Archive for September, 2014

Hong Kong Protesters Brace For Test: Wednesday Is China’s National Day

September 30, 2014


Lightning and heavy rain marked the scene outside the central government complex. A coming two-day holiday could bring record numbers to rallies spreading throughout the city as organizers pressed demands for free elections. Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg

Protesters Expect Attempts to Break Up Demonstrations

By Jason Chow and Enda Curran
The Wall Street Journal

HONG KONG—Pro-democracy protesters and Hong Kong’s government entrenched their positions ahead of China’s National Day, a holiday that looked set to bring protesting crowds to a peak and increase the chances for a confrontation.

On the fifth day of a wave of protests that have swept the city in an often festival-like atmosphere, three main protest groups joined forces to call for the resignation of Leung Chun-ying, the city’s chief executive, and gave him until midnight to respond to their demands.

As the deadline passed, protesters cheered. Shortly after, crowds appeared to spread out from the area near government headquarters in the Admiralty district to nearby Bauhinia Square, which was blocked off for official National Day celebrations planned for Wednesday.

New crowds were also gathering across Victoria Harbour in the Tsim Sha Tsui luxury-shopping district of Kowloon, and supporters were bringing in supplies such as water.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Leung chided protesters for endangering Hong Kong’s economy and reputation, and said protests wouldn’t change Beijing’s decision to effectively prescreen candidates for the election of Hong Kong’s top leader—the issue at the root of the protests.

The war of words underlined growing apprehension with the approach of Oct. 1, which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China and draws many mainlanders to the city to sight-see and shop.

Protesters on the streets Tuesday night feared the city would try to clear them out before the Wednesday holiday and the arrival of Chinese tourists. “Many mainlanders will be here,” said York Lei, a 21-year-old student.

Timeline: Hong Kong’s Civil Disobedience Movement

As residents continue to pour into Hong Kong’s streets, we look at what ignited the protests.

In a sign that the protests are starting to affect commerce, French cosmetics company L’Oréal banned its staff from business travel to Hong Kong until next week, the first major international company to publicly acknowledge concern around the city’s turmoil.

The Hong Kong office of China’s Foreign Ministry sent out a letter on Sunday to foreign diplomats in the city, advising them to “stay away from the sites of assembly…so as to avoid violating the law and affecting their own safety and interests.” The U.S. Consulate confirmed it received the letter.

Central Casting

The main characters in the tussle over Hong Kong democracy

As pro-democracy protests grew in Hong Kong on Monday, an aerial drone captured shots of the crowd as it massed in the city’s business district. Photo: Facebook/Nero Chan

The crowds grew Tuesday as daytime temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 Fahrenheit, gave way to loud thunderstorms in the evening. Protesters, who were already wielding umbrellas to shield against the sun as well as pepper spray, were undaunted by brief evening rain showers. Organizers expected the largest number of people in the streets since protests began in earnest on Friday night.

Thunder and heavy rain hit Hong Kong for about 10 minutes as protesters broke into song. During the rain we spoke to Benny Tai, Co-Founder of the HK Occupy movement and protesters who are entering another night of protests.

Many demonstrators, such as 67-year-old grandmother Tam Kam Yuk, thought it was particularly important to show support on the eve of a holiday heavy on symbolism. “This is my first time out,” she said. “Even though the chances are slim, we should fight for what we want.”

For the first time in the latest wave of protests that have largely lacked an organizing authority, student organizers and leaders of the Occupy Central movement presented a united front, standing together at a joint news conference to blame Mr. Leung for failing to take residents’ wishes for free elections into account and for authorizing the use of tear gas against protesters Sunday night.

“Only if Leung Chun-ying steps down can there be a new government to restart constitutional reform,” said Chan Kin-man, a co-founder of Occupy Central, the group that has been the main force calling for civil disobedience in Hong Kong.

Alongside him was Alex Chow, leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, who threatened to widen protests to government buildings unless Mr. Leung acknowledges protesters’ demands.

Eason Cheung Yiuwa, general secretary for the federation, said in the early hours of Wednesday there had been no communication between the student-led protest group and the government. “We’re still waiting for the government to respond,” said Mr. Cheung, 22 years old. The group didn’t intend to take further action imminently, he said, but that it was considering ways to escalate the protests if the government remained silent. “Right now we are occupying only the road.”

Some protesters worried about the potential consequences of the ultimatum.

“If Occupy spreads to more places, it may actually lessen support because there are some people who support the movement but still want to be able to go about their jobs and daily lives,” said K.Y. Chan, a 30-year-old office worker who was out with five other family members.


In his first media briefing since Sunday’s police crackdown, Mr. Leung gave no indication of backing down and said he expected the protests could last “for quite a long period of time.”

In the face of continuing protests, authorities appear to have several choices. They could allow protests go on in the hope they lose energy before the start of the next workweek, but letting them remain beyond that could be a problem.

“The longer the protesters remain on the street, the more likely that incidents will occur,” said Steve Vickers, a former senior officer in Hong Kong’s police force and now chief executive of the specialist risk and security consultancy Steve Vickers & Associates Ltd.

Forcing out protesters spread across three city districts, some of which are among the most densely populated on earth, would be a challenge for police, security experts said.

“Dispersing any kind of protest should always be the last option you look at,” said Adam Leggat, who served in the British Army for more than 20 years and now advises police forces around the world for Densus Group. “If they go for a dispersal option they have to be very, very careful how they go about it.”

Edward Schwarck, Asia fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said one key weakness for authorities could be a police force unwilling to use heavy force against the demonstrators.

“The loyalty of the Hong Kong police is something that we should bear in mind,” he said. “The question going through Beijing’s mind is whether the Hong Kong police is the right tool to use here, and the alternative is the People’s Armed Police. They could be relied upon for a robust response.”

Mr. Leung reiterated his confidence in the city’s police force and said he doesn’t see a need to seek help from Chinese military forces, which has been a concern among many protesters. “When there are problems in Hong Kong society, our police force should be able to resolve them and we won’t need to mobilize the People’s Liberation Army,” he told reporters.

In Hong Kong’s financial sector, stocks fell 1.3% Tuesday, hitting their lowest levels in 2½ months. Several banks, including Standard Chartered Bank PLC, HSBC Holdings PLC, and  Bank of China Hong Kong said their operations were affected by the protests. Several bank branches reopened, but Hong Kong’s central bank said 19 different banks kept some branches and offices closed around the city onTuesday.

—Jacky Wong,
Isabella Steger and Kathy Chu
contributed to this article.

Write to Jason Chow at and Enda Curran at


Hong Kong: Tuesday Ends With Largest Street Crowds Yet — National Day Begins

September 30, 2014


Despite rain and lightning Tuesday night, Hong Kongers kept to their pro-democracy vigil.

Good morning and welcome to day four of our live Occupy Central coverage. Crowds have been swelling in protest zones across Hong Kong, after a spell of rain and thunder failed to thin their ranks.

The protesters, led by students, are demanding that the city’s leader CY Leung resign and that genuine democracy be allowed. The Hong Kong chief executive earlier today acknowledged that the protests would likely last ‘a long time’ but said Beijing would not back down on democracy.

Stay tuned for all the latest breaking news througout the night. 

Live feed from the South China Morning Post

1.15am: A situation to keep an eye on: Hundreds of protesters are gathering on Convention Road next to Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, where a flag-raising ceremony to mark National Day will begin at 8am. The ceremony is expected to be attended by a host of senior officials. At 1am there were about 100 police officers standing guard behind metal barriers. One of the protesters, 19-year-old student Eric, said the pro-democracy movement “is giving the country a happy birthday”.

12.55am: Taiwan’s leader Ma Ying-jeou said on Tuesday that China risked alienating the Taiwanese people and damaging cross-straits relations if it failed to respond with a “delicate hand” to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Reuters reports. Ma told a meeting of the ruling Kuomintang party that the confrontation between police and demonstrators was very worrying.

“If the mainland authority can handle this appeal with a delicate hand, it can help to shorten the mental gaps between people across the Taiwan Strait and benefit cross-strait relations,” Ma said in remarks issued by the party. “Otherwise, it could serve to alienate Taiwanese people and cause damage to cross-strait relations.”

Elsewhere, the British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said that Britain will summon the Chinese ambassador to discuss the ongoing protests. Clegg previously announced on Twitter that he sympathises “a great deal with the brave pro-democracy demonstrators taking to the streets of Hong Kong”.

And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the German leader was following events in Hong Kong closely. He added: “Freedom of speech has a long tradition in Hong Kong and it is secured by law. It is a good sign that so many people have voiced their opinions. Our hope is it that government forces in Hong Kong react with consideration, so that the rights of the citizens are upheld and their opinions can be voiced freely.”

12.45am: A group of more than 50 people representing ethnic minorities walked from Central and reached Causeway Bay before midnight. Holding banners reading “We are Hong Kong”, they walked through the masses along Hennessy Road and Yee Wo Street, chanting in Cantonese along with the crowd: “Hong Kong, add oil!” and “CY step down!”

In Central, Scholarism leader Joshua Wong, 17, rallied the crowd in the packed boulevard, calling for the public to be allowed to nominate candidates for the next chief executive election – and for current leader Leung Chun-ying to step down.

And in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, hundreds of protesters have occupied Canton Road, a key thoroughfare, as the demonstrations continue to spread.

12.15am: Some images just in from our photographer Dickson Lee who is in Admiralty, where tens of thousands are still gathered. The signs in the second photograph read “Be alert” and “Don’t forget the objective”.

12.00am: The Guardian is reporting that a British company which sold tear gas to Hong Kong will review its sales policy after the canisters were fired at unarmed protesters on Saturday. UK officials also made it clear they would re-evaluate their policy if they were asked to approve future export licences for tear gas to Hong Kong.

“The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT, said the UK had granted six licences worth £180,000 to sell tear gas to Hong Kong in the past four years, as police stockpiled canisters. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it did not comment on individual companies. However, it is understood that the CS gas covered by the licences over recent years has all been exported to Hong Kong.​”

11.32pm. On a lighter note, some protesters are receiving some treats tonight, including a free concert by popular Canto-pop and gay rights activist Anthony Wong Yiu-ming on Tim Mei Avenue in Admiralty. More than 400 people have gathered to watch the show outside the government headquarters.

A fish ball stand has also been set up for hungry protesters outside Legco.

11.17pm. Occupy Central organisers have received “a stack of envelopes containing death threats scrawled in Chinese characters”.

“I understood that once I joined this movement, they would attack me and treat me as an enemy,” Occupy leader Professor Chan Kin-man told Reuters.

Co-organiser Benny Tai has also received threats, some of which he said where addressed to “The Devil”. One letter even contained a razor blade to drive the point home. Academics associated with the protests have also reportedly suffered intimidation because of their activism.

An Occupy spokesperson who spoke to South China Morning Post clarified that the threats were received before the movement officially kicked off early on Sunday morning.

11.09pm. The red star on Chinese military headquarters in Admiralty is flashing bright tonight. The star was included in renovations to the building months ago, and it was unveiled in January.

The PLA caused controversy in June when it unveiled its refurbished building, complete with chinese characters in light which spelled “Chinese People’s Liberation Army”.

Spotted: The PLA star shining bright over Hong Kong. Photo: Danny Lee

10.43pm: Police make a rare appearance in Central, with a group of them turning up to warn several protesters against going to the top floor of the Star Ferry carpark on Connaught Road Central. Organisers had earlier warned the crowd not to enter the car parks, which are private property.

Protesters left the car park peacefully.

10.28pm. It’s jam-packed now in Admiralty. Protesters have even hung a sign on a traffic light saying the roads are full and there is no space for new arrivals, also warning that neighbouring protesters should remain in Central.

In a repeat of last night’s “sea of lights”, protesters on Harcourt Road again lit up the night with their mobile phones raised as they sing popular Cantonese tunes.

Protesters again light up the streets. Photo: Robin Fall


Protesters continue to rally outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung urged protesters to clear the roads Tuesday, saying they might pose a risk to public safety. (Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)


Cameron reminds China of obligations over Hong Kong

September 30, 2014


London (AFP) – Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday he was “deeply concerned” about escalating protests in Hong Kong and reminded China of its obligations towards the former colony.

Britain handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997 under an agreement that enshrined the “one country, two systems” principle, which was meant to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist system and way of life for a period up to 2047.

Asked if he felt any obligation to speak up for the city, where tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand genuine democracy from China, Cameron said: “Of course, I feel a deep obligation.”

He told Sky News television: “When we reached the agreement with China there were details of that agreement about the importance of giving the Hong Kong people a democratic future within this two-systems approach that we were setting out with the Chinese.

“So, of course, I am deeply concerned about what is happening and I hope this issue can be resolved.”

The demonstrators have demanded full universal suffrage after Beijing last month said it would allow elections for the semi-autonomous city’s next leader in 2017 but would vet the candidates — a decision branded a “fake democracy”.

Beijing on Tuesday called the street protests “illegal”.

On Monday, the Foreign Office said people in Hong Kong should be able to exercise their right to demonstrate within the law, adding: “These freedoms are best guaranteed by the transition to universal suffrage.”

Related Stories

Chinese patriotism fuels cruises to disputed isles

September 30, 2014


Cruise Ship “Coconut Princess”

ABOARD THE COCONUT PRINCESS (AP) — On a cruise more about politics than pleasure, Zhang Jing watched the gray shells of the Paracel Islands emerge from the purple, pre-dawn South China Sea.


Cheers erupted on board at the sight of the distant land, and Zhang and the other passengers scurried to take pictures of each other at the railing holding China’s bright red flag. A few miles away, a Chinese navy frigate cruised by silently, part of the country’s continuing watch over the tiny islands it has long claimed as part of its territory.

“This is the southern frontier of China,” Zhang, a policeman, said when he had reached one of the islands. “As a Chinese, I feel proud to come here and declare sovereignty.”

With the Tangshan resident and 167 other Chinese tourists on board, the ship had traveled more than 200 miles south of Hainan Island off China’s southern coast to what they said was an indisputable outpost of their country.

Each had waited months for permission to join the five-day tour, and spent from $1,200 to about $2,000 to visit these barren patches of sand, making do with the bland cabbage and noodles on board and blackouts of cellphone service.

The passengers came to celebrate China’s growing power in the region, and to help press its claim to the 130 coral islands and reefs of the Paracels, known to the Chinese as the Xishas.

China is locked in disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighbors over much of the strategically crucial South China Sea, which holds important shipping lanes, rich fishing waters and — possibly — billions of barrels of oil. Patriotic tourists have become the region’s latest territorial chess pieces.

China has stationed hundreds of troops on the Paracels and even built a massive government headquarters in the northern islands, though Vietnam and Taiwan also claim the territory.

The tour company that Zhang used visits the southern Paracels. Since starting the tours in May 2013, it has ferried some 3,000 people to the islands, which are no bigger than a square mile. Videographers from The Associated Press were the first foreign journalists to join one of the tours.

The cruises are useful to China because under international law, it must prove a civilian and not just a military use for the islands to claim sovereignty, said Kang Lin, a researcher at China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

“Tourism to Xisha is a very good civilian tool to declare our sovereignty over the islands, and it is supported by international laws,” Kang said. “China will speed up its exploration in the Xisha Islands.”

The dispute has at times become heated, and there are concerns it could escalate. Over the summer, Vietnamese and Chinese boats repeatedly rammed each other in the Spratly Islands, several hundred miles south of the Paracels, after the Chinese moved an oil rig into contested waters.

Bernard Loo Fook Weng, a military studies professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said stoking nationalist fervor could backfire on leaders in Beijing if they eventually opt for a more conciliatory approach with China’s neighbors.

“Playing the popular card is always potentially dangerous because you may unleash forces you can’t control,” Weng said. “But if the Chinese really want to reinforce its claims to the Paracels and if necessary resort to military force, it helps to get the population on its side.”

Other than the passing navy frigate and a few sailors hitching a ride on the Coconut Princess, the tour group saw few signs of territorial tensions.

At dawn on the second day, the ship anchored a few miles off the coast of what the Chinese call Quanfu Island. Later, motorized inflatable boats took the visitors to three different islands where they snorkeled, swam and posed for pictures with their ever-present flags.

Chen Junxiang, an environmental agency official from the central Chinese province of Sichuan, donned an oxygen tank and dove among the coral and fish off Yagong Island. He said coming here was a lifelong dream, though he could have taken a more luxurious cruise somewhere else for the same money.

“I am here for tourism, but also to declare sovereignty and advocate for environmental protection,” Chen said. “We really should protect the environment here, otherwise we have nothing to leave for our next generations.”

Fisherman Fan Qiusheng waited for the group on the beach of Yingyu Island outside the wood-and-tarp shack where he lives nine months of the year. He and 18 other people are paid to live on the island; he said the central government gives him 1,350 yuan ($220) a month plus food, water, electricity and other supplies. His wife and five children live on Hainan, and he visits them about every two months.

“Making money is important, but keeping the islands is also important,” Fan said. “If we don’t live on these islands, other people like the Vietnamese will come and stay here. We are living here, so these islands are our territory.”


Jack Chang reported from Beijing.

U.S., Asian Neighbors Should Take Notice of China’s Hong Kong Crackdown as An Omen Of Conflict To Come

September 30, 2014


Photo: Hong Kong: Chinese Police Fire Tear Gas, Use Excessive Force During Peaceful Pro-Democracy Demonstration — Hong Kong’s Streets Become Battleground. How will China respond on the international stage when it senses defiance? We probably know….

China: As Hong Kong explodes in fury and pro-democracy activists take to the streets, China chooses to crack down. Once again, faced with a yearning for freedom by its own people, Beijing says no.

When Britain agreed in 1984 to return Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997, China promised “one country, two systems.” That is, while Hong Kong would be part of China, it would have a free-market economy and local political control.

But it was a convenient lie, as is so much from China’s communist regime in Beijing, meant only to soothe the fears of people in Hong Kong and the West.

Today, massive protests roil Hong Kong over Beijing’s decision to limit the amount of democracy that the 7.2 million people in the city-state have.

China’s communist regime, contrary to its pledges, announced in late August that it will continue to hand-pick Hong Kong’s political candidates, severely limiting voters’ choices in the 2017 election to a selection of communist stooges. That’s the source of the riots today.

This marks the death knell of “one country, two systems,” and a cynical revelation of how the communists really view their country: one country, one system.

Clearly, by forcing a crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, Beijing is sending a message. But to whom?

For one, it wants separatist Muslim Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang province to know that it won’t tolerate separatism.

For another, it wants Taiwan to stop thinking that it is independent or ever could be. The island nation has been told that even holding a referendum on independence, as Scotland just did, would be an act of war.

It’s also sending a message to China’s own citizens, many of whom think a big chance was missed with the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and who would like another chance at changing China’s government. The message is: Don’t even think about it.

Finally, it’s speaking loud and clear to Hong Kong.

In the post-Deng era, China has largely let Hong Kong’s economy alone to continue produce prodigious amounts of wealth — as can be seen in the Heritage Foundation’s World Economic Freedom rankings, in which Hong Kong has been No. 1 for 20 years straight.

But now Hong Kong’s people are straining at the tight political constraints they live under. Polls show that young Hong Kongers increasingly don’t even think of themselves as Chinese — a big problem, given that the communists mean to end Hong Kong’s separate status by 2047.

As China moves to impose its will on East Asia and to push the U.S. out, it’s showing that it will brutally crush any dissent within its own borders — and bully others.

To America, Hong Kong’s demonstrations shouldn’t be seen as just another domestic dispute in China. They should be seen as a warning of conflict to come.

Read More At Investor’s Business Daily:
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Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines all have experience dealing with the rising China through their sea disputes….


CNN: Tuesday Evening in Hong Kong — Pro-Democracy Protesters Stay Strong, United

September 30, 2014

Tens of thousands of protesters remain on the streets of Hong Kong, not relenting in their demand for democracy. Demonstrators camped out wearing masks, protective goggles and plastic raincoats – anything to protect against the possibility of tear gas that police fired days earlier.

The student-led unrest was sparked by China’s insistence that it vet candidates for a 2017 election in Hong Kong – even though residents in Hong Kong had been promised that they would be able to freely elect their leaders.

Calling Hong Kong an “international city,” protester Chan Kin-man told CNN crews in Hong Kong that a “younger generation” has “been taught about civil rights, political rights. And we want our words to be heard.”

The protest marks the biggest demonstration in Hong Kong since it the British handed over the territory to China in 1997.

Protesters continue to rally outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung urged protesters to clear the roads Tuesday, saying they might pose a risk to public safety. (Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

People attend a speech despite rainy weather in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Tuesday night. At right, protesters sing and wave their cell phones after the inclement weather passes. (Photos, from left: Xaume Olleros/AFP/Getty Images and Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

After huge crowds dispersed overnight, hundreds of protesters slept on Hong Kong’s main thoroughfare to guard against police moving in to clear the site. Over loud speakers, protesters were urged to stay until 8 a.m. local time Tuesday morning when more demonstrators would join them. (Photo: Wong Maye-E/AP)

Alex Kwok, left, a senior Hong Kong trade union official, says he’s been helping with the organization of the main protest area. After involvement in several pro-democracy protests in the city earlier this year, Kwok says he’s coordinating “supplies and discipline” at the current demonstration. The protests are turning “a new page for Hong Kong,” he says. Alicia Yu, 19, is a student who’s been helping collect trash and distribute food and water to fellow pro-democracy protesters in central Hong Kong. She says the demonstrators, who have taken over key areas of the city, want Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, C.Y. Leung, to come and talk to them. “He doesn’t respond to us,” she says. (Photos: Jethro Mullen/CNN)

Much more from CNN:

Isil releases new video of British hostage John Cantlie

September 30, 2014

Photojournalist delivers forced propaganda message criticising Barack Obama’s strategy of air strikes and proxy armies against Islamist extremists

John Cantlie in the latest video released on Monday night

John Cantlie in the latest video released on Monday night

Islamist terrorists have released a third video of John Cantlie, a British journalist held prisoner for two years, in which he delivers a scripted propaganda attack against Barack Obama’s strategy in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Cantlie, wearing an orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuit, delivers the words directly to the camera using a sing-song tone as if to undermine the message.

In it he criticises Barack Obama’s tactics of using air strikes and proxy Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

“Air power is good at taking out specific targets but it is not good at taking and holding ground,” he said, sitting behind the same desk as before. “For that you need effective and disciplined troops and it’s hard to see how this hotch potch army with a long history of underperforming is going to be any form of credible infantry.”

He added that organising the Iraqi army into a proper fighting force would take months and dismissed the Free Syrian Army as “undisciplined, corrupt and largely ineffective”.

Mr Cantlie was first paraded in front of the cameras two weeks ago, promising a series of videos giving the real story of Isil.

It was the first that had been heard from him since he was captured inside Syria close to the border with Turkey towards the end of 2012.

Analysts said it may suggest a change in tactics by Isil, which had previously released videos of the murder of other Western hostages, including two American journalists and a British aid worker.

A second video was released last week in which Mr Cantlie, 43, from West Sussex, said the American president was being sucked into Gulf War III, another unwinnable conflict.

This time he sits in front of the same black backdrop to disguise his location. His appearance is similar, with the same length of beard, suggesting the videos were filmed at about the same time.

His main target is Mr Obama’s speech delivered on the 13th anniversary of 9/11.

He quotes approvingly from a New York Times article critical of Mr Obama’s strategy, and accuses the American president of using predictable and simplistic language.

The words attempt to rebut accusations that Isil lacks a vision and is interested only in murder

“Islamic State does have a vision: they have created an autonomous and functioning caliphate,” he said, before promising future videos.

“Join me again for the next programme.”

A British taxi driver, Alan Henning, who was kidnapped while delivering aid to Syria, is also still being held by Isil.

Speech: In the footage Cantlie called Obama's rhetoric 'disappointingly predictable', and criticised the Free Syrian Army as being 'undisciplined, corrupt and largely ineffective'

Speech: In the footage Cantlie called Obama’s rhetoric ‘disappointingly predictable’, and criticised the Free Syrian Army as being ‘undisciplined, corrupt and largely ineffective’

Territory: This map, which appears in the new John Cantlie video, shows where ISIS is operational. The dark pink streaks - largely centered around main roads in northern Syria and Iraq - show where ISIS maintains a presence, while the red dots show towns or cities currently under the group's control

Territory: This map, which appears in the new John Cantlie video, shows where ISIS is operational. The dark pink streaks – largely centered around main roads in northern Syria and Iraq – show where ISIS maintains a presence, while the red dots show towns or cities currently under the group’s control

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Garry Kasparov: Putin is ‘the most dangerous man’ in the world and a bigger threat to the U.S. than the Islamic State

September 30, 2014

Yahoo News

Arguably the world’s best chess player ever, Garry Kasparov is on a new mission. He hopes to convince the world that the biggest threat to global unrest is not the Islamic State, al-Qaida or North Korea. Instead it is Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president from 2000 to 2008 and then again from 2012 to today.

In an interview with Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga, Kasparov outlined his reasons for believing that Putin should be what keeps the world up at night. He chided President Barack Obama for being too late in addressing Putin’s aggression in Ukraine — ultimately annexing Crimea. And while he views the president’s speech at the United Nations — calling Russia’s invasion into Ukraine  and ideology of “might makes right” backward —he still believes that actions speak louder than words. Kasparov has extremely harsh words for what he views as European indifference to Putin’s actions, and he compares the world’s complacency with the lead-up to World War II.

Kasparov calls the Islamic State militant group (also known as ISIL and ISIS) a diversion for the world to focus on. He finds it hypocritical that the U.S. and other Western allies have agreed to supply Syrian rebels opposed to IS, while refusing Ukraine’s similar request.

Regarding the current sanctions imposed on Russia, Kasparov believes that at some point they will hurt not only the Russian economy, but also Putin and his inner circle. However, for that to happen, he believes the sanctions will have to be in place through at least March 2015. He adds that Putin will use Russia’s vast supply of natural gas as leverage ahead of what he calls the “upcoming cold winter,” threatening to shut down supplies to Europe and other former Soviet republics and satellite nations. Kasparov fears that the threat will be enough to persuade an easing of sanctions. He also believes Putin is telling his inner circle of Russia’s richest and most powerful business leaders, who are facing the ramifications of stiff sanctions that the western governments “will blink.  As before, they will capitulate.  We’ll get what we need.” Kasparov believes that Putin is calling the world’s bluff. “He is playing poker while everyone else is playing chess.”

Read the rest and see video:

Ukrainian troops stop cars at a checkpoint as people flee the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol in the Donetsk region amid fears of an offensive by pro-Russian militants on August 30, 2014. The European Union geared up a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia with warnings that the escalating conflict in Ukraine was putting all of Europe at risk of war. AFP PHOTO/ ANATOLII BOIKO


Islamic State uses grain to tighten grip in Iraq

September 30, 2014

SHEKHAN Iraq Tue Sep 30, 2014 8:22am EDT

A farmer loads wheat grains onto a truck near the town of Makhmur, August 27, 2014. Picture taken August 27, 2014.     REUTERS-Youssef Boudlal

A farmer loads wheat grains onto a truck near the town of Makhmur, August 27, 2014. Picture taken August 27, 2014.
REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

(Reuters) – For Salah Paulis, it came down to a choice between his faith and his crop.

A wheat farmer from outside Mosul, Paulis and his family fled the militant group Islamic State early last month. The group overran the family farm as part of its offensive that captured vast swathes of territory in northern Iraq. Two weeks later, Paulis, who is a Christian, received a phone call from a man who said he was an Islamic State fighter.

“We are in your warehouse. Why are you not here working and taking care of your business?” the man asked in formal Arabic. “Come back and we will guarantee your safety. But you must convert and pay $500.”

When Paulis refused, the man spelled out the penalty. “We are taking your wheat,” he said. “Just to let you know we are not stealing it because we gave you a choice.”

Other fleeing farmers recount similar stories, and point to a little-discussed element of the threat Islamic State poses to Iraq and the region.

The group now controls a large chunk of Iraq’s wheat supplies. The United Nations estimates land under IS control accounts for as much as 40 percent of Iraq’s annual production of wheat, one of the country’s most important food staples alongside barley and rice. The militants seem intent not just on grabbing more land but also on managing resources and governing in their self-proclaimed caliphate.

Wheat is one tool at their disposal. The group has begun using the grain to fill its pockets, to deprive opponents – especially members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities – of vital food supplies, and to win over fellow Sunni Muslims as it tightens its grip on captured territory. In Iraq’s northern breadbasket, much as it did in neighboring Syria, IS has kept state employees and wheat silo operators in place to help run its empire.

Iraqi wheat farmer

Such tactics are one reason IS poses a more complex threat than al Qaeda, the Islamist group from which it grew. For most of its existence, al Qaeda has focused on hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings. But Islamic State sees itself as both army and government.

“Wheat is a strategic good. They are doing as much as they can with it,” said Ali Bind Dian, head of a farmers’ union in Makhmur, a town near IS-held territory between Arbil and Mosul.

“Definitely they want to show off and pretend they are a government.”

The Sunni militants and their allies now occupy more than a third of Iraq and a similar chunk of neighboring Syria. The group generates income not just from wheat but also from “taxes” on business owners, looting, ransoming kidnapped Westerners and, most especially, the sale of oil to local traders. Oil brings in millions of dollars every month, according to estimates by Luay Al-Khatteeb, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. That helps finance IS military operations – and is why IS-held oilfields in Syria are targets in U.S.-led airstrikes.

“Islamic State presents itself as exactly that, a state, and in order to be able to sustain that image and that presentation, which is critical for continued recruitment and legitimacy, it depends on a sustainable source of income,” said Charles Lister, another visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.


In early August, Kurdish farmer Saeed Mustafa Hussein watched through binoculars as armed IS militants shovelled wheat onto four trucks, then drove off in the direction of Arab villages. Hussein said he does not know what became of his wheat. But he knows that IS runs flour mills in areas it controls and he believes that his wheat was likely milled and sold.

He had 54 tonnes of wheat on his farm in the village of Pungina, northeast of Arbil, wheat he had been unable to sell to a government silo or private traders because of fighting in the area.

The militants also took 200 chickens and 36 prized pigeons.

“What made it worse was that I was helpless to prevent this, I couldn’t do anything. They took two generators from the village that we had recently received from the Kurdish government after a very long process,” said Hussein.

Residents are too scared to return even though Kurdish fighters are now in control. “We think the Islamic State laid mines to keep us from going back,” said neighbor Abdullah Namiq Mahmoud.

There are scores of similar stories at displacement camps across Kurdistan.

“We escaped with our money and gold but left our wheat and furniture and everything else,” said farmer and primary school teacher Younis Saidullah, 62, a member of the tiny Kakaiya minority.

“Everything we built for 20 years using my salary and our farming: It’s all gone. We are back to zero,” he said, sitting on the floor of a tent at a United Nations-run camp on the outskirts of Arbil.


After Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait triggered Western sanctions, the then-Iraqi dictator built a comprehensive subsidised food distribution system in Iraq. That was expanded under the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program. Joy Gordon, a political philosophy professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut and author of the 2010 book “Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions,” estimates that two-thirds of Iraqis “were dependent primarily or entirely” on food subsidies between 1990 and 2003.

The system survived the U.S. invasion and years of violence. Now fully run by the Iraqi government, it has been plagued in recent years by “irregular (food) distributions” that have cut dependency, according to a June report by the United Nations‘ Food and Agriculture Organization. A former U.S. Department of Agriculture economist estimates that about quarter of Iraqis living in rural areas were dependent on subsidised food before the latest violence, while another quarter used it to top up food they bought.

IS is demonstrating that controlling wheat brings power. As its fighters swept through Iraq’s north in June, they seized control of silos and grain stockpiles. The offensive coincided with the wheat and barley harvests and, crucially, the delivery of crops to government silos and private traders.

IS now controls all nine silos in Nineveh Province, which spans the Tigris river, along with seven other silos in other provinces. In the three months since overrunning Nineveh’s provincial capital Mosul, IS fighters have forced out hundreds of thousands of ethnic and religious minorities and seized hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wheat from abandoned fields.



One target was the wheat silo in Makhmur, a town between the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. The silo has a capacity of 250,000 tonnes, or approximately 8 percent of Iraq’s domestic annual production in 2013.

IS attacked Makhmur on August 7. But even in the weeks before that, the group had found a way into the silo and the Iraqi state procurement system.

Abdel Rizza Qadr Ahmed, head of the silo, believes that IS forced local farmers to mix wheat produced in other, IS-controlled areas into their own harvest. The farmers then sold it to Makhmur as if it all had been grown locally. In the weeks before the attack, the silo purchased almost 14,000 more tonnes than it had in 2013. That extra wheat is worth approximately $9.5 million at the artificially high price Baghdad pays farmers.

Ahmed believes IS was looking to make money from the wheat and ensure there was bread available for Sunnis in the areas it controlled.

Ahmed said it was not his job to investigate the source of the grain, just to buy it. “We just take the wheat from the farmers and we don’t ask ‘Where did you get this from?'” he said.

Huner Baba, local director general of agriculture, said he too believed that traders and farmers had sold wheat from outside the region.

But Baghdad usually pays its wheat farmers around two months after they deposit their produce and so wheat farmers around Makhmur  – and therefore IS – had not yet been paid by the time IS militants entered the town on June 7 and, according to Baba, headed for the silo.

The militants were met by Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, and fighters from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). After IS took the silo, Baba said, they installed snipers there. He speculates that the militants believed U.S. warplanes would not strike the facility, which is in the center of town.

“They want to get people on their side especially the Arabs. Maybe that’s why they didn’t do anything to the wheat, not to anger people,” he said.

IS held Makhmur for three days before the Kurdish fighters and U.S. air strikes on IS positions – though not on the silo – drove them out. U.S.-led air strikes did hit grain silos in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Sept 28. A group monitoring the war said the aircraft may have mistaken the mills and grain silos for an Islamic State base. There was no immediate comment from Washington.



In many ways, IS is replicating in Iraq strategies it developed in Syria. In the year it has controlled the town of Raqqa in northeastern Syria, for instance, IS militants say they have allowed former employees from Assad’s regime to continue to run its mills. The group has set up a wheat “diwan,” or bureau, in charge of the supply chain, from harvesting the crop to distributing flour.

The same push to keep things running smoothly can be seen in Iraq. IS fighters have regularly avoided destroying government installations they have captured. When IS took over Iraq’s largest dam it kept employees in place and even brought in engineers from Mosul to make repairs.

Baghdad, too, has tried to minimise upheaval.

Hassan Ibrahim, head of Iraq’s Grain Board, the Trade Ministry body responsible for procuring Iraq’s wheat internationally and from local farmers, said that government employees in IS-held areas keep in regular touch with head office. Some staff in IS areas even come to Baghdad every couple of weeks, he said.

In the past few weeks, he said, IS fighters had disappeared from some areas in Mosul and Kirkuk because of the U.S.-led air strikes. “The situation is stable,” he said, with IS fighters mostly happy to allow state employees to continue to run the silos.

“I give instructions to my people to try to be quiet and smooth with those people because they are very violent people. It is not good to be violent with violent people because they will come to kill you. Our aim is to keep the wheat.”

After IS’s June offensive, Ibrahim was ordered to suspend salaries for workers in IS areas. “But this troubled me,” he said. “I cannot have the mills stopping. I need people to stay there like guards to convince the Islamic State that wheat is important for everybody.”

Ibrahim says he convinced his bosses to keep paying salaries. A Trade Ministry spokesman confirmed that all government employees in Mosul had been paid their salaries “through state banks in Kirkuk, as it’s safer and under government control.”

Ibrahim is now worried about farmers who have not been paid for the wheat they delivered in the weeks before the grain was seized by IS.

He said the Grain Board and the Trade Ministry were trying to pay farmers either living in IS-held areas or recently displaced from them. “We would like to help the farmers, but not IS,” he said.



In some places, the IS stranglehold on wheat appears to be winning support among Sunnis.

Ahsan Moheree, chairman of the government-affiliated Arab Farmers Union in Hawija, says IS has gained in popularity since its fighters took over. Baghdad’s dismissive attitude towards the country’s Sunni Arabs had forced people towards IS, he said. But IS’s ability to provide food had also helped.

“They distribute flour to the Arabs in the area. They get the wheat from the Hawija silo … And they run the mill and they distribute to people in a very organised way,” he said.

Even those who have fled IS see wheat as one reason for the group’s strength.

“Nowadays a kilo of wheat is 4,000 or 5,000 dinars ($3.45 – $4.30). It used to be 10,000 to 11,000 dinars,” said Joumana Zewar, 54, a farmer who now lives in Baharka camp outside Arbil. IS and Sunni Arabs are selling the wheat they stole “for very cheap. It’s cheap because they stole it.”

Zewar called a friend in Mosul to check on the latest prices.

“The price of foods and bread is very cheap,” the friend said. Islamic State had taken control, and as in Syria, was dictating prices. “They are the government here now. They are going to the bakeries and saying, ‘Sell at this price.’”



The big worry now is next season’s crop. In Nineveh province, home to the capital of the group’s self-declared caliphate, 750,000 hectares (1.8 million acres) should soon be sown with wheat and 835,000 hectares with barley, an Iraqi agriculture ministry official said.

The official said that the province normally has 100,000 farmers. But thousands have fled.

Iraqi farmers normally get next season’s seeds from their current harvest, keeping back some of the wheat for that purpose. IS controls enough wheat so finding seeds should not be a problem. It also controls Ministry of Agriculture offices in Mosul and Tikrit which should have fertilizer supplies.

But getting the seeds and fertilizer into the right hands will be a problem. Mohamed Diab, director of the World Food Program’s Regional Bureau for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, said that it is “highly unlikely” that displaced farmers would return.

“The picture is bleak regarding agriculture production next year,” he said. “The place where displacement has happened is the main granary of the country.”

That’s especially true for non-Sunni Arab farmers. Those who have remained on their land just outside IS-held territory fear the militants will soon take their villages, and their harvested but unsold crops.

Even if that does not happen, they say, they will not plant after the first rain, which typically comes at the end of September or in early October.

Farmers in the town of Shekhan, nestled among sun-bleached wheat fields, say they have no hope of getting the seeds, fertilizer and fuel needed to plant because the provincial government in Mosul is under IS control.

“The real problem is how to get seeds to those inside Mosul and surrounding areas,” said Nineveh Governor Atheel Nujaifi, who believes production will drop next season.

Bashar Jamo, head of a local farmers’ cooperative, is also worried. “The most important thing to us is agriculture, not security. Maybe (IS) will have a state, maybe an army, but all we need is to be able to farm.”

(Additional reporting by Ned Parker and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi and Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Editing by Michael Georgy and Simon Robinson)