Riot police disperse anti-extradition bill protesters during a mass demonstration after a woman was shot in the eye, at the Hong Kong international airport, in Hong Kong China August 13, 2019.
Thomas Peter | Reuters
The Hong Kong airport returned to calm as most protesters left the airport early Wednesday morning.
Earlier, riot police clashed with pro-democracy protesters late Tuesday night, moving into the terminal where the demonstrators had shut down operations at the busy transport hub for two straight days.
The Tuesday night demonstrations involved officers armed with pepper spray and batons confronting the protesters who used luggage carts to barricade entrances to the airport terminal.
Police took several people into a police van waiting at the entrance to the airport’s arrivals hall.
Police said they tried to help ambulance officers reach an injured man whom protesters had detained on suspicion of being an undercover agent.
Protesters also detained a second man who they suspected of being an undercover agent. After emptying out his belongings, they found a blue T-shirt that has been worn by pro-Beijing supporters that they said was evidence he was a spy.
Earlier in the day, authorities were forced to cancel all remaining flights as the city’s pro-Beijing leader warned that the protesters had pushed events onto a “path of no return.”
After a brief period when flights were able to take off and land, the airport authority suspended check-in services for departing flights as of 4:30 p.m. Departing flights that had completed the process were able to continue to operate.
It said it did not expect arriving flights to be affected, although dozens were already canceled. The authority advised people not to come to the airport, one of the world’s busiest.
More than 200 flights were canceled Monday and the airport was effectively shut down with no flights taking off or landing. Passengers have been forced to stay in the city while airlines tried to find other ways to get them to their destinations.
For Grace Bendal, a 43-year-old contractor from the Philippines, Tuesday was the second straight day she came to the airport only to learn flights were canceled. She spent the weekend in Hong Kong with her primary school-age children, who were eager to return to classes.
She said they have already missed two days of school and the extra day in the city has cost her around 3,000 Hong Kong dollars ($400). Though there were no airline employees at check-in counters Tuesday evening, Bendal said she and her children planned to stay at the airport all night.
“I cannot blame them, because they are fighting for something,” Bendal said of the protesters. “But then it’s not right if we are the ones suffering.”
The airport disruptions are an escalation of 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.
The protests have built on an opposition movement that shut down much of the city for seven weeks in 2014 before it eventually fizzled and its leaders were jailed on public disturbance charges.
The central government in Beijing has ominously characterized the current protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” that poses an “existential threat” to citizens.
While Beijing tends to define terrorism broadly, extending it especially to nonviolent movements opposing government policies in minority regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, its use of the term in relation to Hong Kong raised the prospect of greater violence and the possible suspension of legal rights for those detained.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the instability, chaos and violence have placed the city on a “path of no return.”
The black-clad demonstrators have shown no sign of letting up on their campaign to force Lam’s administration to respond to their demands, including that she 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 all calls for dialogue, part of what analysts say is a strategy to wear down the opposition movement through police action while prompting demonstrators to take more violent and extreme actions that will turn the Hong Kong public against them. At the airport, protesters discussed among themselves whether they should simply block all access to the facility.
Meanwhile, paramilitary police were assembling across the border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises that some saw as a threat to increase force against the mostly young protesters who have turned out by the thousands in the past 10 weeks.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that U.S. intelligence informed him that Chinese troops were being moved to the Hong Kong border.
Anti-government protesters try to prevent a passenger from breaching a barricade in front of departure gates, during a demonstration at Hong Kong Airport, China August 13, 2019.
Thomas Peter | Reuters
While China has yet to threaten sending in the army — as it did against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989 — the Shenzhen exercises were a sign of its ability to crush the demonstrations, even at the cost to Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe haven for business and international exchange. Images on the internet showed armored personnel carriers belonging to the People’s Armed Police driving in a convoy Monday toward the site of the exercises.
The People’s Liberation Army also stations a garrison in Hong Kong, which recently released a video showing its units combating actors dressed as protesters. Hong Kong police also put on a display of water cannons.
Police have arrested more than 700 protesters since June and say they have infiltrated the demonstrators, leading to concerns that officers were inciting violence. Scores of protesters and police have been hurt, including a woman reported to have had an eye ruptured by a beanbag round fired by police during clashes Sunday.
Police said they are investigating the incident, which protesters have taken up as a rallying cry. Some in the airport occupation wore gauze bandages dyed with artificial blood over one eye.
The U.N.’s top human rights official condemned violence around the protests and urged both sides to settle their dispute through “open and inclusive dialogue.”
Rupert Colville, spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, said her office had reviewed evidence that police are using “less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards.” That includes firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individuals, “creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” Colville said in a statement.
In a sign of rising tensions, protesters in the evening detained a man they claimed was a police officer from mainland China. They tied his wrists using plastic strips and poured water over his head. Airport security guards were present but did not appear to be able to stop the crowd.
Sally Tong, an 18-year-old protester, said they needed to keep holding him as evidence that mainland Chinese authorities are in Hong Kong to monitor the demonstrations. Tong said the man was dressed in black and wore a mask to look like one of them.
“We want to keep him here and investigate,” Tong said. Protesters said the man dropped his wallet when he was running away from them, and they found ID cards from mainland China and also found his name on a list of police officers online.
The Associated Press could not independently verify his identity.
After two months, the protests have become increasingly divisive and prompted clashes across the city.
Demonstrators have recently focused on their demand for an independent inquiry into what they call the police’s abuse of power and negligence. That followed reports and circulating video of violent arrests and injuries sustained by protesters.
Some protesters have thrown bricks, eggs and flaming objects at police stations. Police say several officers have suffered burns, bruises and eye damage from protesters.
Lam said dialogue would only begin when the violence ended. She reiterated her support for police and said they have had to make on-the-spot decisions under difficult circumstances, using “the lowest level of force.”
“After the violence has been stopped, and the chaotic situation that we are seeing could subside,” Lam said. “I as the chief executive will be responsible to rebuild Hong Kong’s economy … to help Hong Kong to move on.”
She did not elaborate on any conciliatory steps her government will take.
The early protests were in specific neighborhoods near government offices. However, the airport protest has had a direct impact on business travel and tourism. Analysts said it could make foreign investors think twice about setting up shop in Hong Kong, which has long prided itself as being Asia’s leading business city with convenient air links across the region.
“I don’t think I will ever fly to Hong Kong again,” said Kerry Dickinson of South Africa.
The protesters held signs in Chinese and English to appeal to travelers from mainland China and elsewhere. “Democracy is a good thing,” said one sign in simplified Chinese characters.
Adding to the protesters’ anger, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways told employees the carrier has a “zero tolerance” for them joining “illegal protests” and warned they could be fired.
— CNBC contributed to this report.
Here’s how sterling will now trade as Britain breaks its Brexit deadlock
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds enter Downing Street as the Conservatives celebrate a sweeping election victory on December 13, 2019 in London, England.
Peter Summers | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Sterling will go into the first quarter of 2020 with some upside potential, according to currency experts, after a landslide U.K. election victory for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.
The pound jumped more than 2% as the scale of the victory became apparent, after an initial exit poll projected a mammoth 86-seat Conservative majority, with cable eventually topping out at $1.3515.
Markets received a boost from the short-term certainty offered by Johnson being granted license to push his Brexit agreement through Parliament before the January 31 deadline.
However, currency strategists are expecting the surge to be contained as the U.K. enters the new and equally challenging phase of negotiating its future trading relationship with the bloc before the end of 2020.
Expectations are that the country’s economic fundamentals could return to focus alongside trade discussions in driving the activity of the pound in the new year.
New phase of uncertainty
The pound came off its overnight highs early in Friday’s European trading session to hover just above the $1.34 mark, suggesting investors are not counting their chickens that the result automatically leads to a Brexit resolution.
“In the short term, the pound should now have a fairly calm trading pattern through to the new year, providing some welcome respite to businesses and investors,” Sebastien Clements, currency analyst at OFX, told CNBC via email on Friday.
“However, the currency’s landscape over the next three months is less certain, and depends heavily on the 31st January Brexit deadline. If Boris Johnson’s deal is passed, we can expect another short rally in the pound, but after that date we are essentially entering the unknown.”
Assuming Johnson’s deal passes next month, sterling will then be contingent on progress in the U.K.’s trade talks with the EU and other trading partners. Clements suggested that in the meantime, the currency may temporarily reattach itself to traditional economic data rather than Brexit headlines.
Goldman Sachs closed out its “long” recommendation for sterling as the pound reached the Wall Street giant’s near-term targets of $1.35 and 0.82 against the euro overnight, banking a hypothetical gain on its position of 3.1%.
“While we see a less compelling risk/reward proposition over the near-term, sterling may drift higher over the coming months as sidelined investors re-engage in U.K. assets,” Goldman analysts said in a note Friday.
The scale of Johnson’s majority means he is unlikely to be beholden to the hard euroskeptic faction of the Conservative Party, the ERG (European Research Group), in shaping Brexit policy in 2020. The ERG’s hold over the prime minister’s previous minority government was seen to be a key driver of divergence in attitudes between the U.K. and Brussels.
This election result may give Johnson license to bring the U.K. closer to the EU’s position on the future relationship than in previous negotiations, should he wish to do so. He still has a lot of work to do beyond the Brexit deadline, however.
UBS Wealth Management U.K. Economist Dean Turner said he expected Thursday night’s sharp sterling gains to hold, but to stagnate in early 2020.
“Looking ahead, we see little room for it to rally beyond 1.40, given continued uncertainty about the next stage of Brexit negotiations,” Turner commented via email Friday.
“Markets will be aware that the deadline for extending the transition period beyond the end of next year will be on 1 July, so Brexit headlines might still lead to further GBP moves.”
Don’t forget the economy
James Dowey, global equity fund manager at Liontrust Asset Management, suggested sterling may find it difficult to get beyond its current mid-$1.30s range in the medium term.
“While a way forward has at last been found, it is one that will very likely incur significant long-term economic costs so the bounce back will likely be limited in size and short-lived,” he said.
Dowey argued that the biggest headwind facing U.K. assets was not Brexit, but the productivity slowdown — the U.K. has seen a 90% decline in the rate of productivity growth over the past 10 years compared with the average across the previous four decades.
“Reduced foreign market access and competition — basic long-term aspects of Brexit — are likely to keep U.K. productivity growth fairly low, necessitating a continued focus on the financial soundness of U.K. companies for investors,” he added.
Oliver Harvey, U.K. macro and senior FX strategist at Deutsche Bank, said the election had distracted market attention from an “increasingly worrisome economic outlook,” with many recessionary warning signs flashing red.
“Unless the next government provides businesses with certainty the Brexit transition period will be extended beyond the end of 2020 and seek a closer economic relationship with the EU, we see limited prospects of a bounce-back in sentiment and investment,” Harvey commented in a note Friday.
“A related issue is whether, with a large majority, the government seeks a more-ambitious fiscal policy than outlined in its manifesto. As things currently stand, the U.K.’s fiscal impulse will be slightly negative next year.”
The queen willing to pay up to $67,000 for social media manager
Queen Elizabeth II is willing to pay up to $67,000 for a head of digital engagement, to find “new ways to maintain (her majesty’s) presence in the public eye and on the world stage.”
The royal household, which posted the role on LinkedIn, said the job also entailed engaging a “worldwide audience with public role and work of The Royal Family.”
The successful candidate would “provide digital and editorial leadership to a small team of digital media specialists, drive the content strategy of our digital channels, and work with colleagues across the organization to continuously improve our digital presence,” it said.
From covering state visits to award ceremonies or a royal engagement, the person hired would need to make sure royal “digital channels consistently spark interest and reach a range of audiences,” with “reputation and impact at the forefront” of their work.
The ideal candidate would have experience managing and editing “high profile” websites and would be an “expert” in their field.
They would also need to be confident using a range of content management systems, social media platforms and analytics tools.
“Innovative and with creative flair, you’ll have exemplary and compelling writing and editorial skills, and expertise in designing digital content for different audience groups, purposes and formats,” The royal household said, adding the candidate should also be a “natural communicator.”
The head of digital engagement would get a “comprehensive benefits package,” including 33 days holiday (including bank holidays), free lunch, training and an employer pension contribution of 15% of qualifying earnings. The annual salary was said to range between £45,000 and £50,000 ($67,000), depending on experience.
The royal residence of Buckingham Palace offered annual pay of at least $27,629 for a royal chef, in a job advertisement in July.
The queen came under fire on Twitter and in the press last year for her Christmas annual address, in which she encouraged “generosity and self-sacrifice” while sitting in front a gold piano. Britain’s reigning monarch was labeled “out of touch” for the speech.
Investors in collapsed Woodford fund to get half their cash in Jan
Neil Woodford, Woodford Investment Management.
Woodford Investment Management
Hundreds of thousands of investors trapped in the former flagship fund of veteran money manager Neil Woodford should get just over half their money back in January, the fund’s administrator said.
Woodford, who made his name as a contrarian investor over 30-plus-year career, has come under fire from regulators and investors for the 3 billion pound ($3.85 billion) LF Woodford Equity Income Fund’s heavy exposure to unlisted, hard-to-sell stocks.
Trading in the UK-focused fund was initially suspended in June after it ran out of cash to pay back investors seeking to leave after a period of underperformance. Link Fund Solutions said it would wind up the fund in October, which prompted Woodford to close his firm.
Link said in a letter to investors on Friday that Britain’s regulator had approved its plan to wind up the fund, with a final valuation of assets set to take place on Jan. 17. The first payout will be made on or around Jan. 20, it said, with the fund’s name changing to LF Equity Income Fund.
BlackRock, which is selling the more liquid assets on behalf of Link, has sold 56% of the fund, totaling 1.65 billion pounds ($2.12 billion), Link said.
BlackRock has reinvested the funds in assets including stock index and money market instruments.
However, Link added that PJT Partners, which is selling the less liquid assets, was still exploring opportunities to sell them.
“Link’s letter indicates that investors are likely to be waiting for some time before they get all their money back,” said Ryan Hughes, head of active portfolios at investment platform AJ Bell. The current valuation of 2.95 billion pounds represents a 19% loss for investors since the fund’s suspension, he added.
Woodford investors may lose a third of their money as a result of the winding up of the fund, according to the firm’s own estimates.
Following the Woodford suspension and the freezing of property funds after the June 2016 Brexit referendum, the Bank of England on Monday is set to update its rules governing withdrawals from funds holding illiquid assets.
M&G froze its property fund again last week.
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