By Babak Dehghanpisheh
DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians called on social media on Wednesday for fresh demonstrations a week after the shooting down of a passenger plane, seeking to turn the aftermath of the crash into a sustained campaign against Iran’s leadership.
Protesters, with students at the forefront, have staged daily rallies in Tehran and other cities since Saturday, when after days of denials the authorities admitted bringing down a Ukrainian plane last week, killing all 176 aboard.
“We’re coming to the streets,” one posting circulating on social media said on Wednesday, urging people to join nationwide demonstrations against a “thieving and corrupt government”.
Most of those killed on the plane were Iranians or dual citizens, many of them students returning to studies abroad from holiday visits with their families.
It remains to be seen whether the protests will lead to sustained violence. After several days of unrest, when images posted to the internet showed demonstrators being beaten by the police and shocked with electric batons, protests on Tuesday appear to have been quieter. Two months ago, authorities killed hundreds of demonstrators to put down protests sparked by fuel price hikes.
The plane was downed by air defenses on Jan. 8 when the armed forces were on high alert for U.S. reprisals following tit-for-tat military strikes, the latest escalation in a crisis that has rumbled on for years over Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran has dismissed the idea of a new deal to resolve the nuclear row, as proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump and described by Britain’s prime minister as a “Trump deal.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Trump, who quit an existing nuclear pact in 2018, broke his promises.
The military and top officials apologized profusely for the “unforgivable error” that brought the plane down and said it would prosecute those to blame, in a bid to quell the outrage.
Thousands of protesters have been shown in videos gathering in the past four days in cities across Iran. Many have been outside universities. Tehran’s central Azadi Square has also been a focus. But the scale of protests and unrest is difficult to determine due to restrictions on independent reporting.
State-affiliated media has offered few details on rallies.
Police have denied shooting at protesters and say officers were told to show restraint. The judiciary said it had arrested 30 people but would show tolerance to “legal protests”.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said a person who had posted a video online last week of a missile striking the plane has been taken into custody by the Revolutionary Guards, the elite force that said one of its operators shot down the plane.
Iranians were outraged the military took days to admit it had shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight 752. They asked why the plane had been allowed to take off at a time of high tension.
Iran had launched missile strikes against U.S. targets in Iraq hours earlier in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander in Iraq on Jan. 3.
Security camera footage showed two missiles, fired 30 seconds apart, hitting the plane after takeoff, the New York Times reported. U.S. intelligence officials said on Jan. 9 heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.
The disaster and unrest have piled pressure on the Iran’s rulers, who are already struggling to keep the economy running under stringent U.S. sanctions imposed after Washington withdrew from the nuclear pact Tehran had with world powers.
Britain’s ambassador to Tehran was detained, accused of attending a protest. He said he was paying respects at a vigil for victims.
Judicial officials urged the authorities to expel the envoy and social media posts said he had left. The foreign ministry in Britain, which has long had strained ties with Iran, said he was on a previously planned trip and was not leaving permanently.
On Thursday, London hosts a meeting of Canada, Ukraine, Britain and other nations who had citizens on the downed plane to discuss legal action against Iran, Ukraine said.
Canada, which had 57 citizens on the flight, has sent investigators to Iran, where they toured the crash site on Tuesday, Iranian media reported.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi and the London bureau; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff)
Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong Media Baron, Is Arrested Over Role in Protests – The New York Times
HONG KONG — A Hong Kong media tycoon known for his ardent opposition to China was arrested on Friday over his role in a pro-democracy protest last year, the police said, dealing another blow to the city’s independent media.
The tycoon, Jimmy Lai, a rare figure among Hong Kong’s elite for his willingness to take on Beijing, owns Next Media Group, which publishes a popular pro-democracy newspaper and website called Apple Daily. His arrest comes as the city has been dealing with the twin shocks of the protest movement and now the coronavirus outbreak.
His singular status as a prominent businessman in Hong Kong who openly supports the democracy movement and antigovernment protests has made him a frequent target of Beijing-backed elements.
Mr. Lai was arrested on allegations of taking part in an unauthorized assembly on Aug. 31, a police spokesman said Friday, without specifically naming him. That day, crowds of protesters defied a police ban on their march and clashed with riot officers. Two other veteran pro-democracy activists were also arrested on Friday over their roles in the protest.
The unexpected, high-profile arrests, which took place at the activists’ homes, were made as Hong Kong, already rocked by months of protests last year, battled to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which has fueled panic and further distrust of the authorities.
Mr. Lai was also arrested on allegations of “criminal intimidation” over an incident three years ago, the police spokesman said. Oriental Daily, a pro-Beijing publication, published a clip from an exchange that day, on June 4, 2017, which showed Mr. Lai using foul language and uttering threats at one of its reporters at a vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
“Finally arrested after more than two and a half years,” the site’s headline read. It was unclear what had preceded the exchange.
Mark Simon, Mr. Lai’s top aide, confirmed the arrest.
The arrests were made the same week as a court in China sentenced a Hong Kong bookseller, Gui Minhai, to 10 years in prison. Mr. Gui sold gossipy books about China’s leaders and disappeared mysteriously in Thailand in 2015 and later emerged as a target of China’s effort to quell dissent.
The arrests on Friday morning came after the arrests of more than 7,000 demonstrators since June as part of the Hong Kong government’s campaign to clamp down on the protest movement.
China has worked relentlessly to vilify Mr. Lai, who has provided a powerful, wide-reaching platform to the mostly young and leaderless protesters in Hong Kong.
In a Facebook post on Friday, the Labour Party in Hong Kong confirmed that the police had arrested its vice-chairman, Lee Cheuk-yan, a longtime democracy advocate, over his role in the Aug. 31 march. It condemned the police for “indiscriminate arrests” and “suppressing Hong Kong people’s right to protest.”
Yeung Sum, another activist and former chairman of the Democratic Party, was also arrested on Friday, the party said.
Alexandra Stevenson contributed reporting.
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 2 others arrested on illegal assembly charges-media – National Post
HONG KONG — Hong Kong publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of Beijing, and two other pro-democracy activists were arrested by police on Friday on charges of illegal assembly, local media reported.
Lai, a self made millionaire who has been a major financial patron of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, was picked up by police at his house, Cable TV and TVB News reported.
Apple Daily, one of the publications under media company Next Digital in which Lai is non-executive chairman, said he was accused of participating in an illegal march on Aug. 31.
Veteran democracy activists Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum were also arrested on Friday on the same charges, Cable TV reported.
Lai, Lee and Yeung could not be reached immediately for comment.
Hong Kong police would not confirm the arrests to Reuters and said they would not comment further.
The arrests come after a period of relative calm in the Asian financial hub following months of intense anti-government protests.
Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,000 people for their involvement in the protests, many on charges of rioting that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years. It is unclear how many are still in custody.
Public anger has grown over the months due to perceptions of China tightening its grip over the city. Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for fomenting unrest.
Lai was previously arrested in 2014 for refusing to leave a key pro-democracy protest site in the center of the city. Following his arrest he resigned as editor in chief of Apple Daily. He has also come under scrutiny from Hong Kong’s anti-graft agency when they raided his home in 2014. (Reporting by Donny Kwok; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)
Chinese-Canadian community using social media to co-ordinate self-quarantines to prevent spread of COVID-19 – National Post
While a group of 23 Chinese-Canadian doctors are calling on the federal government to require everyone flying in from China to enter a 14-day quarantine to avoid the spread of COVID-19, many in the community are already doing just that.
There’s a network of dozens of WeChat groups run by volunteers across the country that are facilitating self-quarantines, said Nelly Gong, a Mississauga, Ont., insurance agent who came to Canada more than two decades ago.
Volunteers on the Chinese social media app drop off groceries for people under self-quarantine and facilitate “no-touch” pick-ups from the airport, meaning they arrange for a running car to be waiting in the pick-up zone. Sometimes a volunteer will offer up their home for the returning person to stay in, or their family.
I don’t think we prepared enough
Gong said for those who have seen how serious the situation is in China, 14 days in quarantine is a small sacrifice to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their friends, family members and neighbours.
“I don’t know how this virus will spread — how serious it will be in Canada,” Gong said. “I don’t think we prepared enough at this point.”
Dr. Stanley Zheng, one of the group of doctors calling for the quarantines, shares Gong’s concern. The Toronto family physician told the National Post’s Tom Blackwell on Wednesday that the federal government should make 14-day quarantines mandatory for all people arriving from China and the world’s other COVID-19 “hot spots.” The Public Health Agency of Canada currently only advises people travelling from Wuhan to isolate themselves.
Gong said the WeChat groups could be a model for how to manage more self-quarantines across Canada.
According to the World Health Organization’s daily report, as of Feb. 27 there were 82,294 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, 78,630 of them in China. The coronavirus has killed 2,747 people in China and 57 elsewhere. Canada has identified 13 cases — six in Ontario and seven in British Columbia.
“How are we going to manage if it bursts out?” Gong said.
As a community leader — Gong is a volunteer with United Way and co-chair of Peel Regional Police’s Chinese Advisory Committee — Gong often gets contacted directly by people returning from China who want to know what they should do. She connects them with the appropriate WeChat group and supports the process behind the scenes.
Each group has one or more leaders and a national one comprised of group leaders has 53 members, Gong said. The Montreal group has almost 300 members, Toronto has two groups with more than 200 members combined, and numerous other groups have more than 100 members. People use the app to keep track of how many people are in isolation, and for how long. Once someone exits quarantine, they often stay on as a volunteer, Gong said.
Some workplaces have been supportive, giving people time off, or shipping a laptop to their employees home. Others have been forced to take unpaid leave, Gong said.
Han Dong, the Liberal MP for Don Valley North, said he’s heard of the Chinese-Canadian community’s efforts. People are “very concerned” and have experienced racist incidents in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Dong said. The community’s response has been to do everything they can to ensure the virus doesn’t spread.
“They don’t want to give it to their neighbours,” Dong said. “We see that a lot in Canadian society. People look after each other.”
Dong said that none of the people who have self-quarantined themselves have developed COVID-19 symptoms. But with reported cases of people who have transmitted the virus without showing any signs of being sick themselves, the quarantines may still have prevented additional cases.
“We have done quite well so far, considering the traffic from the U.S. and the world,” Dong said. “In the next couple of weeks we may have a tougher situation.”
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