TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Student Leader Joshua Wong Charged With Obstruction

Hong Kong Democracy Protest
Prominent Hong Kong student protest leader Joshua Wong talks to reporters outside a court in Hong Kong on Nov. 27, 2014 Vincent Yu—AP

His lawyer says the accusation is politically motivated

Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong was charged Thursday with obstructing a bailiff clearing one of the city’s three protest areas, an accusation that the teenager’s lawyer says is motivated by the young protester’s politics and fame, not by fact.

Wong, 18, is a prominent face of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. He appeared last month on the cover of TIME’s international edition and was named as one of TIME’s Most Influential Teens of 2014. He also features in TIME’s Person of the Year Poll.

He was arrested on Wednesday morning as police cleared a 60-day occupation of the Mong Kok district, where protesters had camped out demanding the right to freely elect their city’s top leader.

Wong was bailed for a modest $65 and, unless he is traveling to or from university, he cannot, as a bail condition, enter a large area of the neighborhood until his next court date on Jan. 14. The government could seek to end bail should Wong violate the ban or if he is arrested on another offense.

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Wong’s lawyer, Michael Vidler, requested a court date as early as next week and accused the government of foot-dragging to prevent the popular student leader from playing a role in any future demonstrations in the volatile, contested district, located in the heart of the teeming Kowloon peninsula.

“The court should not be manipulated,” Vidler told the magistrate. “The real reason for this charge is that my client is a leader of a student organization that is involved in the call for true democracy in Hong Kong.”

“These are extraordinary times,” he added, outside court, noting that is was highly unusual for someone charged with a minor crime to have to seek bail from a court, rather than be quickly bailed by police.

A prosecutor said in court that the government was “not discriminating” against Wong and that it “treats each defendant equally.”

Wong has denied the allegations, and the details of his arrest are murky. A video shared on Wong’s Facebook page shows police tearing down a barricade without meeting any resistance, and a special police unit is then seen rushing into the crowd of protesters to arrest Wong. In the video, Wong appears to be standing still. A prosecutor declined to answer Vidler’s request in court that he describe the reasons for Wong’s arrest.

Vidler also said outside court that police had both punched Wong and “repeatedly grabbed him in parts of his body that caused him pain.” He declined to be specific. Wong also showed the media abrasions and bruising on his neck and the sides of his face.

Bailiffs began clearing the protest site in Mong Kok on Tuesday, acting on a civil injunction brought by bus and taxi companies frustrated with the continued occupation of a major thoroughfare in a busy shopping district. Police later took over the clearance and overnight chased protesters out of the area with pepper-spray cannons. In the morning, police pushed protesters out of the remaining protest site in a quick, methodical sweep.

Police arrested 148 people in the two days of clearing the site, including firebrand legislator Leung Kwok-hung and another student leader, Lester Shum.

Wong, who was without his usual glasses and was wearing two grey hoodies, was as fidgety in court as any teenager asked to stand still for too long. Standing with hunched shoulders, he chewed his lip, stretched his neck and shifted his weight as he surveyed the room.

Outside court, though, he was confident and straight-backed in front of dozens of media cameras — their bright lights on in the gray rain — and posed for photographs with a thumbs-up.

He told TIME that he hoped protesters would continue to occupy their camps in Admiralty and Causeway Bay districts until the government answers their demands for electoral reform. He also said he would “have discussions” with student leaders about what role he might have in any continued protests in Mong Kok.

“I hope the government will face the problem rather than have the bailiffs do it,” he said.

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TIME India

New Delhi, the World’s Most Polluted City, Is Even More Polluted Than We Realized

INDIA-POLUTION
Smog envelops buildings on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi on November 25, 2014. ROBERTO SCHMIDT—AFP/Getty Images

Researchers have been measuring background pollution when they should have been doing roadside readings

New Delhi has already been ranked the world’s worst polluted city by the World Health Organization, but a new study by U.S. and Indian scientists shows that the city’s air quality is far worse than previously thought.

American scientist Joshua Apte, working with partners from the University of California, Berkeley and Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology, roamed the streets of the Indian capital in an autorickshaw laden with air pollution monitors. He found that average pollution levels were up to eight times higher on city roads, the Associated Press reports.

Apte compared the readings from his road trips to readings at urban background sites, which he says are already extremely high. The levels of PM 2.5, the particle known to be most harmful to human health, were found to be 50 percent higher on Delhi’s roads during rush hour than during ambient air quality readings. Black carbon, a major pollutant, was found to be three times higher.

“Official air quality monitors tend to be located away from roads, on top of buildings, and that’s not where most people spend most of their time,” Apte said. “In fact, most people spend a lot of time in traffic in India. Sometimes one, two, three hours a day.”

India is the third largest polluting country in the world, after the United States and China — who both signed a major bilateral climate deal in Beijing earlier this month.

Its rapidly growing vehicle numbers, expected to hit 400 million by 2030, are posing a major threat that the government is well aware of.

Several steps have been taken to reduce the number of Indian automobiles running on diesel, and the country’s National Green Tribunal also announced on Thursday that it would ban any vehicles older than 15 years from New Delhi’s roads.

But far more drastic measures will be required to make a meaningful dent in Delhi’s air pollution levels, which, according to the latest WHO Ambient Air Pollution Database, are at just under 300 micrograms per cubic meter. The world’s second most polluted city, Karachi, clocks in at a little over 250, while the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai, internationally notorious for their pollution, clock in a relatively fresh 120 and 80 respectively.

TIME Afghanistan

5 Dead in Suicide Blast on British Embassy Vehicle in Kabul

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack on a British embassy vehicle in Kabul
Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack on a British embassy vehicle in Kabul on Nov. 27, 2014 Omar Sobhani—Reuters

KABUL, Afghanistan — A British embassy worker was among five people killed in a suicide attack in the Afghan capital on Thursday, a senior police official told NBC News. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast which targeted a vehicle on Kabul’s Jalalabad Road. At least 31 others, including three embassy staff, were injured, the senior police officer added. General Ayoub Salangi, the Afghan deputy interior minister, told Reuters the bomber was riding a motorcycle.

A spokesman for the U.K.’s Foreign Office told NBC News that “a British embassy vehicle was attacked in Kabul this morning.” He added: “We are working with Afghan officials to establish details.”…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME North Korea

New Kim on the Block: The Rise of Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 25, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

But who exactly is Kim Yo Jong?

At last, a North Korea rumor proves true: all year, Korea watchers have been buzzing about the rise of Kim Jong Un’s little sister, Kim Yo Jong. She popped up at her father Kim Jong Il’s December 2011 funeral, then reappeared next to her brother on election day in March of this year. (Yes, North Korea has elections, of sorts.) Experts speculated that her presence at a high-profile political event signaled that she was on the rise within the regime but, as with many things in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially called, the theory was just that — until now.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, in an otherwise humdrum account of Kim Jong Un’s visit to a cartoon studio, state media listed Kim Yo Jong as “vice department director” in the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party. In March, when she was pictured beside her brother on polling day, she was identified only as a “senior official.” Though the precise role of a “vice department director” is unclear, that she has an official title suggests a relatively high-profile, and potentially important, role.

So who is Kim Yo Jong? Korea scholars believe she was born in 1987 or 1988, making her 26 or 27 years old, and that she is close to her brother, Kim Jong Un. Their father, former dictator Kim Jong Il, fathered at least seven children by four women, but Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong have the same parentage. They were raised by their mother Ko Young Hui at a hillside estate, says Michael Madden, the founder of North Korea Leadership Watch. Largely restricted to the palace grounds, they were exposed, for the most part, to family members and close friends. “As they say in [Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic] Goodfellas, ‘There were never any outsiders,’” says Madden. “The life of Kim children was hermetically sealed.”

At some point in the mid-1990s, as North Korea starved, Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong were sent to to school in Switzerland. They studied under pseudonyms, presumably to protect their privacy and keep them safe. Remarkably little is known about their time there, Madden says. Upon returning to the DPRK, Kim Yo Jong likely attended university, although the details of that period are still fuzzy. Her stature within the clan started to crystallize at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, when she was spotted walking directly behind heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.

Analysts are still piecing together what, exactly, Kim Yo Jong does. She has been pictured several times in her brother’s company, often on “field guidance tours” (that’s DPRK-speak for the Kim clan looking at things). These appearances have fueled theories that she serves as a sort of events director and aide to her brother, managing his schedule and accompanying him on trips. If that is indeed her role — and again, these things are difficult to pinpoint — it suggests a level of closeness that would give her access to a lot of information. “She may be one of the only people Kim Jong Un trusts completely,” Madden says.

Her presence at Kim Jong Un’s side is rich with symbolism. Her first official public appearance, in March 2014, came not long after the disappearance of her aunt Kim Kyong Hui, who has not been seen since her husband Jang Sung Thaek was executed in late 2013. Before the purge, Kim Kyong Hui was a close adviser to Kim Jong Il, holding key jobs in the ruling party and “protecting her brother’s flank,” according to Ken Gause, a Korea expert at CNA Corp., a Washington, D.C.–based research firm. Kim Il Sung, the country’s revered founding father, also ruled with a sibling — his brother — at his side (until he demoted him).

This new sibling pairing provides an important sense of continuity. Though North Korea is often called a communist state, it is really more of a totalitarian monarchy. North Koreans are taught that Kim Il Sung was a fearsome warrior who, while camped at the base of Mount Paektu with some comrades, crushed a much larger force of Japanese invaders. His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born at the same site, imbued with the same superhuman abilities — heck, he officially shot 11 holes in one in his first-ever game of golf.

Since the deification of the Kim clan is what makes North Korea tick, providing a symbolic link to the past makes sense, even while power passes to the next generation. “The old power elites loyal to Kim Jong Il are being pushed out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, in an interview earlier this year. “They will be replaced by new, younger elites who can safeguard the leadership of Kim Jong Un.” So goodbye, Kim Kyong Hui, and hello, Kim Yo Jong.

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TIME Thailand

The Military Vows to Rule Thailand Until 2016 and Ramps Up Political Purges

Poompanmuang, chief of Royal Thai Police, stands among antique Buddha statues that were seized during an investigation into Chayaphan, a former commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, at a military base in Bangkok
General Somyot Poompanmuang, chief of Royal Thai Police, stands among antique Buddha statues that were seized during an investigation into former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayaphan, at a military base in Bangkok on Nov. 26, 2014 Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters

News comes as Justice Minister announces "indefinite" imposition of martial law

Thailand may be ruled by a military dictatorship until 2016, a senior junta official has revealed. His comment came as a purge of political rivals intensified in the Southeast Asian nation.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, Thai Finance Minister Sommai Phasee said elections “may take, maybe, a year and a half.” Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-Ocha had previously vowed to hand power back to the people before the end of 2015.

“Everything depends on the road map, so we must see first if the road map can be completed,” explained Sommai. “Elections take time to organize.”

The news comes after Thai Justice Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya revealed martial law would remain “indefinitely.” He also disclosed that police top brass had been detained for corruption offenses involving tens of millions of dollars.

Former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief Pongpat Chayapan and 16 associates were charged this week with various embezzlement offenses — including operating gambling dens, hording cash and gold, and taking bribes from oil smugglers — as well as insulting the nation’s revered royal family.

Thailand has the world’s strictest law governing lèse majesté, or royal defamation. Under Article 112, sentences range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment and human-rights activists frequently say the legislation is used as a tool of political oppression.

However, it is “quite unusual for lèse majesté to be used against high-ranking police officers — against their own people,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political scientist at Japan’s Kyoto University.

Analysts say the latest arrests are evidence of Prayuth fortifying his position rather than tackling corruption. A staunch royalist, the 60-year-old appears to be targeting the institution of the police, which is known to back the powerful family of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

However, others say the purge is more related to the sensitive subject of royal succession. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, beloved by Thais, will be 87 on Dec. 5 and is ailing. His heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, does not command anything like the same veneration.

Bhumibol is also the world’s wealthiest monarch, worth an estimated $30 billion, and many ascribe Thailand’s ongoing political tribulations to jostling for control of this vast treasure chest.

Deposed CIB chief Pongpat is known to be close to the Crown Prince — he frequently wears a pin with a photo of the royal couple’s son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti — and three of his associates arrested Wednesday are relatives of Vajiralongkorn wife, the Royal Consort Princess Srirasm, including her brother, Natthapol Akkharaphongpricha.

There are many conflicting theories about what is happening. Some suspect it could be a schism within the royal family itself, or even an attempt by the nation’s new leaders to cloister Vajiralongkorn from powerful allies. However, Srirasm comes from humble means — she’s a former waitress — and so the targeting of her kin could be an attempt to expunge the more rakish elements of the Crown Prince’s circle before the succession.

What’s indisputable, though, is that “this is about using Article 112 as a political weapon to undermine political opponents,” says Pavin. “I don’t think this is as simple as being just about corruption, not at this point in Thai politics.”

No matter what the cause, some say the opportunity to root out bad apples should not be missed. “We should take this opportunity to clean up all the corrupt police,” Chuwit Kamolvisit, a former Thai brothel owner now enjoying a coda as an anticorruption politician, tells TIME. “If we cannot trust the top police like Pongpat, then how can we trust the rest of the Thai police?”

That said, there’s little evidence that Thailand’s military government is best placed to administer this remedy. Over the past six months of military rule, habeas corpus has been suspended, strict censorship imposed and hundreds of people threatened and imprisoned for trivial acts of defiance — like giving the three-finger salute used in The Hunger Games movies.

Meanwhile, General Prayuth’s younger brother — assistant army chief Lieut. General Preecha Chan-Ocha — was recently revealed to have amassed $2.5 million in net assets. He has not been investigated.

Asked whether top military generals are also corrupt, Chuwit chuckles nervously. “This is Thailand,” he says, “there is corruption everywhere.”

TIME Pakistan

Militants Gun Down Pakistan Health Workers as Polio Crisis Intensifies

Hospital staff stand near the bodies of anti-polio drive campaign workers who were shot by gunmen, at a hospital morgue in Quetta
Hospital staff stand near the bodies of antipolio campaign workers who were shot by gunmen, at a hospital morgue in Quetta, Pakistan, on Nov. 26, 2014 Naseer Ahmed—Reuters

There have been 260 new cases of polio diagnosed in the South Asian nation this year

Public-health workers continue to be gunned down at will by Islamic militants across Pakistan, where ongoing attacks against vaccination teams have hampered the government’s ability to rein in a spiraling polio crisis.

On Wednesday, heavily armed militants in the Baluchistan region capital of Quetta mowed down members of an antipolio campaign, leaving four public-health workers dead and three others injured. Survivors of the ambush chided government officials for failing to provide sufficient security for the team.

“Two men on a motorcycle stopped our car and started shooting. No security arrangements were made,” one of the victims told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “We called everyone, but no one came to our rescue.”

The bloody scene in Quetta this week has sadly become all too familiar in conflict-riven Pakistan. On Monday, near the city of Peshawar, gunmen mounted on a motorcycle shot and injured another polio health worker. A Taliban splinter group later claimed responsibility for the attack and issued a statement deriding the polio vaccine as “dangerous to health” and “against Islam,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The uptick in brazen attacks against health workers has saddled Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s embattled administration with renewed criticism, after he made boisterous promises during his campaign in 2013 to make peace with Taliban forces.

“Such cowardly attacks against our goal of polio-free Pakistan will further strengthen our resolve to stamp this menace out of the country,” Ayesha Raza Farooq, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s focal person on polio eradication, said in a statement on Monday. “I urge the provincial government to take all measures necessary to protect the polio teams and ensure safe conduct of polio campaigns.”

The militants’ suspicion of vaccination programs has been fueled in large part by the bogus hepatitis B campaign crafted by U.S. clandestine officials searching for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, which later lead to the dramatic killing of the al-Qaeda chief by Navy Seals.

In 2012, Taliban forces operating in the country’s tribal belt banned polio vaccinations and began openly attacking public-health officials trying to administer inoculations. More than 60 public-health workers have been killed in the country since the declaration.

Since 2012, transmission of the virus has been most intense in the country’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). But following an offensive launched by the Pakistani military against insurgents in FATA’s North Waziristan in June, close to 1 million people fled the area. As a result of the exodus, the polio epidemic has spread to other parts of Pakistan that had previously been unexposed to the highly contagious virus.

In the onslaught’s wake, public-health officials claim to have vaccinated more than 1 million people in the past few months, including 850,000 children under the age of 10, who were previously inaccessible, according to the Global Polio Initiative. Still, polio continues to spread across the country.

Public-health officials confirmed this week the existence of 260 new polio cases in Pakistan this year — a fourfold increase since the same duration in 2013, according to the New York Times. Pakistan is one of just three countries where polio remains endemic.

TIME Egypt

Egypt Jails 78 Boys for Being at a Muslim Brotherhood Rally

Morsi supporters stage rallies on Rabaa's 1-year mark
Anticoup protesters shout slogans as they march at al-Haram Street during a demonstration on Aug. 14, 2014, in Cairo, marking the first anniversary of the killing of hundreds of Morsi supporters by security forces Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The youngest are 13 years old; sentences range up to five years

Seventy-eight boys have been sentenced to up to five years in prison by an Egyptian court for being present at Muslim Brotherhood protests.

The boys, between the ages of 13 and 17, were sentenced for taking part in a rally calling for the return of President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted in 2014, the BBC reports.

But a defense lawyer for the boys says some of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ever since Morsi was deposed, Egyptian authorities have been cracking down on thousands of his supporters and indeed on any opposition. At least 1,400 people have died and more than 15,000 are in prison.

A draft antiterrorism law was approved Wednesday, giving the government blanket powers to ban opposition groups on charges such as harming national unity and disrupting public order.

[BBC]

TIME Yemen

American Among Hostages Targeted in Yemen Raid

"We found the eight hostages chained. We found al-Qaida cell phones and documents"

(SANAA, YEMEN) — U.S operation forces took part in a rescue mission that freed eight hostages in a remote corner of Yemen, but a Yemeni official said Wednesday that it did not liberate five others, including an American journalist and a Briton who were moved elsewhere by their al-Qaida captors days before the raid.

Eight hostages — including a Saudi— were liberated in the joint U.S.-Yemeni operation, a rare instance of American forces intervening on the ground in Yemen. A member of the Yemeni anti-terrorism forces was quoted on a website connected to Yemen’s Defense Ministry, saying that the mission searched for a group of hostages from several nations in an eastern province, but when the commandos arrived at the cave where al-Qaida militants had chained and covered the hostages in blankets, the American and four others were already gone.

A senior U.S. official had earlier confirmed U.S. involvement and said no American was rescued, without elaborating whether the operation had intended to free one.

The mission was carried out in a vast desert area dotted with dunes called Hagr al-Saiaar, an al-Qaida safe haven where local tribes offer them protection near the Saudi border.

The operations come as U.S. drone strikes target militants amid a Shiite rebel power grab in the politically unstable, impoverished nation and fierce battles between al-Qaida and Shiite rebels.

Yemenis initially gave no mention of American involvement in the operation and said its special forces and anti-terrorism units carried out the raid alone.

However, a Yemen Special Forces member identified only as Abu Marouf gave a detailed account of the operation to the semi-official Yemen Defense Ministry online portal, named Sept. 26.

He said that his unit received intelligence information about al-Qaida militants moving hostages chained in shackles and covered with blankets in pickup trucks to Hagr al-Saiaar where they kept them in caves. He added some 30 troops, including snipers, were deployed in the early hours Tuesday some seven kilometers (four miles) from the caves, which he described as 10 meters deep and 30 meters wide.

Divided into four groups, he said he was among the main group that stormed the entrance of the cave then engaged in a shootout that ended with the killing of all seven kidnappers.

“We found the eight hostages chained. We found al-Qaida cellphones and documents,” he said, adding that the hostages said five of their companions had been moved out to an unknown location. He listed nationalities of the other hostages as an American journalist, one Briton, one South African, a Yemeni and a fifth believed to be Turkish. He did not identify them.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is considered by the U.S. to be the world’s most dangerous branch of the terror network and has been linked to several failed attacks on the U.S. homeland. Yemen has seen both foreigners and Yemenis targeted in kidnap attempts, either for ransom, political reasons or over suspicions that victims worked as spies helping Americans carry out the drone strikes.

The strikes targeting suspected militant gatherings are increasingly unpopular in Yemen due to civilian casualties, legitimizing for many the attacks on American interests. The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has been closed several times recently over militant threats.

The site shed light on the riskiness surrounding the operation. Other Yemeni officials said that one of the main tribes in the area is led by the well-off Waqash al-Saiaari, who gave shelter to the militants. They say al-Qaida set up large training camps in the area.

Members of al-Qaida affiliates from this area were recently arrested while trying to flee the country after alleged involvement in the beheading of 16 Yemeni soldiers in August.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

 

TIME Hong Kong

Seven Hong Kong Police Officers Arrested for Allegedly Beating Democracy Activist

Attack was captured by local TV news crew

Seven Hong Kong police officers have been arrested on suspicion of beating a political activist who was taking part in the city’s pro-democracy protests.

The police force stated that the officers had been arrested on suspicion of “assault occasioning actual bodily harm.”

The case concerns Civic Party member and social worker Ken Tsang, who was lead away and then assaulted by a group of police officers following clashes between protesters and police in the early hours of Oct. 15.

Caught on video by a local TV news crew, the incident instantly became a cause célèbre and severely aggravated tensions between citizens and the police.

TIME Cricket

Australian International Cricketer Phillip Hughes Dies Aged 25

Tributes have poured in for the young star

Australian international cricketer Phillip Hughes has died at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The 25-year-old was in critical condition after he was hit on the head by a ball while batting during an important domestic game in the city on Tuesday.

The incident sent shock waves through the cricket world and was a reminder that, despite its genteel reputation, cricket can be a highly dangerous sport.

Hughes was struck on the rear left side of the head below the helmet by a short, fast ball — known in cricketing parlance as a bouncer — delivered by New South Wales bowler Sean Abbott.

Denser and heavier than baseballs, cricket balls can reach speeds of 100 m.p.h., turning them in potentially lethal projectiles — even when players are wearing protective gear, as the example of Hughes tragically shows.

Hughes, who grew up on a banana farm outside Sydney, had undergone emergency surgery and was kept in an induced coma until passing away on Thursday afternoon, local time.

Tributes have poured in for the young star, who was the first Australian batsman ever to score a century in his debut for his national side in the one-day form of the game.

 

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