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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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Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

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OTTAWA — Emotions ran free in Ottawa Saturday as the more than 150 Canadians killed in Afghanistan were honoured during a sombre ceremony attended by hundreds of family members, many of whom continue to struggle with the loss of their loved ones.

The ceremony involved the re-dedication of a cenotaph built during the war in honour of the fallen. It stood first in Kabul and later at the Kandahar Airfield, where the Canadian Forces was headquartered for most of its time in Afghanistan, serving as a place of reflection and remembrance for those overseas.

Under overcast skies, the families and former comrades of the fallen listened as Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance and others spoke of the enduring legacy left behind by those who fought and died during Canada’s 13-year war in Afghanistan.

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission, which started shortly after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry, journalist Michelle Lang and two civilian contractors were also killed during the war.

“Because of their sacrifice, the Kandahar stadium is used for playing soccer,” Sajjan, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told those in attendance. “Because of their sacrifice, young girls are allowed to freely go to school. Because of their sacrifice, we are safer at home. We will never forget the price these women and men paid.”

Yet much of the ceremony focused on the families of those who died, whose lives were irreversibly changed during the mission even as much of the rest of the country moved on, turning the page on the war in Afghanistan when the last Canadian troops returned home five years ago.

Families like that of Pvt. David Robert James Byers, whose daughter was born a few months after he and three other Canadian soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in September 2006. Byers’ mother Catherine Jane Byers and his daughter were among the 600 family members to attend Saturday’s ceremony.

“We’re the ones that live with this every day,” Catherine Jane Byers said as she stood outside the specially built memorial hall where the cenotaph, comprised of plaques bearing the names and pictures of the fallen, is housed. “We’re the ones that celebrate birthdays. See our grandchildren grow up without a father. That is our reality.”

The re-dedication ceremony at the Department of National Defence’s new headquarters building in west Ottawa was actually a redo for the military, which came under fire after holding a private event in May. Some families were angry they were not invited at that time, prompting an apology from Vance and plans for Saturday’s event.

Afterward, Catherine Jane Byers and several other relatives of those killed in Afghanistan told reporters they were grateful for the second ceremony, during which Payette, Sajjan and the rest underscored this country’s gratefulness to those who paid the ultimate price — and the loved ones they left behind.

“All of you who lost someone … you know what has been lost,” Payette said. “A wound that this memorial can acknowledge even if it cannot fully heal. But it must be acknowledged, and that is why we are here today, to focus our attention on these brave men and women and the people who loved them.”

While many family members struggled to contain their emotions during the ceremony, which included the laying of wreaths, a flypast by Canadian Forces aircraft and the playing of the Last Post and the Lament, they weren’t alone; Vance was forced to stop several times during his remarks to gather his composure and wipe away tears.

Vance served two tours in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, a time period that coincided with some of the worst losses for the Canadian military during the war. He recalled his visits to the cenotaph when it was in Kandahar, saying it served as not only a place of mourning but also of solace and comradeship for those who served on the mission.

“The cenotaph contains the grief,” Vance said, “but also carries the hopes and fear, the courage and vitality of the people who lived and those who died and the mission they were trying to accomplish.”

Some have questioned whether the cenotaph, which was designed and built by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, should be in a more public space rather than its current location inside what is essentially a security zone. Anyone wishing to visit it now must register with the Defence Department for a guided tour.

Theresa Charbonneau, whose son Cpl. Andrew Grenon was killed along with two other soldiers when their armoured vehicle was attacked in September 2008, supported the current location in part because of that security but also because of its day-to-day proximity to other service members.

“I know it’s under lock and key. I like it under lock and key,” she said, adding: “Where else would we put it so that it could be close to their comrades? NDHQ is the perfect spot. Their lives were involved here. This was their second family. This is a good place for it.”

The government has promised to build a separate national memorial for the war in Afghanistan that will be placed in a public site near the Canadian War Museum.

Jim Davis, whose son Cpl. Paul Davis was killed when his vehicle flipped in Kandahar in March 2006, said he would continue to visit the cenotaph, which carries a special meaning for the families of the fallen as well as all those Canadians who served in Afghanistan.

“I feel not only my son’s spirit, I feel the spirit of his fallen comrades,” Davis said. “I can go to his grave and he’s not there. But if I go in here, his spirit’s in here. I feel it.”

—Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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For recent immigrant youngsters, nascent soccer club provides continuity

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soccer player

OTTAWA — Omran Alahmad has played soccer every week since his arrival in Ottawa almost four years ago, much the way he did as a boy growing up in Syria.

Alahmad, 18, travelled through Jordan to come to Canada in 2015 with his parents and five siblings, but he was determined that it wouldn’t mean giving up on the sport he’s played since he was just three years old.

“I’ve been playing since I was three years old,” he said. “We started playing on the street.”

Before long, Alahmad soon found himself a member of Eagles FC — a soccer club comprising nearly 60 newcomers to Canada, including immigrants and refugees, that established itself as a full-blown club last September.

“I used to see kids playing soccer in the park … some of them were really talented,” said team manager Noor Sakhniya, who helped the players in establishing their own club. “They couldn’t play with a club because they couldn’t afford it.”

The registration fees at Ottawa soccer clubs vary between $600 and $2,000, he said: “That’s a lot of money for an immigrant family that has two or more kids who want to play soccer.”

Immigrant kids risk ending up spending a lot of time on the street if they aren’t occupied by a sport they like, said Sakhniya. “When we make them commit with the team at least for two or three days a week, we save them from troubles.”

The number of soccer players in Canada is growing every year. According to the Canada Soccer Association, there were more than 810,000 registered players, coaches and referees involved in soccer in the country in 2018.

Much of that popularity has been driven by immigration. Nearly 7.6 million foreign-born individuals who took part in the 2016 census said they came to Canada through the immigration process, representing 21.9 per cent of Canada’s total population — a proportion that continues to overtake the 22.3 per cent recorded during the 1921 census, the highest level since Confederation.

Some of the immigrant players have pursued soccer in different countries. Abbas Ali, 20, is a computer engineering student. He’s played soccer in Syria, Turkey and Canada since he fled war-torn Iraq 16 years ago.

“I’m going to carry on (playing soccer), for sure,” Ali said.

The time he spends playing the game is an opportunity to make friends and to engage in other social activities with his teammates. “These guys are all my friends,” he said, gesturing towards his teammates.

Sport is a social institution that brings people together and it’s a part of the culture, said Karen Foster, a sociologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “It can help people get out of isolation.”

Foster said familiar social activities are vital in helping immigrants integrate into Canadian society, and are especially important for teenagers who are likely feeling displaced and don’t have as many opportunities to get involved in activities without their families.

The men’s team is now competing in Ottawa Carleton Soccer League — “our goal is to qualify to Ontario Soccer League,” said Sakhniya — and the club has already established three other teams for kids under 12. “We are going to start a team for girls as well.”

The club is a not-for-profit organization, so the players are only charged for the cost of the activities including the league participation fees. The next thing is to find a sponsor, he added.

“I want to help immigrant kids to showcase their talents, so Canada’s soccer can benefit from their talents,” Sakhniya said.

“It’s the most growing sport (in Canada), and immigrants need to tap into this sport to help their new country. We have some excellent players, who are 14 to 16 years old. They could go play for university teams, famous clubs and even the national team when Canada co-hosts the 2026 World Cup.”

Maan Alhmidi , The Canadian Press

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