Political unrest hit tourism and retail, and coronavirus response has delayed recovery
Hong Kong’s economy was already in recession when the pandemic hit in January. Six months of running battles between pro-democracy campaigners and local government had deterred many of the visitors who fuel the lucrative tourism industry, while the threat of violence on the streets and closures of shops had sent retail sales down nearly a quarter on the previous year.
With much of Asia shut down by coronavirus restrictions during the winter months, there was little expectation of a recovery until the spring, when the level of infections fell to almost zero across mainland China and most of the rest of the region, and the measures could be eased.
Some analysts expected the recovery to be strong. Hong Kong is a hub for financial and professional services in competition with Singapore. Many workers could operate from home and maintain the same level of activity.
But Hong Kong’s dependence on trade from India, the Philippines and the US, where the virus continues to flourish, left it more vulnerable to a second spike, and in the summer cases began to rise again. The flare-up triggered new restrictions on households and businesses and an immediate downturn in business activity.
Last month, the territory’s government said GDP in the second quarter of this year was down 9%, after a 9.1% downturn in the first quarter.
In May, the International Monetary Fund had said it expected Hong Kong to recover in the second half of the year and predicted that its GDP would drop just 4.8% during 2020.
Retail sales data due out this week will provide a clue about how long the recession will last and whether a rebound in shopping is likely, though the widespread reluctance among consumers across China to spend in the way they did in previous years is expected to keep sales figures subdued.
A brighter picture has emerged for those involved in the finance industry, which remains Hong Kong’s largest business activity, as the stock market has followed the same trajectory as the US markets to reach all-time highs this year.
However, analysts have become concerned in recent weeks that the summer increase in infections and the recent collapse in profits and scandal over suspicious financial transfers at HSBC, which has a large presence in Hong Kong, could send the market into reverse. So far the Hang Seng index has fallen to 23,275, having climbed to a high of 26,669 in July.
Five protesters were arrested Thursday as dozens of demonstrators descended on the beach town of San Clemente, California, to decry the death on Wednesday of a homeless Black man shot by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy.
The arrests were announced during an afternoon news conference by Sheriff Don Barnes, who tried to get out in front of the story as local organizers drew a few dozen supporters to the South Orange County city on Thursday to protest the shooting.
Barnes urged the public to reserve judgement of the two deputies involved in confronting the deceased, identified as 42-year-old Kurt Andras Reinhold of Los Angeles County, until the district attorney could complete an investigation.
Reinhold was pronounced dead at the scene after two deputies for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Homeless Outreach Team contacted him on a San Clemente street at about 1:12 p.m. on Wednesday for undisclosed reasons, the department said in a statement.
The three ended up in a physical struggle on the ground when, Barnes said, the homeless man “appeared” to grab a gun from the holster of a deputy and one of the two law enforcement officers opened fire twice.
Barnes indicated that security video from the nearby Hotel Miramar captured the clash, including the moment the man allegedly grabbed a gun, and would eventually be released to the public.
The sheriff said there was at least one witness who claimed Reinhold did not grab a gun, but urged the media to “please refrain from putting out misinformation until the facts can be known.”
He said Reinhold had been in South Orange County for about a month and that “there were several attempts to try to offer services to him” to no avail.
The two unnamed deputies — who didn’t have body cameras — were trained in crisis intervention and deescalation, and tried to revive the man following the confrontation.
“It didn’t end how we would hope,” Barnes said.
The deputies have been placed on administrative leave during an investigation into the shooting.
The scrutiny of police action, particularly in the case of a homeless Black man, came amid a backdrop of the nationwide racial reckoning since spring over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The death of Rienhold happened the same day protesters took to the streets in Louisville, Kentucky, after one of the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Taylor was indicted by a grand jury and charged with wanton endangerment, but none of the officers — including the one whose shot killed Taylor — faced charges for her death.
The surfing mecca of San Clemente is a traditionally wealthy, conservative community abutting the San Diego County line. President Richard Nixon enjoyed his unofficial Western White House, which he called La Casa Pacifica, less than a mile from the site of Reinhold’s death.
Asked about the defund-the-police movement that arose in the wake of of Floyd and Taylor’s deaths, Barnes said he could agree with critics on one thing: That there needs to be more funding for homeless services and other social ills police are often not properly equipped to handle.
“We take these matters very seriously,” the sheriff said.
Four protesters were arrested Thursday for allegedly failing to follow deputies’ orders to get out of the street; another was arrested for allegedly scratching up a law enforcement vehicle, Barnes said.
A representative of organizers was unable to respond on Thursday.
Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.
Even as protesters continue to swarm to streets of Belarus’s capital, Minsk, and as much of the international community calls for 66-year-old President Alexander Lukashenko to end his 26-year reign, the embattled leader was sworn in for a 6th term in a secret ceremony on Wednesday.
The move comes six weeks after Lukashenko claimed an avalanche win in the election, immediately igniting a firestorm of opposition protests and allegations from numerous foreign governments that the process was fraudulent.
Typically, the swearing-in of a president would be a lavish spectacle, but with a backdrop of controversy and protests, this one was a quiet occasion announced only hours in advance.
Aug. 16, 2020: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses his supporters gathered at Independent Square of Minsk, Belarus. European Union leaders are putting on a show of support Wednesday Aug. 19, 2020 for people protesting in Belarus. Emergency talks will aim to highlight their concern about the contested presidential election and ratchet up pressure on officials linked to the security crackdown that followed. The EU believes that the results of the Aug. 9 polls, which handed President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term with 80% of the vote, “have been falsified,” and the 27-nation bloc is preparing a list of Belarus officials who could be blacklisted from Europe over their roles. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
“The day in which the president takes office, the day of the inauguration, is the day of our joint victory – a convincing and momentous victory,” Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator,” said as he placed his hand on a copy of the constitution, in the presence of several MPs and army generals, official state media reported. “I cannot; I have no right to abandon the Belarusians.”
Subsequently, anger from the opposition – which has conducted weeks of mass demonstrations demanding rightful elections – only swelled, as protesters carrying signature red-and-white opposition flags convened outside a number of universities demanding their long-running ruler’s resignation.
Moreover, the United States and European Union have echoed the sentiment of a rigged election and are drawing up sanctions against officials involved in the voting process and the ensuing violent clampdown by the security forces.
The United Nations also agreed last week to increase its tracking of reported human rights abuses in Belarus, with rights investigator Anais Marin noting that over 10,000 people had been “abusively arrested” since the election, with more than 500 reports of torture and thousands “savagely beaten.”
However, Lukashenko has weathered the brunt of the unrest in large part to the staunch backing from neighbor and ally Russia, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announcing Wednesday that the swearing-in was “absolutely the sovereign decision of the Belarusian leadership.”
Aug. 16, 2020: Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the center of Minsk, Belarus. European Union leaders are putting on a show of support Wednesday Aug. 19, 2020 for people protesting in Belarus. Emergency talks will aim to highlight their concern about the contested presidential election and ratchet up pressure on officials linked to the security crackdown that followed. The EU believes that the results of the Aug. 9 polls, which handed President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term with 80% of the vote, “have been falsified,” and the 27-nation bloc is preparing a list of Belarus officials who could be blacklisted from Europe over their roles. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Lukashenko has domineered the country of 9 million since 1994, taking power right after the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1992 – and has built something of a cult of personality throughout his more than quarter-of-a-century reign. He is known for his charisma, trademark mustache, eccentricities, and self-promotion as a “man of the people.”
During the Soviet era, Lukashenko ran a state farm and thrived on the nickname of “Batka” – meaning father – as he sought to curate an image of a caretaker of the Belarusian people, their animals, and the country’s agriculture and industrial industries in what some analysts consider to be holding on to the Soviet heyday. Yet the fatherly persona also brings with it an eccentric and an authoritarian approach to leadership, experts contend, in which opposition parties are routinely repressed, imprisoned, and sometimes “disappeared” without a trace.
The protests are moving into white residential neighborhoods, where activists demand that people choose a side.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Terrance Moses was watching protesters against police brutality march down his quiet residential street one recent evening when some in the group of a few hundred suddenly stopped and started yelling.
Mr. Moses was initially not sure what the protesters were upset about, but as he got closer, he saw it: His neighbors had an American flag on display.
“It went from a peaceful march, calling out the names, to all of a sudden, bang, ‘How dare you fly the American flag?’” said Mr. Moses, who is Black and runs a nonprofit group in the Portland, Ore., area. “They said take it down. They wouldn’t leave. They said they’re going to come back and burn the house down.”
Mr. Moses and others blocked the demonstrators and told them to leave.
“We don’t go around terrorizing folks to try and force them to do something they don’t want to do,” said Mr. Moses, whose nonprofit group provides support for local homeless people. “I’m a veteran. I’m for these liberties.”
Nearly four months after the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, some protesters against police brutality are taking a more confrontational — and personal — approach. The marches in Portland are increasingly moving to residential and largely white neighborhoods, where demonstrators with bullhorns shout for people to come “out of your house and into the street” and demonstrate their support.
These more aggressive protests target ordinary people going about their lives, especially those who decline to demonstrate allegiance to the cause. That includes a diner in Washington who refused to raise her fist to show support for Black Lives Matter, or, in several cities, confused drivers who happened upon the protests.
But the tactics are dividing supporters of Black Lives Matter, with some worried that the confrontational approach will antagonize people who would be otherwise be receptive to the message, or play into conservatives’ critique of the protests, which have been largely nonviolent nationally.
Others, frustrated that little has changed since Mr. Floyd was killed, say that sitting idly and watching a protest without participating nowadays is to show tacit support for racism.
“We don’t need allies anymore,” saidStephen Green, an investor and entrepreneur in Portland who is Black.“We need accomplices.”
In Rochester, N.Y., protesters have confronted people at outdoor restaurants, shaking dinner tables. Marchers in Washington also accosted people eating outside, urging everyone to raise their fists to show their allegiance to the movement.
The more personal tactics echo those being used against elected officials, with activists showing up not only outside mayor’s offices but their homes as well. The apartment building where the mayor of Portland lives has been vandalized. Protesters lit fires outside, ignited fireworks and broke into one of the businesses in the building on his birthday. In San Jose, Calif., demonstrators graffitied and egged the mayor’s house and lit an American flag in front of it, according to the police. In Rochester, people have recently posted police officers’ home addresses and information about their families, according to a police spokeswoman.
In Portland, Jessie Burke, who is white and owns a coffee shop in the city, said the message of the movement was getting lost as the protests escalate and target ordinary residents in their homes.
“Everyone was looking for solutions at first, but now it’s just a nightly fight that has gotten progressively more violent — and every neighborhood worries that the fight will come to their neighborhood,” Mr. Burke said. “It’s: ‘Wake up, wake up, you need to be in the street protesting if you stand for this.’”
Still, Mr. Green argued that the tactics were working, even as they inconvenienced him and his family. He described the smell of tear gas and wail of sirens as the marches came to his neighborhood, which he said kept his 7-year-old daughter awake.
“It’s one thing if you can see something on TV, but if you can hear it and you can smell it in your house, that brings it home,” said Mr. Green, who grew up in Portland. “We need people willing to say, ‘I’m down to lose this friend because stuff needs to change. I’m down to make my neighbor uncomfortable.’ Being nice wasn’t changing anything.”
Lindsey E. Murphy agreed. She marched with the protesters through one of Portland’s wealthiest neighborhoods on a recent night and found it deeply moving. She watched white demonstrators shouting at white residents that Black lives matter — and the residents joining in with the chant.
“The crowd was — I won’t even say mostly white — I’ll say it was an almost exclusively white crowd marching through the whitest neighborhood in Portland shouting ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘Black lives are magic,’” said Ms. Murphy, who is Blackand hosts an educational children’s YouTube series.“What I was witnessing was a lamenting prayer, a cry of remorse and shame among the white people. That’s what I saw. It was healing.”
The American flag that generated controversy is displayed in Kenton, a neighborhood of Portland with small bungalows, lush front gardens and ripe fruit trees. Weeks after the confrontation, the husband and wife who fly the flag said they were fearful of retaliation from the roving protesters, who had found their phone number.
But they say they will not be intimidated into removing the flag.
“I will not take my flag down,” said the husband, who declined to provide his name in a brief interview.
The same night the protesters came to the couple’s door last month, they marched into Kenton’s commercial district and used restaurant picnic tables as fuel for fires. They collected the colorful wooden dividers the neighbors had recently built for outdoor dining and set those ablaze as well. Mr. Moses and others in the community ran into the protests with fire extinguishers.
Protesters that night broke into the Portland Police Association building and set it on fire. A man was later seen scrubbing the sidewalk graffiti — a popular message was “PPB = KKK,” meaning that the Portland Police Bureau is the Ku Klux Klan.
Mr. Green said that he opposed the destruction of property, but that he also understood it. And he believes, generally, that the more direct protest tactics in residential areas are working because they make the movement more personal, and reveal who truly supports change.If someone is against the movement, they keep their lights off or refuse to raise their fist, he said, adding that taking the debate into homes and to families is essential.
Some residents in Portland say the tactics are escalating as the protests become increasingly dominated by white people, including anarchists and supporters of antifa, the diffuse collection of militant left-wing activists that has a strong presence in the region.
The movement is splintered in Portland between more mainstream Black Lives Matter marches and the more aggressive, sometimes chaotic antifa or black bloc protests, where demonstrators dress in black and wear motorcycle helmets or ski masks to make it difficult to identify — or later prosecute — them.
One night this month, there were two protests promoted on the Black Lives Matter Portland Events page: a “nonviolent protest” in the city center and “an autonomously organized direct action march.”
No one appeared to be at the city center protest. But around 200 people were at the other event.
They gathered in an unlit park in a residential neighborhood around 8 p.m. Everyone wore black, including some protesters who had on body armor and motorcycle helmets. They hastily set up picnic tables and supply booths in the dark, using cellphones for light to showcase their goods. There was a food table overflowing with protein bars and Monster energy drinks.
A small free literature selection was set up on the grass and overseen by three people in ski masks. It was a popular offering, and people crowded around, craning to see the pamphlets.
Titles included “Why Break Windows”; “I Want To Kill Cops Until I’m Dead”; “Piece Now, Peace Later: An Anarchist Introduction to Firearms”; “In Defense of Smashing Cameras”; and “Three-Way Fight: Revolutionary Anti-Fascism and Armed Self Defense.”
The energy was something like a carnival in the dark.
“Paint balloons, get your paint balloons,” someone barked.
But around 9:30, the group was in some organizational chaos. They had decided that the neighborhood close by was too racially diverse for them to protest in. They needed to go somewhere whiter.
So the protesters caravaned 20 minutes away to Alberta, a more affluent neighborhood that began being gentrified in the 1990s. They reassembled and marched through the streets.
Neighbors in impressive Craftsman-style homes pulled down their shades and turned off their lights, though many could be seen peering out of dark windows. One woman stepped out of an expansive home looking angry; upon seeing the crowd, she quickly retreated indoors. A few young couples stood in their doorways. A Black woman driving past honked and cheered.
One white man stepped onto his patio clapping and hollering in support of the passing march. The group called for him to join. He smiled and waved them on, still clapping. They began to chant that he was spineless. He looked worried. But the march moved along, and he went back into his house.
“You’ll never sleep tight, we do this every night,” the protesters chanted.
Mr. Putin spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in separate calls Tuesday, a day before an emergency European Union summit was scheduled to discuss the bloc’s response to events unfolding in Belarus.
Demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko have unfolded over 10 successive days since he claimed 80% of the vote in an Aug. 9 election widely derided as a sham. Opponents said the vote was neither fair nor free, with some candidates detained in the run-up to the ballot or others forced to flee before polling day.
President Trump also said the U.S. would be speaking with Russian officials about the situation in Belarus, and made a distinction between peaceful protests in the country and others in the U.S. that he sees as being driven by anarchists.
“I like seeing democracy,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “Democracy is a very important word. It doesn’t seem like it’s too much democracy there in Belarus.”
The main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, left for Lithuania the day after the vote, saying she was worried for the safety of her two children. She now says she stands ready to take over the leadership of the country. Belarus’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday that some police units have quit and called on those remaining to stay at their posts.
According to the Kremlin’s account of Mr. Putin’s conversation with Ms. Merkel, “the Russian side emphasized the unacceptability of any attempts to interfere from the outside in the internal affairs of the republic, leading to a further escalation of the crisis.”
Similarly, the Kremlin’s readout of Mr. Putin’s call with Mr. Macron emphasized that Russia wouldn’t tolerate outside pressure on Belarus’s leadership.
Ms. Merkel told reporters that she “made it clear once again that freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate must be guaranteed, that prisoners must be released and that there must be a national dialogue to settle things peacefully in Belarus.”
The French presidential palace said Mr. Macron told Mr. Putin the EU was determined to play a constructive role alongside the people of Belarus in ending the violence and finding a political solution.
Mr. Putin also spoke with EU Council President Charles Michel, who will be hosting Wednesday’s EU summit, and relayed to him Moscow’s concern over how external pressure could destabilize the situation in Belarus, the Kremlin said.
Among other things, EU leaders are expected to discuss imposing sanctions on Belarusian leaders and officials who oversaw the election and the brutal response to the initial protests, which led to thousands of people being detained. Belarus’s national investigative committee has reported that more than 600 people have filed complaints over beatings received in detention, while 124 law-enforcement officers complained about violence directed at them.
Mr. Lukashenko, a Soviet-era official who has led Belarus for 26 years, has blamed the violence on foreign provocateurs and people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Earlier Tuesday, he awarded medals to security forces who tried to suppress the protests.
Russia has long viewed Belarus as an important buffer between its western border and the rest of Europe. Belarus was joined at the hip with Moscow as part of the Soviet Union, and the two countries are still bound by lingusitic, cultural and trade ties.
“This is a piece of territory that, particularly under Putin, Russia has long wanted to reel into some kind of subordination de facto or de jure into Russia, and it’s Russia that’s wanted to change the status quo in their relationship,” Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus, told journalists in a videoconference Tuesday.
Moscow, though, has grown suspicious of EU and U.S. attempts to exert more influence in Belarus in recent years. Mr. Lukashenko, after earlier courting the West himself, has rushed to strengthen his ties to Russia and Mr. Putin in the turmoil following the vote, and has accused the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of building up its forces along Belarus’s border.
NATO says it hasn’t increased forces to the area and doesn’t pose a threat to Belarus.
Later Tuesday, Mr. Putin spoke with Mr. Lukashenko in their third call in four days, telling him of his conversations with Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel, Belarus’s state news agency reported.
Political analysts said Mr. Lukashenko’s strategy appears to be to hold tight and hope that the antigovernment protests fizzle. On Monday, as protests and strikes spread around the country of some 10 million, the 65-year-old veteran said he was ready to share power, but only on his terms, and only after a referendum and the introduction of a new constitution.
His opponents dismissed his proposal as a ploy and instead formed a coordination council to smooth any transition of power—something Mr. Lukashenko dismissed as a smokescreen for a power grab. Ms. Tikhanovskaya’s supporters denied that. Olga Kovalkova, an aide, told reporters that the council “doesn’t aim to seize power by unconstitutional means.”
Tension is building though, as are expectations that Russia might intervene in one form or another.
“Make no mistake, Russia will involve itself,” said Mr. Gould-Davies, the former ambassador. “The question is not whether it will do so, but how it will try to do so.”
— Valentina Pop in Brussels, Sam Schechner in Paris, Bertrand Benoit in Berlin and Gordon Lubold in Washington, D.C. contributed to this article.
Fresh strikes are expected in Belarus after a weekend which saw tens of thousands take to the streets to demand the departure of long-term President Alexander Lukashenko.
Opposition leaders called for the strikes as anger grew over reports of police violence as well as alleged poll-rigging in the 9 August vote.
But the president, who claimed a landslide victory, remains defiant.
On Sunday, he called on supporters to defend their country and independence.
However, protesters came out in far larger numbers, with local, independent news site Tut.by describing the peaceful demonstration as “the largest in the history of independent Belarus”.
The wave of anger has been rising since the Central Election Commission said Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80.1% of the vote and the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.12%.
Ms Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania after publicly denouncing the results, insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support ranging from 60% to 70%.
In a video message released on Monday, she says she is ready to become a “national leader” in order to restore calm and normality, freeing political prisoners and preparing for new elections.
Meanwhile, some 6,700 people have been arrested in the wake of the election, and many have spoken of torture at the hands of the security services.
State TV staff appeared to be on strike on Monday morning with a broadcast showing empty news desks, foreign journalists noted.
Workers at state-run factories walked out in solidarity with the protesters last week, and more strikes are planned for this week, increasing the pressure on Mr Lukashenko, says the BBC’s Kiev correspondent, Jonah Fisher.
What happened on Sunday?
Rival rallies were held in the capital, with local media reports suggesting that around 31,000 people took part in the pro-government event. The interior ministry estimated that the number was around 65,000, while a reporter for AFP news agency said the figure was closer to 10,000.
Speaking to supporters, Mr Lukashenko said Belarus would “die as a state” if a re-run of the election were to take place.
“You came here so that for the first time in a quarter-century you could defend your country, your independence, your wives, sisters and children,” he said.
He added that the opposition would “crawl like rats out of a hole” if they were not suppressed this time.
There were reports of state sector workers being forced to attend or face the threat of losing their jobs. For days, workers at state-run factories have staged walkouts and many have joined street marches against the president.
As the president spoke, around 220,000 anti-Lukashenko protesters gathered near the Stela Minsk Hero City World War Two memorial in central Minsk, according to Tut.by.
Supporters also turned out in other cities, following a call for weekend rallies from Ms Tikhanovskaya.
A number of officials, as well as current and former police officers, have resigned.
The Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, declared his solidarity with the protesters but told the BBC the government did not seem ready to hear them.
What’s happening internationally?
President Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for 26 years, has also faced growing pressure from other European countries.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU should “continue to mobilise on the side of the hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who are protesting peacefully for the respect of their rights, liberty and sovereignty”.
More about the protests in Belarus
Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Olaf Sholz described Mr Lukashenko as a “bad dictator”, telling the Bild newspaper that the Belarusian leader had “lost all legitimacy”.
Hundreds of people attended protests in Prague and Warsaw on Sunday.
But President Lukashenko has sought Russian help as the unrest continues.
On Saturday, he said President Vladimir Putin had promised to provide what he called comprehensive assistance in the event of external military threats to Belarus.
The two leaders had a second conversation on Sunday, in which the Kremlin said they had discussed “the situation in Belarus, taking into consideration the pressure the republic was being put under from outside”.
Mr Putin told Mr Lukashenko Russia was ready to assist Belarus “in accordance with the collective military pact if necessary”.
The Belarusian leader also voiced concerns over Nato military exercises taking place in neighbouring Poland and Lithuania, and launched into a tirade against the Western military alliance.
Demonstrators are demanding change in a country with a long history of suppressing dissent. Some protesters are even defying the taboo against criticizing the monarchy.
BANGKOK — They gathered at a monument celebrating Thai democracy. They raised their hands in defiance below a giant image of the king dressed in coronation regalia.
At least 10,000 protesters, many first-time participants in political rallies, gathered in Bangkok on Sunday, demanding change in a country where military tanks have tended to shape politics more than the ballot box has.
The nearly eight-hour protest, which filled a broad avenue in the heart of the city with black-clad people, was the largest rally in Thailand since a coup in 2014, one of a dozen successful putsches in the country in the last nine decades.
A state of emergency instituted because of the coronavirus made the demonstration technically illegal, and every participant could have been arrested simply for showing up. The police stood by, however, some idling behind a Mercedes-Benz showroom.
Thailand’s growing protest movement, which was set off by student activism last month, has since gained broader support.
While Thailand has escaped the brunt of the pandemic, it has been pummeled economically, and millions are out of work. With Prayuth Chan-ocha, the retired general who choreographed the last coup, still leading the country as prime minister, Thais have intensified calls for a new political order.
“We have had many political divisions in our country but now, no matter what our backgrounds, many of us are united in questioning the legitimacy of this government,” said NuttaaMahattana, a democracy activist. “Look at who’s here, many different types of people.”
The protest leaders have demanded a new constitution, one not written by the military, as the current charter was. They have called for Parliament to dissolve. They are pleading for the protection of human rights at a time when vocal critics of the military and monarchy have disappeared and been killed. And they say they will keep gathering if their aims are not met.
“We don’t hate the country, but we hate you, Prayuth Chan-ocha,” Benjamaporn Nivas, a 15-year-old student, sang from the stage she shared with others, taking the melody of a children’s song and adding new lyrics. “We don’t want dictatorship.”
Sunday’s protest took place at the Democracy Monument, which was built to commemorate the 1932 bloodless revolution that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand. The country is now a constitutional monarchy, but some of the protest leaders have accused the palace of breaching the terms of that form of government.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun spends little time in Thailand, living most of the year in Europe. He has consolidated financial and military power, bringing crown coffers and influential army units under his control.
After some protesters called for checks on the palace’s power in rallies last week, a rare challenge in a country where lèse-majesté laws can land critics of the crown in jail for up to 15 years, the authorities pressured the movement’s leaders to keep the monarchy out of their speeches.
But as Sunday’s rally stretched into the night, after speeches on labor law, student haircuts and rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people, Arnon Nampa, a young human rights lawyer, took to the stage and defied any such request. Earlier, a laser had projected a hashtag that asked in Thai, “why do we need a king?” onto the white face of the Democracy Monument.
The authorities “have asked us to stop dreaming,” he said, referring to “the biggest dream of seeing the monarchy stay alongside Thai society,” rather than floating above it unbound by legal charters.
“I am announcing here,” he added, “that we will continue dreaming.”
The demonstration took place under a large photograph of the king during his 2019 coronation, when he was formally presented with a 16-pound golden crown and a fortune that makes him one of the world’s richest royals.
Many states have travel restrictions, and lots of them are taking active measures to enforce those restrictions, like issuing fines or asking visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Here’s an ever-updating list of statewide restrictions. In general, travel does increase your chance of getting and spreading the virus, as you are bound to encounter more people than if you remained at your house in your own “pod.” “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19,” the C.D.C. says. If you do travel, though, take precautions. If you can, drive. If you have to fly, be careful about picking your airline. But know that airlines are taking real steps to keep planes clean and limit your risk.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Above the orderly rows of protesters was also an oversize picture of Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, the king’s fourth wife, in a military uniform. A former flight attendant, she has been given the military rank of general in the king’s bodyguard corps.
A pro-royalist counterprotest gathered on Sunday as well. Its numbers were small.
Even before the protest kicked off, the Thai security apparatus had begun harassing those who might want to speak out. Mr. Arnon was arrested on sedition charges last week. He and another activist are also facing lèse-majesté complaints.
Early on Sunday morning, Pongsak Phusitsakul, an opposition politician whose party was dissolved before it was able to contest elections last year, said his dogs alerted him to six plainclothes police officers who went to his home, he said, to intimidate him ahead of the rally.
“I’m used to it,” he said. “But I’m worried about the youth, what they will face and what their parents and families have to face.”
Previous Thai protests have been crushed with force, with dozens killed in downtown Bangkok, students included.
Even though many of the protesters on Sunday were posting selfies on Instagram and Facebook — at least when the internet hadn’t slowed to a crawl — few of the first-time participants wanted to give their names.
A 17-year-old high school student stood at the rally holding a small, handmade sign that said “Dictatorship shall perish! Long live democracy.” She posed willingly for a picture but balked at identifying herself.
She had told her parents she was going to the movies. Somehow, she said, she had ended up at the protest instead.
Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was shot dead in Addis Ababa on Monday night, fuelling ethnic tensions
At least 166 people have died during violent demonstrations that roiled Ethiopia in the days following the murder of popular singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, police said Saturday.
The singer, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, was shot dead by unknown attackers in Addis Ababa on Monday night, fuelling ethnic tensions threatening the country’s democratic transition.
“In the aftermath of Haacaaluu’s death, 145 civilians and 11 security forces have lost their lives in the unrest in the region,” said Girma Gelam, deputy police commissioner of Oromia region, in a statement on the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.
Another 10 are known to have died in the capital Addis Ababa.
Girma said that a further 167 had “sustained serious injuries” and that 1,084 people had been arrested.
Officials have attributed the deaths to a combination of lethal force by security officers and inter-ethnic violence.
Girma added that the violent unrest had now “completely stopped”.
Haacaaluu’s music gave voice to Oromos’ widespread sense of economic and political marginalisation during years of anti-government protests that swept the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to power in 2018.