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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.

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Hong Kong police and protesters clash, ending violence lull

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An anti-extradition bill protester throws Molotov cocktails during clashes at a march to demand democracy and political reforms, at Kowloon Bay, in Hong Kong, China August 24, 2019.

Tyrone Siu | Reuters

Hong Kong protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs at police, who responded with tear gas, as chaotic scenes returned to the summer-long anti-government protests on Saturday for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Hundreds of black-clad protesters armed with bamboo poles and baseball bats fought with police officers wielding batons on a main road following a march against “smart lampposts” that was sparked by surveillance fears.

The chaotic scenes unfolded outside a police station and a nearby shopping mall as officers in riot gear faced off with protesters who set up makeshift street barricades.

The violence interrupted nearly two weeks of calm in Hong Kong, which has been gripped by a turbulent pro-democracy movement since June.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd after repeated warnings “went futile,” the government said in a statement. By early evening, most of the protesters had dispersed, though clashes flared up in other neighborhoods.

Earlier in the day, some protesters used an electric saw to slice through the bottom of a smart lamppost, while others pulled ropes tied around it to send it toppling and cheered as it crashed to the ground.

The protest march started peacefully as supporters took to the streets to demand the removal of the lampposts over worries that they could contain high-tech cameras and facial recognition software used for surveillance by Chinese authorities.

The government in Hong Kong said smart lampposts only collect data on traffic, weather and air quality.

The protesters chanted slogans calling for the government to answer the movement’s demands. The protests began in June with calls to drop a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to China to stand trial, then widened to include free elections for the city’s top leader and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

“Hong Kong people’s private information is already being extradited to China. We have to be very concerned,” organizer Ventus Lau said ahead of the procession.

The semiautonomous Chinese territory has said it plans to install about 400 of the smart lampposts in four urban districts, starting with 50 this summer in the Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay districts that were the scene of Saturday’s protest march.

Hong Kong’s government-owned subway system operator, MTR Corp., shut down stations and suspended train service near the protest route, after attacks by Chinese state media accusing it of helping protesters flee in previous protests.

MTR said Friday that it may close stations near protests under high risk or emergency situations. The company has until now kept stations open and trains running even when there have been chaotic skirmishes between protesters and police.

Lau said MTR was working with the government to “suppress freedom of expression.”

Also Saturday, Chinese police said they released an employee at the British Consulate in Hong Kong as scheduled after 15 days of administrative detention.

Simon Cheng Man-kit was detained for violating mainland Chinese law and “confessed to his illegal acts,” the public security bureau in Luohu, Shenzhen, said on its Weibo microblog account, without providing further details.

The Chinese government has said that Cheng, who went missing after traveling by train to mainland China for a business trip, was held for violating public order regulations in Shenzhen, in a case that further stoked tensions in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

The British government confirmed his release.

“We welcome the release of Simon Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement, adding that Cheng and his family had requested privacy.

Cheng, a Scottish government trade and investment officer, was a local employee without a diplomatic passport.

The Global Times, a Communist Party-owned nationalistic tabloid, said Thursday that he was detained for “soliciting prostitutes.” China often uses public order charges against political targets and has sometimes used the accusation of soliciting prostitution.

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As EU threatens trade retaliation, Brazil fights Amazon fires

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A charred trunk is seen on a tract of Amazon jungle that was recently burned by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil, August 20, 2019.

Bruno Kelly | Reuters

European leaders on Friday threatened to tear up a trade deal with South America, reflecting growing international anger at Brazil as a record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest intensified an unfolding environmental crisis.

Amid a global chorus of concern and condemnation, Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro pledged in an address to the nation to mobilize the army to help combat the blazes, while his administration launched a diplomatic charm offensive to try to mend bridges overseas.

Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for more than half of the world’s largest rainforest, have surged in number by 83% this year, according to government data, destroying vast swathes of a vital bulwark against global climate change.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for G7 leaders to discuss the environmental crisis in Brazil at a summit this weekend in the French coastal resort of Biarritz. Both France and Ireland threatened to oppose an EU trade deal struck in June with a regional South American bloc following Brazil’s response.

Images of fires raging in the Amazon broadcast around the globe sparked protests outside Brazilian embassies from Mexico City and Lima to London and Paris.

In the Cypriot capital Nicosia, a sign tied to the railings of Brazil’s diplomatic mission read: “The Amazon belongs to Earth not to the Brazilian president.”

Bolsonaro, who initially accused non-governmental organizations of setting the forest on fire without providing any evidence, said in a televised address he had authorized the use of troops to fight the fires and stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon.

But the former military officer attributed the scale of the fires to dryer-than-average weather and insisted on the need for economic development of the Amazon to improve the lives of its 20 million inhabitants.

Environmentalists have warned that his controversial plans for more agriculture and mining in the region will speed up deforestation.

“We have to give the population the opportunity to develop and my government is working for that, with zero tolerance for crime – and that is no different for the environment,” Bolsonaro said in his televised speech.

Polls show Brazilians overwhelmingly oppose his policy on the environment and as he spoke to the nation, residents in large cities across Brazil banged on pots and pans in a traditional Latin American form of protest.

President Donald Trump – whose skeptical views on climate change Bolsonaro shares – called the Brazilian president to offer help, if needed, in dealing with the wildfires.

“I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

G7 set to discuss fires

The wildfires now look set to be discussed at the summit of G7 leaders in France this weekend, where Macron has called for leaders to sign a charter to protect biodiversity. The French leader said an “ecocide” was taking place in the Amazon that required an international response.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that the fires were “not only heartbreaking, they are an international crisis,” while a spokeswoman said Johnson would use the summit to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature.

France and Ireland said on Friday they would now oppose the E.U.-Mercosur farming deal struck in June between the European Union and the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

The French president’s office accused Bolsonaro of lying when he downplayed concerns over climate change at the G20 summit in June.

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honor its environmental commitments,” Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement.

The EU-Mercosur deal took 20 years to negotiate, but will not be officially ratified for at least another two years.

Brazilian business leaders also warned the backlash over Brazil’s environmental record could sink its efforts to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based club of 37 developed nations whose imprimatur is required by many institutional investors.

Stung by the international outcry, Brazil distributed a 12-page circular, exclusively seen by Reuters, to foreign embassies, outlining data and statistics defending the government’s reputation on the environment.

Having first dismissed the fires as natural, then blaming non-governmental organizations without evidence for lighting them, Bolsonaro appeared to adopt a more serious approach on Friday following the international outcry, summoning top cabinet members for an afternoon meeting to tailor a response.

Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias insisted that Brazil was “taking care” of the Amazon, and that international concerns over the fires needed to cool down.

“The news is worrying, but I think we have to lower the temperature. The Amazon is important, Brazil knows that, and Brazil is taking care of the Amazon,” she told reporters.

‘Interfering with our sovereignty’

The Brazilian space agency INPE has registered 72,843 fires this year, the highest number since records began in 2013. More than 9,500 have been spotted by satellites over the past week.

Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the dry season at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the jump on farmers clearing land for pasture.

Farmers may have had at least tacit encouragement from the firebrand right-wing president, who took power in January.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he believes Brazil should open up the Amazon to business interests, allowing mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro admitted for the first time that farmers may be behind some of the fires but he responded angrily to what he saw as foreign interference.

Some foreign donors – including the biggest, Norway – have slashed their funding to an Amazon Fund designed to curb deforestation in the region in protest at changes introduced by Brazil that blocked its operations.

“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity … They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” Bolsonaro said.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at Britain’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, urged that import sanctions be imposed on Brazil because of the fires.

“Immediate action is necessary to extinguish the current fires and prevent future ones,” the Brazilian scientist said.

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Trump is meeting with world leaders at G7 as he escalates US-China trade war

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U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania arrive in Biarritz for the G7 summit, France August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Regis Duvignau | Reuters

President Donald Trump arrived in France on Saturday for the annual meeting of the Group of 7 powers, one day after he called his Federal Reserve chief an enemy of the United States and urged American companies to end business with China in the midst of an escalating trade war.

The summit comes amid fears over a global economic slowdown, and U.S. tensions with allies over trade, Iran and Russia.

Trump said Friday he will raise existing duties on $250 billion in Chinese products to 30% from 25% on Oct. 1. Additionally, tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese goods, which start to take effect on Sept. 1, will now be 15% instead of 10%.

In addition to the China trade war tensions, the president has maintained tough rhetoric against the European Union. The White House is set to decide in November whether they will impose duties on the autos industry in Europe.

Earlier this year, Trump vowed to set tariffs on imported vehicles and parts from the EU and Japan, but delayed that duty for 180 days in May. The president signed a deal with the EU earlier this month to boost U.S. beef exports.

Trump again threatened to tax European cars Tuesday.

“Dealing with the European Union is very difficult; they drive a high bargain,” Trump said. “We have all the cards in this country because all we have to do is tax their cars and they’d give us anything we wanted because they send millions of Mercedes over. They send millions of BMWs over.”

Experts say that trade conflict with Europe could be much more damaging than the current tit-for-tat conflict with China.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters upon his arrival in France that he plans to tell Trump at the summit to pull back from the trade war with China. Johnson said his priorities for the summit “are clearly the state of global trade.”

“I am very worried about the way it’s going, the growth of protectionism, of tariffs that we’re seeing,” Johnson told reporters on the tarmac.

Trump’s first meeting on Saturday was a private lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron, who will host the summit, said they were discussing world crises, including Libya, Iran and Russia, as well as trade policy and climate change.

Trump said he anticipated the lunch with Macron would go well. 

“We actually have a lot in common, Emmanuel and I. We’ve been friends for a long time. And every once in a while, we go at it just a little bit — not very much. But we get along very well,” he said. 

When asked if he would place tariffs on French wines in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which he previously threatened to do, Trump was noncommittal, but responded that he loves French wine.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said on Saturday that the EU would “respond in kind” if the U.S. imposes tariffs on France over the digital tax plan.

The G-7, which represents the world’s major industrial economies, includes the U.S., Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Italy, and the U.K.

At the summit, world leaders are expected to discuss several foreign policy matters, including Iran and tensions between India and Pakistan, as well as record wildfires in the Amazon rainforest that have spurred global outrage.

Formal talks begin Sunday morning. Many experts expect the summit to end without a joint communique because of clashes on trade.

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