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Flights restart at Hong Kong airport as protesters apologize

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Hong Kong airport

HONG KONG — Flights resumed at Hong Kong’s airport Wednesday after two days of disruptions marked by outbursts of violence that highlight the hardening positions of pro-democracy protesters and the authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

About three dozen protesters remained camped in the airport’s arrivals area a day after a mass demonstration and frenzied mob violence forced more than 100 flight cancellations. Additional identification checks were in place, but check-in counters were open and flights appeared to be operating normally.

Protesters spread pamphlets and posters across the floor in a section of the terminal but were not impeding travellers. Online, they also circulated letters and promotional materials apologizing to travellers and the general public for inconveniences during the past five days of airport occupations.

“It is not our intention to cause delays to your travels and we do not want to cause inconvenience to you,” said an emailed statement from a group of protesters. “We ask for your understanding and forgiveness as young people in Hong Kong continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”

The airport’s management said it had obtained “an interim injunction to restrain persons from unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering” with airport operations. It said an area of the airport had been set aside for demonstrations, but no protests would be allowed outside the designated area.

The airport had closed check-in for remaining flights late Tuesday afternoon as protesters swarmed the terminal and blocked access to immigration for departing passengers. Those cancellations were in addition to 200 flights cancelled on Monday.

Hong Kong police said they arrested five people during clashes with pro-democracy protesters at the airport Tuesday night.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin-ho said the men, aged between 17 and 28, were arrested for illegal assembly. Two were also charged with assaulting a police officer and possessing offensive weapons as riot police sought to clear the terminal.

More than 700 protesters have been arrested in total since early June, mostly men in their 20s and 30s, but also including women, teenagers and septuagenarians.

Mak gave no further details, but said additional suspects were expected to be arrested, including those who assaulted an officer after stripping him of his baton and pepper spray, prompting him to draw his gun to fend them off.

Hong Kong law permits life imprisonment for those who commit violent acts or acts that might interfere with flight safety at an airport.

More than 74 million travellers pass through Hong Kong’s airport each year, making it “not an appropriate place of protest,” Mak said.

“Hong Kong police have always facilitated peaceful and orderly protests over the years, but the extremely radical and violent acts have certainly crossed the line and are to be most severely condemned,” he said. “The police pledge to all citizens of Hong Kong that we will take steps to bring all culprits to justice.”

That was backed up by a statement on a newly launched government website set up to provide the latest information on the crisis, which said, “The police will take relentless enforcement action to bring the persons involved to justice.”

Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific said in a statement it had cancelled 272 flights over the past two days, affecting more than 55,000 passengers, while 622 departures and arrivals went ahead.

Cathay also said it has fired two pilots, in an apparent response to their involvement in activity related to pro-democracy protests.

They included one pilot who is “currently involved in legal proceedings.” The airline said earlier this week one of its pilots has been charged with rioting after being arrested during a protest.

It said the second fired pilot “misused company information,” but gave no further details. The Hong Kong Free Press reported that the pilot posted a photo of a cockpit screen on an online forum used by protesters.

The airport disruptions have escalated a summer of demonstrations aimed at what many Hong Kong residents see as an increasing erosion of the freedoms they were promised in 1997 when Communist Party-ruled mainland China took over what had been a British colony.

While Hong Kong’s crucial travel industry suffers major losses, the city’s reputation as a well-regulated centre for finance is also taking a hit. Some 21 countries and regions have issued travel safety alerts for their citizens travelling to Hong Kong, saying protests have become more violent and unpredictable.

The demonstrators are demanding Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam step down and scrap proposed legislation under which some suspects could be sent to mainland China, where critics say they could face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.

Lam has rejected calls for dialogue, saying Tuesday the protesters were threatening to push their home into an “abyss.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Chinese Cabinet’s liaison office in Hong Kong said the protesters had “entirely ruptured legal and moral bottom lines” and would face swift and severe repercussions under Hong Kong’s legal system.

“Their behaviour shows extreme contempt for the law, seriously damages Hong Kong’s international image and deeply hurts the feelings of the broad masses of their mainland compatriots,” the statement said.

Most of the protesters left the airport Tuesday after officers armed with pepper spray and swinging batons tried to enter the terminal, fighting with demonstrators who barricaded entrances with luggage carts. Riot police clashed briefly with the demonstrators, leading to several injuries and prompting at least one officer to draw a handgun on his assailants.

The burst of violence included protesters beating up at least two men they suspected of being undercover Chinese agents. Airport security appeared unable to control the crowd, and paramedics later took both men away. Police have acknowledged using “decoy” officers, and some protesters over the weekend were seen being arrested by men dressed like demonstrators — in black and wearing face masks.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, identified one of the men as a journalist at the nationalistic Chinese tabloid.

“Fu Guohao, reporter of GT website is being seized by demonstrators at HK airport,” Hu wrote on his Twitter account. “I affirm this man being tied in this video is the reporter himself. He has no other task except for reporting.”

Protesters on Wednesday apologized that some of them had become “easily agitated and over-reacted.” On posters, the demonstrators said they have been “riddled with paranoia and rage” after discovering undercover police officers in their ranks.

Earlier this week, the central government in Beijing issued an ominous characterization of the protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” — a label it routinely applies to nonviolent protests of government policies on the environment or in minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet.

President Donald Trump tweeted that U.S. intelligence believes that the Chinese government is moving troops to its border with Hong Kong and that, “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

While China has yet to threaten using the army — as it did against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989 — recent police exercises across Hong Kong’s border with mainland China were a sign of its ability to crush the demonstrations, even at a cost to Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe haven for business and international exchange.

Images on the internet showed armoured personnel carriers belonging to the People’s Armed Police driving in a convoy Monday toward the site of the exercises.

___

Associated Press video journalist Katie Tam in Hong Kong and writer Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.

Vincent Thian And Yanan Wang, The Associated Press
































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Appeal denied: Man who killed couple, their grandson wanted conviction quashed

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CALGARY — Alberta’s top court has upheld the conviction of a man who killed a couple and their grandson, dismissing objections to the warrantless search of his farm, disturbing photographs shown at trial and comments the judge made to jurors.

Douglas Garland was convicted in 2017 of first-degree murder in the deaths of Alvin and Kathy Liknes and Nathan O’Brien more than five years ago.

He is also appealing his life sentence with no chance of parole for 75 years.

The couple and the boy vanished after an estate sale at the Liknes home in Calgary. Five-year-old Nathan was there for a sleepover.

The victims’ bodies were never recovered, but bone fragments, burned flesh and teeth were found in ash from a burning barrel on Garland’s property.

“On arriving at the farm on July 4, 2014, the police had a decision to make: to enter without a search warrant with the hope that the victims may still be alive but in need of medical assistance, or wait to enter until a search warrant authorizing a search of the property could be obtained,” the panel of three Appeal Court judges wrote in its decision released Friday.  

“They chose the former.”

The officer in charge told his colleagues to only search buildings and receptacles that were large enough to hide a body.

“Significantly, it was not alleged the police had an ulterior motive for entering into the appellant’s property and searching it, other than to find the victims, hopefully still alive,” the judges wrote.

“We see no basis to interfere.”

The judges also took no issue with the information provided for the search warrant that was later issued.

“All told, (it) was a thorough document that went into great detail in summarizing the evidence known to the (Calgary Police Service) at the time,” they wrote.

“It provided a detailed account of witness interviews, crime scene photographs and analysis, expert opinions, CCTV video analysis and an extensive summary of the findings at the Garland farm during the warrantless search.

“We can see no error or reason to interfere with these conclusions.”

The Appeal Court also dismissed an argument that the trial judge erred when he allowed jurors to see gruesome photographs found on a hard drive in Garland’s basement, including ones depicting dismembered, diapered and restrained women.

The judges wrote that decisions on evidence that is clearly prejudicial but also affords proof of something are difficult.

“They are best left to the trial judge, who has a full appreciation of the nuances of the case, to decide. Absent a palpable or overriding error, such decisions are entitled to deference.”

Comments the trial judge made to jurors acknowledging the disturbing nature of the evidence they heard did not show bias, they added.

“With respect, viewed in the context of this difficult trial, we find nothing inappropriate about these comments.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


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Feds vow to ban guns similar to one used in Ecole Polytechnique shooting

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OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the federal government will be ready soon to produce a list of semi-automatic weapons that will be banned in Canada.

His comments come the same day Canadians are marking the 30th anniversary of one of the worst mass shootings in Canadian history.

But Blair says until the list is approved by cabinet he won’t name any specific guns under consideration, including the one used in the Ecole Polytechnique shooting on Dec. 6, 1989.

He says he doesn’t want to create a run on gun purchases ahead of the ban.

The Ruger Mini-14 was used in the shooting where a gunman entered the Montreal school, killed 14 women and injured 14 people before killing himself.

Blair says the government will be clear about how certain weapons were selected when the list is made public.

While there is no firm date for its release, Blair said it will be done as soon as possible before noting it was only the second day of the new Parliament.

The Liberals promised during the federal election campaign to ban military-style assault rifles and give municipalities the ability to put limitations or bans on handguns within their own borders.

The party also said owners of legally purchased firearms that fall under the ban would receive fair-market compensations for their weapons as part of a buyback program. Blair said during the campaign about 250,000 semi-automatic assault rifles are owned legally in Canada.

The Liberals have been pressured by survivors of the Montreal Massacre to do more to restrict guns in Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his House of Commons speech marking the massacre Friday to say the government will be moving on its campaign promises.

“We will strengthen gun laws and ban the type of weapons used at Ecole Polytechnique,” he said.

“These weapons, designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, have no place in our communities, in our streets, in our country.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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