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One year on, Hong Kong politics yet to settle down – Anadolu Agency

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ANKARA 

A pro-Beijing lawmaker was elected to lead a key committee in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on Monday, raising concerns that the legislature will clear the path for bills that aim to control basic human rights.   

Starry Lee of the DAB party, dubbed a “Beijing favorite,” was elected House Committee chairperson with an absolute majority of the vote amid protests from opposition democrat lawmakers, the Hong Kong Free Press website reported.   

The committee decides about business of the legislature.   

“There is concern right now among people that the new committee will prioritize the National Flag and National Emblem Bill,” said Chien-Yu Shih, who teaches politics and international relations in Hong Kong.  

He said the controversial bill, if passed, would make deliberate alterations to the anthem and derogatory performances punishable. Violators will be fined and jailed.  

Hong Kong, an autonomous region under China since 1998, has been witnessing protests since early June against the Carrie Lam administration’s move to legalize extradition to mainland China.   

The fresh resentment among people comes amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and follows months of protests in 2019 over the now dumped extradition bill brought by the Lam administration that left the city reeling, with international financial observers expressing concern over the economic prospects of the business hub.  

“Besides, there is a law which draws its inspiration from Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law that calls on Hong Kong’s LegCo to pass its own National Security Law,” said Shih, who is also executive secretary of the Taiwan-based Association of Central Asian Studies.   

The article stipulates that Hong Kong “shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Central People’s Government (CPG) or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies in the region from establishing ties with foreign organizations or bodies.”

“What we are witnessing over some time now is that the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government [China] in Hong Kong is increasingly interfering in the affairs of Hong Kong,” said the academic, “something that was not seen in past…Hong Kong authorities once attempted to justify the power of ‘supervision’ of the liaison office supervising Hong Kong affairs.”  

“Beijing is thinking to strike hard and with a heavy hand, and the time is near,” he said.   

He argued that the law regarding national security was delayed for years. 

“Why is there urgency now? That is why we have seen that lawmakers representing democrats, supporting the democracy movement have been arrested and are being sued…That is the first step towards mowing down dissent.”   

“If such a law is passed, there is fear among people, even those who work in government, that basic human rights will possibly be stripped away,” he said.   

He claimed the Chinese authorities were “working to purify, cleanse Hong Kong from those who express dissent…or at least scare others as not to speak in the future.”

China has held sovereignty rights over Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy ever since the UK handed over the city to Beijing in 1997.

“This policy is a Chinese strategy for integration. But from the Hong Kong side, it is an instrument to protect their own way of living. Hong Kong society in general and even government officials share a certain attitude as such. However, they pretend to be submissive to Beijing because they are part of their system,” he maintained. 

“There is a perception gap between Beijing and Hong Kong, and it is more visible than ever.”



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Politics

EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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Belarusian President signs decree to amend emergency transfer of power

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has signed a decree allowing the transfer of presidential power to the security council if he is murdered or otherwise unable to perform his duties, state Belta news agency reported on Saturday.

Lukashenko said in April he was planning to change the way power in Belarus is set up.

Previously, if the president’s position became vacant, or he was unable to fulfil his duties, power would be transferred to the prime minister until a new president took oath.

 

(Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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Scottish nationalists vow independence vote after election win

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By Russell Cheyne

GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) -Pro-independence parties won a majority in Scotland’s parliament on Saturday, paving the way to a high-stakes political, legal and constitutional battle with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the future of the United Kingdom.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the result meant she would push ahead with plans for a second independence referendum once the COVID-19 pandemic was over, adding that it would be absurd and outrageous if Johnson were to try to ignore the democratic will of the people.

“There is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson, or indeed for anyone else, seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our own future,” Sturgeon said.

“It is the will of the country,” she added after her Scottish National Party (SNP) was returned for a fourth consecutive term in office.

The British government argues Johnson must give approval for any referendum and he has repeatedly made clear he would refuse. He has said it would be irresponsible to hold one now, pointing out that Scots had backed staying in the United Kingdom in a “once in a generation” poll in 2014.

The election outcome is likely to be a bitter clash between the Scottish government in Edinburgh and Johnson’s United Kingdom-wide administration in London, with Scotland’s 314-year union with England and Wales at stake.

The nationalists argue that they have democratic authority on their side; the British government say the law is with them. It is likely the final decision on a referendum will be settled in the courts.

‘IRRESPONSIBLE AND RECKLESS’

“I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless,” Johnson told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Alister Jack, the UK government’s Scotland minister, said dealing with the coronavirus crisis and the vaccine rollout should be the priority.

“We must not allow ourselves to be distracted – COVID recovery must be the sole priority of Scotland’s two governments,” he said.

The SNP had been hopeful of winning an outright majority which would have strengthened their call for a secession vote but they looked set to fall one seat short of the 65 required in the 129-seat Scottish parliament, partly because of an electoral system that helps smaller parties.

Pro-union supporters argue that the SNP’s failure to get a majority has made it easier for Johnson to rebut their argument that they have a mandate for a referendum.

However, the Scottish Greens, who have promised to support a referendum, picked up eight seats, meaning overall there will be a comfortable pro-independence majority in the Scottish assembly.

Scottish politics has been diverging from other parts of the United Kingdom for some time, but Scots remain divided over holding another independence plebiscite.

However, Britain’s exit from the European Union – opposed by a majority of Scots – as well as a perception that Sturgeon’s government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well, along with antipathy to Johnson’s Conservative government in London, have all bolstered support for the independence movement.

Scots voted by 55%-45% in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom, and polls suggest a second referendum would be too close to call.

Sturgeon said her first task was dealing with the pandemic and the SNP has indicated that a referendum is unlikely until 2023. But she said any legal challenge by Johnson’s government to a vote would show a total disregard for Scottish democracy.

“The absurdity and outrageous nature of a Westminster government potentially going to court to overturn Scottish democracy, I can’t think of a more colourful argument for Scottish independence than that myself,” she said.

(Writing by Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill;Editing by Gareth Jones, Helen Popper, Christina Fincher and Giles Elgood)

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