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Tiananmen statue creator asks for immunity from Hong Kong security law

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November 12, 2021

By Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Danish sculptor of a statue that commemorates pro-democracy protesters killed during China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 has asked Hong Kong authorities for immunity from a national security law so he come and take it back to Denmark.

Jens Galschiot loaned the eight-metre high, two-tonne copper sculpture called “Pillar of Shame” to a local civil society group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, in perpetuity.

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The statue, depicting dozens of torn and twisted bodies, has been on display at the University of Hong Kong for more than two decades. After the Alliance disbanded in September with some members accused of national security offences, the university requested the group remove the statue from its premises.

In an open letter on Friday, Galschiot, who values the statue at around $1.4 million, said he was willing to take it back to Denmark, but that his presence in Hong Kong was necessary for the complex operation to go well.

Cooperation from the university and city authorities for technical assistance, roadblocks and permits was also needed, he said.

Additionally, Galschiot asked for assurances that he would not be prosecuted under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 to punish what it sees as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

“I can understand from the press that the introduction of the new security legislation in Hong Kong means that there is a legal basis for arresting foreign nationals who engage in activities that criticise China,” Galschiot wrote.

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The statue’s removal “will lead to activities and media coverage that could be perceived as criticism of China. Therefore, I will have to get a guarantee that my employees and I will not be prosecuted.”

The university, the government’s Security Bureau, and the Immigration Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The university gave the Alliance a deadline for the statue’s removal, which expired a month ago. It said at the time it was seeking legal advice on what to do with it.

Democratic activists and some Western governments say the security law is a tool to silence dissent and push Hong Kong firmly on an authoritarian path. Chinese and city authorities maintain Hong Kong is still governed by the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms remain intact.

(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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