The World Today for June 24, 2019

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Promises, Promises

Thirty years after the Chinese government’s crackdown in Beijing, is the spirit of Tiananmen Square alive and well in Hong Kong today?

Time magazine answers that question in the affirmative.

On June 4, more than 100,000 people gathered in the south Chinese city’s Victoria Park and observed a minute of silence commemorating the victims of the bloodshed in Beijing in 1989. The memorial was doubly poignant.

“Through every anti-establishment activity we hold, through the hearts of those who fight for democracy, you will live on,” said a pro-democracy activist at the event.

Officials wouldn’t have allowed that sort of freedom to assemble in mainland China, of course. And they have increasingly tried over the years to compromise civil rights in Hong Kong, which was a British colony until 1997, as they have done in the rest of China. Recently, for example, Chinese leaders in Hong Kong backed legislation to make it easy to extradite suspects to mainland China for trial in communist-run courts, the Guardian explained.

The hardline moved backfired.

Civically minded Hong Kongers protested. In an extraordinary move, Chief Executive Carrie Lam indefinitely suspended debate on the bill and apologized for her government’s “deficiencies.” But the protesters have stayed on the streets and now are calling for Lam’s resignation, the Associated Press wrote.

Demonstrators besieged Hong Kong’s police headquarters on Friday, raising fears of possible violence. But the protest ended peacefully on Saturday, giving police time to clear road barriers the crowd had set up before the workweek begins, CBS News reported.

Authorities evidently hoped that releasing pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong might mitigate the discontent. But Wong, a 22-year-old who had been serving a two-month prison sentence on contempt of court charges related to street demonstrations in 2014, immediately called for Lam to resign, according to National Public Radio.

“Hello world and hello freedom,” Wong wrote on Twitter. “I have just been released from prison. GO HONG KONG!! Withdraw the extradition bill. Carrie Lam step down. Drop all political prosecutions!”

Lam’s apology and Wong’s release came against a backdrop of years of fighting between Hong Kong activists and government forces. Time appears to be on the activists’ side. For example, the BBC reported that the share of potential voters ages 18 to 35 who are registered to vote increased from 58 percent in 2000 to 70 percent in 2016, suggesting that China’s attempts to compromise Hong Kong’s independence do not sit well with the young.

Hong Kong was supposed to retain a special autonomous status when China regained sovereignty over the city in 1997. It was to hold onto its Western-like economic rules, respect for democracy and civil rights. Those freedoms might rankle Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom CNN described as China’s “most powerful and ruthless leader in decades.”

But, ruthless or not, the residents of Hong Kong won’t let Xi forget those promises.



Change Is Hard

Ethiopia put down a coup attempt in the northern Amhara region, but the country’s army chief and the head of the regional government were killed in connection with the incident.

Amhara President Ambachew Mekonnen and Amhara Regional Government Office Advisor Ezez Wassie were killed by gunshots Saturday evening, CNN reported.

The Army Chief of Staff General Seare Mekonnen and retired Major General Gezai Abera were killed at Seare’s Addis Ababa home by his bodyguard, according to a statement from the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Seare was coordinating a response to the coup attempt when he was killed, the prime minister’s press secretary told CNN.

A Brigadier General named Asaminew Tsige was responsible for the failed coup, Abiy said.

The first ethnic Oromo to lead the country, Abiy took office in 2018 after years of Oromo protests over their economic and political marginalization – though they are the country’s largest ethnic group. Since then, he has forged a landmark peace deal with Eritrea, freed thousands of political prisoners and taken other dramatic steps to transform the country. But ethnic tensions remain high.


Erred Again

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, lost the repeat of the Istanbul mayoral election by a wide margin Sunday, leaving the long-unassailable leader with more egg on his face than the first vote.

Ekrem Imamoglu, the leader of the main opposition party, had taken 54 percent of the vote with nearly all ballots counted, the BBC reported. His opponent has conceded and Erdogan has offered his congratulations.

The result adds insult to injury for Erdogan – not only showing there are a few chinks in his armor, but also making him look like a fool for pursuing the do-over in the first place. After eking out a victory with a margin of just 13,000 votes in the previous, disputed election in March, this time Imamoglu won by more than 775,000.

The defeat for Erdogan – known for saying “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey” – is bad enough it has prompted doubts about his future as party leader and raised the specter of early elections before his term is slated to end in 2023.


First, or the Umpteenth

Ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani won Mauritania’s presidential election with 52 percent of the vote, the electoral commission said Sunday.

For the record books, it’s a historic first – the country’s first election to pass the torch from one democratically elected leader to another. But Biram Dah Abeid, who came in second with nearly 19 percent of the vote, called it the “umpteenth coup d’etat against the will of the people,” alluding to alleged irregularities, Al Jazeera reported.

Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who came third, said that “multiple irregularities… eliminated any credibility” the election might have had.

For many, especially Abeid’s supporters, the result was disappointing for another reason.

Though slavery was abolished nationwide in 1981 and criminalized in 2007, human rights activists say tens of thousands of black Mauritanians still live as slaves “owned” by lighter-skinned masters of Arab or Berber descent.

Ghazouani has denied the problem is widespread, while Abeid, an anti-slavery activist who is himself the descendant of slaves, made the issue a main focus of his campaign.


Modern Cities, Ancient Problems

The woes of living in a sprawling metropolis are not modern problems.

Archaeologists note that overcrowding, diseases, violence and environmental degradation were already plaguing the inhabitants of prehistoric Turkey nearly 10,000 years ago, Reuters reported.

In a recent study, archaeologists examined the skeletal remains of 742 people who lived in Catalhoyuk, a “proto-city” that housed 3,500 to 8,000 people at its peak.

Evidence showed that infectious diseases and violence were commonplace, possibly due to overpopulation and lack of proper hygiene.

Even so, the society appears to have been largely egalitarian. Inhabitants lived in clay structures similar to apartments and dealt with mundane issues such as the division of labor and food distribution.

The settlement lasted about 1,150 years but was eventually abandoned due to environmental degradation.

The relationships among the inhabitants, sometimes cooperative, sometimes hostile, don’t seem so different from how people interact today, according to lead author Clark Spencer Larsen.

“A key message that people will take from these findings is that our current behaviors have deep roots in the history of humankind,” he told Reuters.

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