups will see it as an opportunity, and (4) The US and China will inevitably be involved.
7. President Trump yesterday raised the possibility that trade talks with China could break off, causing stocks to fall. In comments to reporters on Friday, Mr. Trump indicated the U.S. was prepared for the talks to be canceled. They were tentatively set to take place in Washington next month. “We’ll see whether or not we keep our meeting in September. If we do, that’s fine. If we don’t, that’s fine. But it’s time that somebody does what we’re doing,” he said, referring to tariffs and other measures the U.S. has taken against China over trade.
8. Mr. Trump said he won’t devalue the dollar amid an escalating trade war with China that has unleashed tit-for-tat actions on trade and currency policy. “No, we don’t have to,” Trump said Friday when asked whether he plans to devalue the greenback, though he added that if the Federal Reserve were to cut interest rates it “would automatically bring down the dollar a little bit,” relieving pressure on exporters.
9. Former China central bankers warned Saturday of currency-war risks with the U.S. after an abrupt escalation of trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies this week. The U.S.’s labeling of China as a currency manipulator “signifies the trade war is evolving into a financial war and a currency war,” and policy makers must prepare for long-term conflicts, Chen Yuan, former deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, said at a China Finance 40 meeting in Yichun, Heilongjiang.
10. Residents of Russia’s far north have been panic-buying iodine to protect themselves from radiation after a blast at a secretive nuclear missile test site. Russia’s defense ministry said that two military specialists were killed and six people injured when a liquid-fuel rocket engine exploded. The state nuclear company Rosatom said that five of its staff were killed. Media reports said Thursday’s accident occurred at a military facility used for testing ballistic and cruise missiles carried by nuclear-powered submarines. Unconfirmed reports said the blast may have occurred during the testing of a Zircon hypersonic missile. Officials in Severodvinsk, with a population of 185,000, said that radiation levels briefly surged after the blast.
11. Pope Francis, spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, called for a united Europe in an interview published by Italian daily La Stampa on Friday, saying recent political rhetoric has echoed that of Nazi Germany. “I am concerned because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934,” he said. “These are frightening thoughts." It is not the first time the pontiff has made such remarks, but his comments published Friday came as Italy’s populist government appeared to be on the verge of collapse.
12. The US has threatened to withdraw thousands of troops stationed in Germany amid a dispute with Angela Merkel’s government over defence spending. Richard Grenell, the US ambassador in Berlin, warned that his country could pull out some of its forces if Germany continues to fall short of the alliance’s spending target of 2 per cent of GDP.
13. Britain faces an army recruitment crisis, with frontline combat units operating as much as 40% below strength, figures obtained by the Guardian reveal. Data released by the Ministry of Defence under freedom of information laws shows the number of soldiers in the British army’s infantry regiments has declined steadily over the past five years. There are more than 2,500 fewer personnel in frontline units than 2015, and all 16 regular regiments have shortfalls.
14. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is drawing up plans for a bailout fund to prop up businesses in the event of a no-deal Brexit amid fears that the economy is on the cusp of a recession. Michael Gove, who is leading the no-deal preparations, confirmed for the first time that ministers were working on a package to help companies at risk of collapse. The Times understands that the government has drawn up a secret list of big British employers that are considered most at risk, with the worst affected expected to be in the construction and manufacturing sectors.
15. The insatiable demands of the global building boom and the fracking industry have unleashed an illegal market in sand. Gangs are now stealing pristine beaches to order and paradise islands are being dredged and sold to the construction industry. The Guardian has a lengthy and alarming report on the global sand shortage.
16. As temperatures rise across the Arctic nearly faster than any place on the planet, all of Iceland is grappling with the prospect of a future with no ice. Glaciers occupy over a tenth of this famously frigid island near the Arctic Circle. Every single one is melting. So are the massive, centuries-old ice sheets of Greenland and the polar regions. Where other countries face rising seas, Iceland is confronting a rise in land in its southernmost regions, and considers the changing landscape and climate a matter of national urgency. (We use Google Translate for the Icelandic publication links).
17. A bumpier ride ahead? Climate change is having a greater impact on the jet stream than previously thought, according to a new study published in Nature. Scientists at the University of Reading have discovered that the jet stream has become 15 percent more sheared in the upper atmosphere over the North Atlantic since satellites began observing it in 1979. Because wind shear generates turbulence, the new study provides the first observation-based evidence to support previous Reading research that human-induced climate change will make severe turbulence up to three times more common by 2050-80.
18. Facial recognition is a rare case where regulators are working together — on a bipartisan level, no less — to try to get ahead of technology instead of catching up to it. That’s because this powerful new technology has the potential to infringe on Americans’ civil liberties — no matter their political persuasion — and to have a chilling effect on free speech.
19. After the mass shootings that killed 31 people in a single day, sales of two items soared in the US: bulletproof children’s backpacks, and guns.
20. The SPY kids are all right. Be sure to read the whole thing.
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