Protesters Torch Parliament Building in Indonesia’s Papua

Thousands of protesters in Indonesia’s West Papua province have set fire to a local parliament building.

 Vice Gov. of West Papua province Mohammad Lakotani said Monday’s demonstration was sparked by accusations that security forces arrested and insulted dozens of Papuan students in the East Java province cities of Surabaya and Malang on Sunday.He said an angered mob set fire to tires and twigs in Manokwari, the provincial capital. Television footage showed orange flames and gray smoke billowing from the burning parliament building.

Several thousand protesters also staged rallies in Jayapura, the capital city of the neighboring province of Papua, where an insurgency has simmered for decades. Many in the crowd wore headbands of a separatist flag.

Chinese K-Pop Stars Publicly Back Beijing on Hong Kong

At least eight K-pop stars from China and even one from Taiwan and one from Hong Kong are publicly stating their support for Beijing’s one-China policy, eliciting a mixture of disappointment and understanding from fans. 

Many of the statements came after protesters opposed to Beijing’s growing influence over semi-autonomous Hong Kong removed a Chinese flag and tossed it into Victoria Harbor earlier this month. 

Lay Zhang, Jackson Wang, Lai Kuan-lin and Victoria Song were among the K-pop singers who recently uploaded a Chinese flag and declared themselves as “one of 1.4 billion guardians of the Chinese flag” on their official Weibo social media accounts. Wang is from Hong Kong and Lai is from Taiwan. 

Some see the public pronouncements as the latest examples of how celebrities and companies feel pressured to toe the line politically in the important Chinese market. Yet they also coincide with a surge in patriotism among young Chinese raised on a steady diet of pro-Communist Party messaging.

Song and Zhang, a member of popular group EXO, have shown their Chinese pride on Instagram, in Song’s case uploading an image of the Chinese flag last week with the caption “Hong Kong is part of China forever.” Such posts would only be seen by their international fans because Instagram, like most Western social media sites, is blocked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s censors.

K-pop fans reacted swiftly to the avowals of allegiance to China. Some called it shameful, while others were more understanding. 

Erika Ng, a 26-year-old Hong Kong fan of Jackson Wang, was not surprised by his statement. She said he “values the China market more than the Hong Kong market” because of his large presence in the mainland.

Wang, a member of the group Got7, used to carry a Hong Kong flag and wear a hat with the city’s symbol, a bauhinia flower. Lately, he has been carrying a Chinese flag on his concert tour and was wearing a China flag hoodie in his music video.

In this Jan. 14, 2019, file photo, singer Hong Kong singer Jackson Wang performs at the end of the Fendi men’s Fall-Winter 2019-20 collection, that was presented in Milan, Italy.

Ellyn Bukvich, a 26-year-old American who has been an EXO fan for five years, said many young fans will probably support Zhang and his message because of his status as a K-pop idol. 

 “It’s spreading propaganda and it’s very effective,” Bukvich said.

 The one-China policy maintains that there is only one Chinese government, and it is a key diplomatic point accepted by most nations in the world, including the U.S. It is mostly aimed at the democratic island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.

In the case of Hong Kong, a former British colony handed back to Chinese control in 1997, Beijing maintains a one country, two systems policy in which the city is guaranteed greater freedoms than those on the mainland until 2047.

China’s government and entirely state-controlled media have consistently portrayed the Hong Kong protest movement as an effort by criminals trying to split the territory from China, backed by hostile foreigners.

International brands – from fashion companies to airlines – have in the past been compelled to make public apologies for perceived breaches of that policy, such as listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries on their websites or T-shirts. 

Zhang terminated his partnership with Samsung Electronics last week, accusing the South Korean mobile giant of damaging China’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

The statement in a Weibo post was prompted by Samsung having separate language options for users in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan on their global website. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese characters instead of the simplified ones used in mainland China, and Hong Kong also has English as an official languages. Samsung declined to comment on whether it will continue to provide different language options for Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It can be difficult to know whether loyalty vows to Beijing are heartfelt or for commercial reasons. The past is littered with examples of celebrities, both Chinese and foreign, who saw their business in China destroyed after the party objected to a statement or an action. 

In 2016, Taiwanese K-pop star Chou Tzu-yu made a public apology for waving the Taiwanese flag while appearing on a South Korean television show. A Chinese vilification campaign against her led to a backlash among some Taiwanese, who at the time were amid a presidential election eventually won by Tsai Ing-wen, who is despised by Beijing for her pro-independence stance.

Public support for Beijing hasn’t been limited to pop stars.

Liu Yifei, the Chinese-born star of Disney’s upcoming live-action version of the film “Mulan,” weighed in on the situation in Hong Kong, where protesters have accused police of abuses. 

 “I support the Hong Kong police,” she wrote on her Weibo account. “You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.” 

 Some questioned her motives, wondering if the post was calculated to ensure her film is released widely in China – the world’s largest film market. Among Hong Kong protesters, there were swift calls for a boycott of the film when it is released next year.

A Digital Setting For A Classical Violin Concert

Imagine listening to a violin concert in one of New York City’s majestic cathedrals or in the National Arboretum, surrounded by blooming magnolias. Now anyone can experience this exquisite scene with the use of VR glasses. A team of researchers from the University of Maryland at College Park came up with new immersive technologies that allow people from all over the world to experience performing arts in a breathtakingly beautiful setting without getting up from their couch. Nastassia Jaumen has the story.

US Immigration Raids to Have Long-Term Effects on Poultry Towns

Effects of the largest immigration raid in at least a decade are likely to ripple for years through six Mississippi small towns that host poultry plants.

A store owner who caters to Latino poultry plant workers fears he will have to close. A school superintendent is trying to rebuild trust with the Spanish-speaking community. And the CEO of a local bank says the effects are likely to touch every business in her town.

More than 100 civil rights activists, union organizers and clergy members in Mississippi denounced the raid, but the state’s Republican Gov. Phil Bryant commended federal immigration authorities for the arrests, tweeting that anyone in the country illegally has to “bear the responsibility of that federal violation.”

Officials said 680 people were initially detained during Wednesday’s operation. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement sent more than 300 of those people home by dawn Thursday, with notices to appear before immigration judges, said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.

In the coming months, as those people await hearings, they’re unlikely to be able to work, and local churches are gathering food and money to provide aid.

Juan Garcia and his wife own Hondumex, a grocery store and restaurant catering to Latinos in downtown Morton, a small town of roughly 3,000 people about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the capital of Jackson. Sales have been terrible since the raid, Garcia said Thursday, surrounded by plantains, pastries and specially butchered meat. Garcia said even those who have been released will have trouble before they go to court.

“All the workers, the people that have been taken, they’re not going to be able to spend money,” Garcia said. “They’re not going to be able to work in the plant.”

Garcia said many workers at the two raided poultry plants — Koch Foods and PH Foods — have bought houses. He questions whether they will be able to keep up their mortgage payments. Garcia said he and his wife also own a restaurant in nearby Philadelphia, Mississippi, and he may close the Morton store.

“I was thinking about shutting down my business,” Garcia said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to stay here.”

Martha Rogers, the chairman and CEO of the Bank of Morton, also expressed concern for the local economy. Rogers said many Spanish-speaking residents have become customers of the bank.

“Every business in town will be affected,” said Rogers, whose family has owned a controlling interest in the small bank since the 1950s.

Scott County Superintendent Tony McGee said more than 150 students were absent Thursday from the 4,100-student district, including a number of students in Morton, where the enrollment is about 30% Latino.

Parents are saying they’re afraid for their children to come back to class, McGee said. School officials have been making phone calls and visiting homes to try to coax the parents to let the students return.

“We’re just trying to reassure them that if those kids come to school, we’re going to do everything possible to make sure they come back to you,” McGee said. “We want those children at school.”

McGee said some longtime teachers told him that Wednesday “was by far the worst day they have ever spent as educators.”

ICE didn’t have much space to detain workers, even overnight, because the number of people in custody is hovering near all-time highs. The agency has been housing thousands more than its budgeted capacity of 45,274 people, largely because of an unprecedented surge of Central American families arriving at the Mexican border. Those released included 18 juveniles, with the youngest being 14 years old, said Jere Miles, special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in New Orleans. Workers were assessed before they were released, including for whether they had any young children at home.

The companies involved could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the county illegally and will be scrutinized for tax, document and wage fraud, said Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting director.

Koch Foods, one of the country’s largest poultry producers based in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, said in a statement Thursday that it follows strict procedures to make sure full-time employees are eligible to work in the country.

Gabriela Rosales, a six-year resident of Morton who knows some of those detained, said she understands that “there’s a process and a law” for those living in the country illegally. “But the thing that they (ICE) did is devastating,” she said. “It was very devastating to see all those kids crying, having seen their parents for the last time.”

The Rev. Mike O’Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, said he waited outside the Peco Foods plant in the city until 4 a.m. Thursday for workers returning by bus. O’Brien said he visited parishioners whose relatives had been arrested. He said he also drove home someone who had hidden from authorities inside the plant.

“The people are all afraid,” he said. “Their doors are locked, and they won’t answer their doors.”

Children whose parents were detained were being cared for by other family members and friends, O’Brien said.

“They’re circling the wagons that way and taking care of each other,” he said.

Indonesia to Publish Final Report on Lion Air Crash Next Month

Indonesian investigators will give their final report next month on the crash of a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet that killed 189 people last October, the country’s civil aviation authority said on Friday.

The 737 MAX, Boeing’s best-selling jet, was grounded globally in March following another fatal crash of the jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines. The two crashes together killed 346 people.

A draft of the report by the transport safety agency (KNKT) will be sent next week to Boeing, Lion Air, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other parties to seek feedback, said Polana Pramesti, director general of civil aviation.

“After getting the responses, KNKT will release it in September,” Pramesti told Reuters.

The report will include the facts and a chronology of the Lion Air crash, the causes of the incident and give recommendations, said KNKT deputy chairman Haryo Satmiko.

Boeing and the FAA provided data for the report, he said, which is expected to be released at the end of September.

Boeing has been working on an upgrade for a stall-prevention system known as MCAS since the Lion Air crash, when pilots were believed to have lost a tug of war with software that repeatedly pushed the nose down.

Boeing said last month it would give $100 million over multiple years to governments and non-profit organizations to help families and communities affected by the crashes of its 737 MAX planes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The airline is the target of a U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation into the development of the 737 MAX, regulatory probes and more than 100 lawsuits by victims’ families.

UNHCR Says Tripoli Fighting Displaced Over 105,000 Libyans

The U.N. refugee agency says fighting over Libya’s capital of Tripoli has displaced more than 105,000 people since April, when a Libyan commander launched an offensive to take the city from the U.N.-backed government.

The UNHCR tweeted on Friday that its relief aid could only reach about 2,200 out of 21,000 displaced families and that those displaced “continue to be in need of support, peace and stability.”

Libya has been plagued with political instability since the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Qaddafi in 2011.

In April, the self-styled Libyan National Army of commander Khalifa Hifter launched an offensive on Tripoli.

Although Hifter, who is based in eastern Libya, boasts support from key Arab governments, his military campaign has so far resulted in a stalemated conflict.


Equatorial Guinea’s Border Wall Plans Provoke Anger in Cameroon

Cameroon has instructed its military to be on the alert as Equatorial Guinea says it is building a border wall to stop Cameroonians and West Africans from illegally entering its territory. Equatorial Guinea’s announcement comes as officials of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) regional economic bloc, of which Equatorial Guinea is a member, are encouraging the free movement of people and goods to boost economic growth in the region.

Thirty-two-year old Cameroonian merchant Kome Pascal imports wine from Equatorial Guinea. He also exports cement, roofing sheets and farm produce from Cameroon to the neighboring nation. 

“I feel very bad because goods will not come again into Cameroon and farmers who sell in Equatorial Guinea, what do they expect them to do with their goods,” he told VOA. “Building that particular wall is not going to permit Cameroonians to sell their goods.” 

When Equatorial Guinea said it was building the wall and erected milestones on the border near the Cameroon town of Kye-Ossi, Cameroon army chief Lieutenant General Rene Claude Meka visited the border. Meka said he was told the neighboring state was not respecting territorial limits and was encroaching on Cameroon land. He said the Cameroonian army would not tolerate any unlawful intrusion.

Anastasio Asumu Mum Munoz, Equatorial Guinea ambassador to Cameroon, was called up by Cameroon’s minister of external relations on Thursday to explain his country’s plans for the border.

Ambassador Munoz said his country plans to build a wall, but that reports that the its military had installed milestones in Cameroon territory are misleading.

Equatorial Guinea has always accused Cameroon of letting its citizens and West Africans enter its territory illegally.

More than 100 migrants from Togo, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Benin on their way to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are currently stranded in Cameroon after they were rescued from their capsizing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean.
Cameroonian-born Christian Mbock, visiting lecturer of international relations at the National University of Equatorial Guinea, said the wall will stop illegal migrants and secure Equatorial Guinea.

“There was a problem in Equatorial Guinea because there was a coup there, then the government had to protect itself and said that the government was suspending the implementation of [CEMAC’s decision for free movement],” he said. “It is a complex situation.”

Equatorial Guinea has often sealed its border with Cameroon, complaining of security threats posed by illegal immigration.

In December 2017, Equatorial Guinea said it had arrested 30 foreign armed men from Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan on the border.  The report said they possessed rocket launchers, rifles and a stockpile of ammunition to destabilize the government of President Theodoro Obiang, who has led oil-rich Equatorial Guinea since 1979.

Cameroon said it also arrested 40 heavily-armed men on the 290-kilometer boundary. 

Both countries are members of the CEMAC, which in 2017 said it had reached a milestone when heads of state meeting in Chad lifted visa requirements for their 45 million citizens traveling within the six-member nation economic bloc.  

Thai Prime Minister Not Quitting for Botching Oath

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Friday he is not quitting despite facing mounting criticism for failing to properly take his oath of office.

Prayuth led the inauguration of his Cabinet in a ceremony presided over by the king on July 16.

However, he omitted a phrase in the oath of office in which he was supposed to pledge to uphold every aspect of the constitution. The omission has raised questions over whether the inauguration was legally valid.

Prayuth told reporters Friday that he was continuing to conduct his duties “to the best of my abilities because I am the prime minister.”

The oath of office is required under Article 161 of Thailand’s Constitution, which includes the complete oath and states it must be said to the king before Cabinet ministers take office.

Prayuth’s failure to recite the oath in full, which also led to other ministers making the same error because they repeated what he said, was pointed out by opposition politician Piyabutr Saengkanokkul during a Parliament session on July 25.

Legal activist Srisuwan Janya filed a complaint over the issue to the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday which has been accepted for consideration.

Prayuth led a military junta that seized power in 2014 and was dissolved with the inauguration of the new Cabinet. The junta had ruled with a heavy fist and regularly cracked down on its critics. It also introduced new election laws to favor Prayuth’s return as prime minister.

Mongkolkit Suksintaranont, a leader of a political party that was part of Prayuth’s coalition, said on Thursday that he and four other parties which hold single seats in the House of Representatives were leaving the coalition.

“I did not think that being part of the government coalition would mean that we would have such little freedom,” Mongkolkit said, adding that he had been told to refrain from criticizing the government in Parliament sessions.

When asked how he would handle the issue of the Cabinet’s incomplete oath of office, Mongkolkit said, “If I was prime minister, I would have resigned already.”