TIME apps

Hong Kong’s Protesters Don’t Need the Internet to Chat With One Another

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw
A protester waves her cell phone in the air outside the Hong Kong Government Complexon October 1, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

FireChat connects directly to other protesters' phones, building a massive network

If you’ve ever been crammed into a stadium alongside thousands of screaming football or music fans, you already know what the tens of thousands of demonstrators pouring into Hong Kong this week are learning: when you pack that many people into a tiny area, your phone’s Internet grinds to a halt.

Smartphones should make it easier to organize protests, but they’re as good as bricks when cell towers get overloaded with traffic or when governments decide to flip the switch. Hong Kong has seen both of these happen: Thousands of people on the street means mobile Internet is useless in packed areas, while Chinese authorities are blocking Instagram on the mainland, favored by Chinese dissidents because it was one of the few social networks not blocked in the country.

In the face of these hang-ups, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have turned to FireChat, a smartphone app that allows users to communicate even when they can’t get online or send texts. Unlike chat programs that work over the Internet, FireChat connects directly to other nearby users within up to about 250 ft. More people in range can then join the chat, extending the network even further. Pretty soon you can get up to a few thousand people chatting away, all without anybody connected to the Internet.

FireChat is based on mesh networking, in which every device on a network works as a node for expanding that network. The idea’s been around for decades, now popular as a way to communicate during disasters like hurricanes. But Hong Kong shows it’s useful during civil disobedience too. Some 200,000 people there downloaded the app between Sunday and Tuesday, says Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, sending it skyrocketing to the top of the region’s app-store charts.

Speaking from Hong Kong, Benoliel tells TIME that FireChat’s sudden popularity there isn’t a “complete surprise” because it was also popular with Taiwanese protesters last March. It’s also the latest in a long line of technologies that helped fuel wide-scale protests. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, thanks to protesters’ penchant for organizing via Twitter, likewise 2011’s Occupy Wall Street was a hashtag before it was a street protest. Facebook and YouTube, meanwhile, have brought us to the front lines of the Arab Spring and Syria’s long-fought civil war, even being used as recruiting tools by antigovernment rebels and jihadist groups. Where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all fall short, however, lies in their need for an Internet connection to work — not the case for FireChat.

Still, FireChat isn’t perfect for protesters. The chat rooms are open, making it easy for a first-timer to join — but that first-timer could also be a local authority poking around at the goings-on. However, Benoliel says the company is working on protester-minded updates like private messaging and encryption, as Open Garden advocates for “freedom of speech and access to information.”

“If this application can help in this way, it’s very aligned with the mission of the company,” Benoliel says. “[FireChat] hasn’t been built for that purpose, but if it can help people in that situation, we are very supportive of what’s happening here in Hong Kong.”

TIME ebola

How Ebola is Changing Liberia: A First Person Account From the Ground

TIME's Africa bureau chief talks about the situation in West Africa

Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 3,000 people in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

TIME’s Africa bureau chief, Aryn Baker, is on the ground in the West African city. She has reported on musicians who educate crowds on the infectious disease, the stigma dead body management teams face, the United States’ responsibility to assist Liberia, among other stories.

In the video above, Baker discusses everyday life in the densely packed seaside city of Monrovia, where the stench of chlorine and the sight of thermometers and rubber boots have become commonplace as locals attempt to stem the Ebola outbreak.

TIME Immigration

Obama Approves Refugee Plan for Central American Kids

Women and children sit in a holding cell at a U.S. Border Patrol processing center after being detained by agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 8, 2014 near McAllen, Texas.
Women and children sit in a holding cell at a U.S. Border Patrol processing center after being detained by agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 8, 2014 near McAllen, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

New plan intended to reduce the number of unaccompanied Central American children attempting to cross U.S.-Mexico border

Several thousand young Central American children will now be able to apply for refugee status in the United States, White House officials said Tuesday, after President Obama approved a plan that provides a legal path for some to join their parents north of the border.

The new program is aimed at tackling a surge of immigrant children fleeing gang violence and rape in Central America which rose to crisis levels over the summer, by giving them a way to qualify for refugee status before they begin traveling north, the New York Times reports.

More than 3,000 children crossed the Mexico-U.S. border in August, down from 10,000 in July. Officials said the new plan will further help stem the flow of immigrants by providing a legal avenue to a visa.

Critics say that many more people will apply for refugee status if they can simply do it from their home countries. But the White House emphasized it is not encouraging more immigration, and that the number of total visas granted to refugees would remain constant.

“We are establishing in-country refugee processing to provide a safe, legal and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that children are currently undertaking to join relatives in the United States,” said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the White House.

[NYT]

TIME Israel

Obama, Netanyahu to Meet as Iran Deadline Looms

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the general debate of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the UN headquarters in New York, on Sept. 29, 2014.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the general debate of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the UN headquarters in New York, on Sept. 29, 2014. Yin Bogu—Xinhua Press/Corbis

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel’s summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship.

Much of Wednesday’s Oval Office discussion is expected to focus on another delicate issue: U.S.-led nuclear talks with Iran. With a deadline for reaching a final agreement less than two months away, all sides say significant gaps remain.

Netanyahu has long cautioned the U.S. and the international community that Iran is barreling toward a bomb and using diplomatic openings as a stalling tactic. The Islamic republic contends its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The Israeli leader arrives in Washington following meetings at the United Nations, where he delivered a blistering speech accusing Hamas of committing war crimes by using Palestinian civilians as human shields during the 50-day Gaza war that ended Aug. 26. His speech was a response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ assertion that Israel had carried out a “war of genocide” during the Gaza fighting.

Israel launched thousands of airstrikes against what it said were Hamas-linked targets in the dense Gaza Strip, resulting in more than 2,100 Palestinian deaths, the vast majority civilians, according to the United Nations. More than 70 Israelis were also killed.

The civilian death toll in Gaza deeply frustrated U.S. officials and resulted in more biting public condemnations of Israel’s actions than are typical from the Obama administration.

In his speech to the U.N., Netanyahu sought to equate Hamas with the violent Islamic State militants the U.S. is seeking to degrade in Iraq and Syria.

“ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its acronyms. He added, “When it comes to its ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS, and ISIS is Hamas.”

Obama and Netanyahu last met in March while the Israelis and Palestinians were still engaged in a U.S.-mediated peace process. The discussions collapsed without a peace accord.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas appear to have abandoned any hope of reviving peace talks, though each is pressing separate diplomatic initiatives. Netanyahu has called for bringing an alliance of moderate Arab states into the peace process, while Abbas has said he’ll appeal to the U.N. Security Council to back Palestinian independence.

TIME Hong Kong

Watch What It’s Like to Be at the Hong Kong Protests

Tens of thousands of people descended onto the streets of Hong Kong to demand change in the electoral system. Support for the "Occupy Central" movement grew after police used tear gas on protesters on Sunday

TIME Foreign Policy

Washington Issues Statement Backing Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protesters

Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong
Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day, in Hong Kong Oct. 1, 2014 Tyrone Siu—Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to discuss the ongoing protests with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday

The White House issued a statement of support for “the aspirations of the Hong Kong people” on Tuesday, in response to a petition urging the U.S. government to put pressure on the Chinese government.

The Obama Administration’s comments reflect a gradual toughening of its response to Beijing, as the Chinese Communist Party refuses to heed Hong Kong protesters’ loudening call for free and fair elections amid swelling demonstrations in the financial powerhouse.

“The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law,” the statement said. It continued that Hong Kong residents should have “a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will.”

U.S. officials also said Tuesday that Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss the protests racking Hong Kong with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, the U.K. also solidified its position on the side of the protesters; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg summoned the Chinese ambassador in order to convey the British government’s alarm at Beijing’s hardened dismissal of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The territory was a British colony until 1997.

“It is essential that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice of chief executive in 2017, through universal suffrage,” Clegg said, according to Sky News. Clegg also said he would “reiterate our position and seek reassurances from the Chinese government.”

Tens of thousands of people have flooded several of Hong Kong’s busiest districts, pledging to continue bringing traffic and commerce to a standstill until the Hong Kong and central governments meet two demands: Hong Kong’s top leader resigns, and Beijing grants the Special Administrative Region the right to freely elect a new one in 2017, as opposed to choosing from a list of candidates handpicked by a pro-Beijing committee.

The Chinese government has repeatedly accused the U.S. and British governments of meddling in its affairs and stirring up the protests; both countries’ officials have denied any involvement.

The original petition had asked the White House “to support Hong Kong democracy and prevent a second Tiananmen Square [massacre] in Hong Kong.” If a petition on the White House website collects more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days, it necessitates a response from the U.S. government. The petition boasted 196,942 signatures before it closed.

“We believe that an open society, with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law, is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” read the response.

The statement also reiterated White House comments made on Monday, urging “Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint, and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

Since police lobbed 87 tear-gas canisters at protesters bearing nothing but umbrellas on Sunday evening, the number of officers on the streets has been drastically scaled back, while the number of protesters, galvanized by the disproportionate response, has burgeoned.

At demonstrations outside a flag-raising ceremony on Wednesday to celebrate China’s National Day, protesters said they were intent on remaining peaceful, while also staying put until their demands are met.

“We will not stop them from celebrating,” said T. Wong, 35, a protester standing under a swarm of umbrellas near the ceremony. “But as they celebrate, we want them to listen to our voices.”

— Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Philippines

Imelda Marcos Has Had Part of Her Art Collection Seized

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Lifestyle-Philippi
Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos is seen in her apartment in Manila on June 27, 2007. Romeo Gacad—AFP/Getty Images

Authorities claim artworks were bought with embezzled state funds

A number of art works belonging to Imelda Marcos, wife of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, have been seized by authorities, who claim they were bought with embezzled state funds.

Works by Picasso and Gauguin are believed to be among the pieces still in the former First Lady’s possession, reports the BBC, as is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Authorities are keen to trace the other artworks.

The 85-year-old Marcos, who was elected to the Philippine congress in 2010, has repeatedly denied her estimated $10 billion fortune was acquired illicitly.

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 until his ouster in 1986. He died three years later.

[BBC]

TIME

Panama Opens a Frank Gehry–Designed Biodiversity Museum

Panama Gehry Museum
In this Sept. 27, 2014, photo, two men stand in the atrium of the Biomuseo, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, in Panama City Arnulfo Franco—AP

The project has been a long time coming, construction having started in 1999

Panama has opened a biodiversity museum designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, his first project in Latin America.

The Biomuseo — a hodgepodge of bright-colored metal canopies swopping over the eight galleries inside — presents a tour of the Central American nation’s rich, diverse ecosystems, the BBC reports.

The building itself “was designed to tell the story of how the isthmus of Panama rose from the sea, uniting two continents, separating a vast ocean in two, and changing the planet’s biodiversity forever,” the museum’s website says.

Gehry’s other high-profile works include the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The BBC reports that the project has been beset by budget overruns and delays since work began on it in 1999.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Democracy Protesters Are Being Targeted by Malicious Spyware

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
A father and son take a selfie with a mobile phone in front of a barricade in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Sept. 30, 2014 Xaume Olleros—AFP/Getty Images

The culprit is "a very large organization or nation state," experts say

A computer virus that spies on Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system is targeting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, according to tech experts.

Known as Xsser, the malicious software is capable of harvesting data including text messages, photos, data logs and passwords from mobile devices, Lacoon Mobile Security said Tuesday.

The spyware is hosted on the same Command and Control domain as an existing fake program for the Android operating system that was disguised as a protest-organizing app and distributed around Hong Kong last week.

“Cross-platform attacks that target both iOS and Android devices are rare, and indicate that this may be conducted by a very large organization or nation state,” said Lacoon in a statement.

Tens of thousands of people have paralyzed key areas of the city over the past few days in support of greater electoral freedom, much to the chagrin of the central government in Beijing.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Marks Chinese National Day With Demands for Political Reform

A protester holds up a placard which reads "Peace is our greatest weapon", outside the venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day, in Hong Kong
A protester holds up a placard that reads "Peace Is Our Greatest Weapon," outside the venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2014 Tyrone Siu—Reuters

Ceremonial venue is besieged by democracy activists as city enters its fourth day of massive protests

Chaotic scenes stole the show from the pomp and spectacle of Chinese National Day celebrations in Hong Kong on Wednesday, as thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators harangued dignitaries and set up camp on the fringes of the city’s politically sacrosanct Golden Bauhinia Square.

Protesters in jeans and sneakers, many of whom had been on the streets all night, heckled a parade of the city’s oligarchs and tycoons as they attempted to enter the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center for ceremonial speeches.

At one point, the crowd, some wearing gas masks, linked arms and bellowed “Down with the Chinese Communist Party!” and “We want universal suffrage!”

“It’s China’s National Day, not Hong Kong’s,” protester Ivan Chau, 26, told TIME.

Simon Lee, 28, an IT worker, said he felt no love for China’s ruling party and felt more Hong Kong than Chinese. “Everyone agrees we are from Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong has been given a broad degree of autonomy since the end of British colonial rule in 1997. But this sophisticated, freewheeling city of 7 million is deeply suspicious of Beijing and unable to freely choose its own leader.

Calls for democratic reform have built to a crescendo over the last five days, with tens of thousands of protestors bringing several downtown locations to a standstill.

Demonstrators aim to force Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to resign, and are calling for the Chief Executive to be elected by a popular vote in 2017.

Beijing has agreed to elections but only if the candidates (a maximum of three has been set) are first vetted by a 1,200-strong committee largely perceived as loyal to the mainland.

Such a caveat undermines the entire principle of the vote, say democracy activists, who have vowed to paralyze the city through a campaign of civil disobedience in order to foment change, braving police batons, tear gas and pepper spray.

Their movement has been dubbed the Umbrella Revolution after the umbrellas that demonstrators use to shield themselves from pepper spray.

“The Umbrella Revolution only has one ultimate goal: to have true democracy in Hong Kong,” said one protester.

Back inside the ceremony, one guest, district councilor Paul Zimmerman, made a bold display by unfurling a yellow umbrella in support of the protestors. Another guest, district councilor and former radio personality Pamela Peck, was entirely clad in yellow — the Umbrella Revolution’s symbolic color.

Other attendees toasted the “security and stability of Hong Kong,” while a patriotic song celebrating “Hong Kong’s close ties with the motherland,” in the words of the MC, was played in the lavish hall without irony.

The theme of this year’s celebrations was declared to be “Chinese Dreams.”

Outside, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers rouse from their slumber, ready for another day’s protest in pursuit of dreams of a very different kind.

— With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, David Stout, Helen Regan, Rishi Iyengar and Emily Rauhala / Hong Kong

— Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser