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Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong quits pro-democracy group as China passes security law – National



Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong said on Tuesday he is stepping down as leader of his democracy group Demosisto, just hours after local media reported that Beijing had passed national security legislation for the Chinese-ruled city.

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Chinese lawmakers pass controversial security law for Hong Kong: reports

Wong has said he will be a “prime target” of Beijing’s national security law, which critics fear will crush freedoms in the former British colony.

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“If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend out last bit of freedom,” Wong wrote in a tweet.

-With a file from Global News








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OLAF finds MEPs broke EP rules by financing national party through their salaries



An OLAF investigation published on April 30 revealed that MEPs from two member-states breached the European Parliament’s rules by transferring part of their salaries to their national parties.

The investigation by Europe’s anti-fraud office also found that MEPs from one member state also increased the salaries of their assistants so that the latter could make additional contributions.

The first investigation that was launched in 2017 found that for the period between 2014 and 2019, MEPs and staff members of the parliament’s party delegation paid contributions of over €640,000 to the national headquarters. It was also found that the illegal move was not spontaneous, but part of an already agreed obligation, that was set out in a financial charter that the party had specifically approved for the delegation at the European Parliament. Such an arrangement is contrary to the EP rules.

OLAF concluded that sanctions should be put in place by the European Parliament for the illegal actions and for the recovery of due amounts established by the investigation.

The second investigation that was conducted a year later found that for the particular time period, the financial contributions made by MEPs exceeded €540,000, as each was requested to contribute €3,000-4,000 to the national delegation. OLAF’s investigative team also revealed that their assistants were classified as of higher grade and thus, with a higher salary, so that they are able to transfer part of their salary to the national party.

Although no evidence of MEPs coercing the assistants was found, the EP members knew this was happening and had arranged the assistants’ hierarchy upgrade.

OLAF issued recommendations to the European Parliament proposing disciplinary action to ensure that amounts transferred by the Parliamentary Assistants to the national party are recovered. The anti-fraud office also recommended that the assistants face disciplinary action for following the instructions of their party, even though these instructions put them in conflict with their statutory obligations to the European Parliament.

 

 



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National anthem, MVP and more


From the producer who brought you last year’s Super Bowl MVP long shot (Julian Edelman, 20/1) and the previous year’s first touchdown scorer (Alshon Jeffery, 12/1) — among many other winners — comes the next installment of the never dull, never-ending prop bets saga.

Somehow, we’ll survive without Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Here are some of the best — and most fun — picks to make for the Super Bowl:

National Anthem length

Under 1 minute, 59 seconds (+170): The over is a heavy favorite (-250), likely stemming from Demi Lovato’s 2:11 performance before the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight in 2017. However, Lovato also has sung the anthem in three World Series games, all of which clocked in under 1:59.

Coin toss

Tails (-102): Tails rarely fails, claiming victory in five of the past six Super Bowls.

George Kittle receiving yards

Under 73½, -110: Playing at less than 100 percent may finally be catching up with the 49ers tight end. In the divisional round, he had 16 yards receiving. In the NFC Championship, Kittle caught one pass for 19 yards.

Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo
Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy GaroppoloGetty Image (2)

Total number of Chiefs to score

Over 3½, +100: Kicker Harrison Butker is a given. Patrick Mahomes shouldn’t have trouble finding three more. Maybe, he’ll join in again, too. The Chiefs have had at least four players score in four straight games, while hitting the mark 12 times this season.

Patrick Mahomes rushing yards

Over 30½, -110: Mahomes has rushed for more than 50 yards four times this season. Most importantly, it’s happened in each of the past two games. The playoffs have increased the urgency of last year’s MVP and reduced his need to play it safe. Against a strong 49ers pass rush, Mahomes will have plenty of opportunities to leave the pocket.

Jimmy Garoppolo pass attempts

Under 29½ pass attempts, -110: San Francisco’s quarterback hasn’t thrown 30 passes in 11 of 18 games this season, including the past four contests.

Robbie Gould points

Over 7½, +100: The 49ers kicker has at least eight points in six straight games and has made 15 straight field goals. The Chiefs sport the league’s eighth-best red-zone defense — allowing touchdowns 51.6 percent of the time — and could give Gould multiple easy opportunities.

Tyreek Hill rushing attempts

Over ½, +175: The speedy receiver has at least one carry in eight of his past 11 games, including the Chiefs’ two playoff games.

Team with longest kickoff return

Chiefs, -125: Mecole Hardman ranked fifth in the NFL with 26.1 yards per return, including a 104-yard touchdown.

Largest lead

Under 14½, +110: The game will be close. The game will stay close.

First touchdown

Kendrick Bourne (20/1): The undrafted receiver has the 49ers’ only touchdown reception in the playoffs and had a team-high five touchdown catches in the regular season despite his first score coming on Halloween.

Travis Kelce (9/1): Though Kelce had just three catches for 30 yards in the AFC Championship, he put up 10 catches, 134 yards and three touchdowns the week prior. Most appealing is Kelce’s 136 targets. Hill ranks second on the Chiefs, with 89.

Puppy Bowl winner

Team Ruff, +100: They came through for me last year, and I haven’t seen anything on tape that gives Team Fluff (-140) the edge.

Will Joe Buck or Troy Aikman say “Patriots?”

Yes, +200: It’s going to come up that this is the first Super Bowl in four years without New England.

Lakers stars vs. Deebo Samuel

LeBron James and Anthony Davis points vs. Kings Saturday (-1½) over Deebo Samuel receiving yards: The Lakers stars are a lock to combine for at least 50 points every game. The 49ers rookie receiver has surpassed 50 yards receiving only five times in 18 games this season, including once in his past five outings.

Super Bowl MVP

Tyreek Hill (25/1): Remember, three of the past six MVPs haven’t been quarterbacks. Hill is a big-play threat — his NFL-leading 17 touchdowns of 50 yards or more since 2016 is eight more than the league’s second-best — is due to bust loose and should benefit from Sammy Watkins’ strong postseason. Hill also has added value as a punt returner and has scored four such touchdowns in his career.

Raheem Mostert (8/1): Speaking of due, a running back hasn’t won the MVP since 1998 (Terrell Davis). Mostert has no chance to repeat his 220-year, four-touchdown domination of the NFC Championship, but he averaged 5.75 yards per carry with seven touchdowns in the previous seven games and will earn even more opportunity now. Jimmy Garoppolo (+375) is also a strong play, with great odds for a quarterback — the position has claimed the award 29 times — in a coin-flip game.

Whom the MVP mentions first after receiving the award

Winning city, 10/1: Here’s a way to find value on Mahomes winning the MVP. The Chiefs quarterback thanked the fans first after winning the AFC Championship, and the team’s 50-year championship drought presents a greater chance than usual that God, family, teammates and coaches will be recognized afterward. The 49ers haven’t won the title in a quarter-century, and offer the same opportunity.



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Recent UN vote not a shift in Canada’s ‘steadfast’ support for Israel: Trudeau – National


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a recent vote to support a UN resolution endorsing Palestinian self-determination is not a shift in Canada’s policy against singling out Israel for criticism on the international stage.

Trudeau made the remarks Monday at a menorah lighting on Parliament Hill, where about 100 parliamentarians and members of the Jewish community gathered to mark the upcoming Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.


READ MORE:
Canada’s view on Israeli settlements in West Bank unchanged, despite U.S. policy shift

Trudeau says he met before the event with Jewish community leaders who expressed their concerns about the United Nations vote in late November.

He says he heard similar concerns from other parties and from members of his own caucus.

The resolution was part of a group of motions brought every year at the United Nations which critics say single out Israel for the ongoing conflict with Palestinians.

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Protest turns violent during pro-Israel event at York University


Protest turns violent during pro-Israel event at York University

For more than a decade, Canada has voted against the resolutions but Trudeau says Canada felt it had to change course on that one resolution, in order to emphasize its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.



“I hear you,” Trudeau told those gathered around the menorah. “I understand that many of you were alarmed by this decision. The government felt that it was important to reiterate its commitment to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution at a time when its prospects appear increasingly under threat.


READ MORE:
U.S. reverses position on Israeli settlements, angering Palestinians

“But let me be very clear. Our enduring friendship with Israel remains. We will continue to stand strongly against the singling out of Israel at the UN. Canada remains a steadfast supporter of Israel and Canada will always defend Israel’s right to live in security. And we will always, always, speak up against anti-Semitism at home and abroad. You have my word.”

Canada was roundly criticized for the November vote by Israel, the United States and many within Canada, with several critics accusing Canada of voting with the majority in order to secure a UN Security Council seat next year.

Canada returned to its practice of voting against other resolutions critical of Israel in votes taken this month.






U.S. no longer considers Israel settlements illegal


U.S. no longer considers Israel settlements illegal

At the menorah lighting, Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer both denounced recent incidents of anti-Semitism aimed at Jewish students at York University, the University of Toronto and McGill University.

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“They were made to feel uncomfortable because of their identity, because of their support of Israel,” Trudeau said.

“Calling into question Israel’s right to exist or the right of Jewish people to self-determination is promoting anti-Semitism and that’s unacceptable. We will never, ever be silent in the face of such acts. Hatred has no place in Canada and we will continue to condemn it.”




© 2019 The Canadian Press







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Vermont Air National Guard receives next three F-35 Lightning II aircraft – Defence Blog


The Vermont Air National Guard, the air force militia of the State of Vermont, has received the next three F-35 Lightning II aircraft, which landed at the Vermont Air National Guard just after 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, Dec., 5, 2019.

These aircraft are part of the 20 total aircraft assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard, with the full complement arriving by summer 2020.

The aircraft departed Thursday morning from Fort Worth, Texas, and were flown by Vermont Air National Guard pilots assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron.

“Today’s arrival is part of our scheduled plan to receive all the aircraft through 2020,” said Col. Adam Rice, vice commander, 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard. “I’m very proud that our team is ready and our pilots were able to fly these Vermont aircraft home.”

The Vermont Air National Guard is the first Air National Guard to receive the F-35 Lightning II.

The first F-35s assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing arrived at the Vermont Air National Guard Base on September 19th.

“Each aircraft arrival is another step towards finalizing the fielding process at the Vermont Air National Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Greg Knight, Vermont Adjutant General. “Our Airmen have performed remarkably to get to this point and I am, as always, impressed with their dedication towards their mission.”

On 19 October, the 158th Fighter Wing (158 FW), a unit of the Vermont Air National Guard, hosted a welcome ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the first F-35 Lightning II aircraft to the wing, South Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt., Oct. 19, 2019.

As the first fighter wing to receive the F-35 Lighting II, Guard officials say Vermont is paving the way for stronger partnerships between the Air Force and the Air National Guard, ultimately better protecting the United States from adversaries.

* If you wish to report grammatical or factual errors within our news articles, you can let us know by using the online feedback form.





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Suspected shooter at Naval Air Station Pensacola was Saudi national


The suspected gunman who killed three people and injured several others at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday morning was a Saudi national, according to law enforcement sources.

Sources identified him as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.

The shooter was killed in the incident.

Two Escambia County sheriff’s deputies were on scene immediately after reports of a shots fired at about 6:50 a.m. local time. They were injured in an exchange of gunfire with the shooter, authorities said.

One was shot in the arm and the other was shot in the leg and was in surgery, Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said during a morning news conference. They are both expected to survive.

“Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie,” Sheriff David Morgan told reporters.

In addition to the two officers, five other people were injured, officials said. All seven had been taken to nearby Baptist Hospital for treatment.

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The base was still on lockdown at about 10 a.m. and was to remain closed for the rest of the day, with only essential personnel allowed to enter. Pensacola Mayor Grover C. Robinson also asked residents to avoid the area around the base as investigators swarmed the scene.

The shooting unfolded in a two-floor classroom building at the base, which is a training facility.

Jeff Bergosh, a facilities manager at the base, had just arrived at the front gates when the station was put on lockdown, trapping thousands of workers in their cars.

“It’s been pretty surreal,” Bergosh told MSNBC. “We’re just praying for all the victims.”

He said more than 10,000 workers come to Naval Air Station Pensacola every day — many entering from Navy Boulevard, which Friday morning became a mileslong parking lot when the lockdown was ordered.

“When this happened was prime-time rush hour for all the base employees,” Bergosh said. “It was chaos with the ambulances and the police vehicles screaming by with the sirens. We knew pretty quickly that this was a pretty serious event.”

“Both gates of NASP are currently secured due to reports of an active shooter,” a post said early Friday on the station’s Facebook page.

President Donald Trump has been briefed on the shooting and is monitoring the situation, the White House said.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted: “Saddened to hear of the horrible shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola & continuing to monitor the situation. Praying for the victims & their families & we commend the first responders for their swift action in taking down the shooter & getting those on base to safety.”

It is the second shooting at a U.S. military facility this week. On Wednesday, a U.S. sailor fatally shot two civilian Defense Department employees and wounded a third at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii before killing himself, according to military officials.

The naval base incident Friday also comes one day after rumors of a shooting at a school in the same county, the Escambia County School District’s Tate High School. The district office said the threats were not credible, but extra security was sent to the school.

Naval Air Station Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel. It was the nation’s first naval air station and is the home of the popular Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron and the National Naval Aviation Museum, making it a popular tourist destination. It is also the headquarters of the Naval Education Training Command.

In 2016, the base was relatively late to enact security measures to separate the nearly 1 million tourists who visit each year from the sailors, Marines and other base employees, the Navy Times reported.

The naval air station established separate entrance gates for people who worked at the base and visitors, which are about three miles apart. Tourists also can’t access military areas without passing through guard booths and roadblocks.

This is a developing story; please check back for updates.

David K. Li contributed.





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20 Iraqi protesters shot dead by security forces within 24 hours – National


BAGHDAD — Security forces in Iraq shot dead 20 anti-government protesters in a 24-hour period amid spiraling violence in the capital and the country’s south, as Iran condemned the burning of its consulate.

Security forces Thursday fired live ammunition, killing four protesters and wounding 22 on the strategic Ahrar Bridge in Baghdad, security and medical officials said.

Violence across southern Iraq continued throughout the night, with security forces killing 16 protesters and wounding 90 since Wednesday evening. Protesters closed roads and a large number of police and military forces were deployed across key oil-rich provinces.






Nine dead in Iraq after protesters clash with security forces


Nine dead in Iraq after protesters clash with security forces

In Baghdad, protesters attempted to cross the Ahrar Bridge leading nearby to the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Protesters are occupying parts of three bridges – Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar – all leading to the fortified area. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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Protesters had set fire to the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf late Wednesday, in one of the worst attacks targeting Iranian interests in the country since the anti-government protests erupted two months ago. The Iranian staff were not harmed and escaped out the back door.

Anti-government protests have gripped Iraq since Oct. 1, when thousands took to the streets in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite south. The largely leaderless movement accuses the government of being hopelessly corrupt and has also decried Iran’s growing influence in Iraqi state affairs.

At least 350 people have been killed by security forces, which routinely used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds, sometimes shooting protesters directly with gas canisters, causing several fatalities.


READ MORE:
1 killed, 21 wounded as violent protests continue in Iraq

Separately, the U.S. Embassy denounced a recent decision by Iraq’s media regulator to suspend nine television channels, calling for the Communications and Media Commission to reverse its decision. Thursday’s statement from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad also condemned attacks and harassment against journalists.



Local channel Dijla TV had its license suspended on Tuesday for its coverage of the protests, and its office was closed and equipment confiscated, according an official from one of the channels under threat. Other channels have been asked by the regulatory commission to sign a pledge “agreeing to adhere to its rules,” said the official, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal.

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The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s coordinated bombings in three Baghdad neighborhoods, which killed five people. That was the first apparent coordinated attack since anti-government protests began. The bombings took place far from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of weeks of anti-government protests that have posed the biggest security challenge to Iraq since the defeat of IS.

Tehran called for a “responsible, strong and effective” response to the incident from Iraq’s government, said Abbas Mousavi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, in statements to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the torching of the consulate, saying it was perpetrated by “people outside of the genuine protesters,” in a statement, adding that the purpose had been to harm bilateral relations between the countries.






Anti-government protests continue to escalate in Iraq


Anti-government protests continue to escalate in Iraq

One demonstrator was killed and 35 wounded when police fired live ammunition to try to prevent them from entering the consulate building. Once inside, the demonstrators removed the Iranian flag and replaced it with an Iraqi one, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations.

A curfew was imposed in Najaf after the consulate was burned. Security forces were heavily deployed around main government buildings and religious institutions Thursday morning. The province is the headquarters of the country’s Shiite religious authority.

The consulate attack comes after days of sit-ins and road closures with protesters cutting access to main thoroughfares and bridges with burning tires. Protesters have also lately targeted the state’s economic interests in the south by blocking key ports and roads to oil fields.

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READ MORE:
Anti-government protesters in Iraq burn down Iranian consulate: officials

In the oil-rich province of Nassiriya, 16 protesters were killed overnight and 90 wounded by security forces who fired live ammunition to disperse them from a key bridge, security and medical officials said Thursday. Demonstrators had been blocking Nasr Bridge leading to the city center for several days. Security forces moved in late Wednesday to open the main thoroughfare. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

In Basra, security forces were deployed in the city’s main roads to prevent protesters from staging sit-ins, with instructions to arrest demonstrators if they tried to block roads.

Basra’s streets were open as of Thursday morning, but roads leading to the two main Gulf commodities ports in Umm Qasr and Khor al-Zubair remained closed. Schools and official public institutions were also closed.

Protesters had brought traffic in the oil-rich province to a halt for days by burning tires and barricading roads.




© 2019 The Canadian Press







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Trump national security adviser won’t say if president will sign Hong Kong bill


“If it weren’t for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes,” Trump told the hosts of “Fox & Friends.”

And he said he had warned Chinese leader Xi Jinping not to crack down on the protesters, which Beijing describes as rioters and criminals. “He’s got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren’t going in,” Trump said, “only because I asked him, ‘Please don’t do that. You’ll be making a big mistake. It’s going to have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal.’”

But the president pointedly declined to say whether he’d veto the Hong Kong legislation, which passed the House this week with just one ‘no’ vote. Among other measures, it authorizes sanctions against Chinese officials.

“We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi,” Trump said. “He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy,” the president continued. “But I’d like to see them work it out, OK? We have to see and work it out. But I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all of the things that we want to do, but we also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history. And if we could do that, that would be great.”

Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien indicated on Saturday that even he didn’t know which way the president was leaning, though he acknowledged the bill passed with “a pretty significant majority.”

“So I don’t have any information on the signing,” he said, noting that he had been traveling.

“What’s happening in Hong Kong is terrible, and our hearts go out to the people of Hong Kong,” O’Brien said, and that the U.S. was “monitoring the situation closely.”

“At the same time, we have a broad range of issues to deal with the Chinese on,” he added. But he said the U.S. expected the Chinese government to live up to the commitment it made to “one country, two systems” at the time of the handover from British rule.

O’Brien’s comments were made in a news conference with reporters at the Halifax International Security Forum, a gathering of diplomats and military officials from leading democracies.

In a public session afterwards, O’Brien said, “The president may very well sign the bill… but that bill is going to become law, looking at the numbers. … I’d be very surprised if that bill does not become law soon.“

The theme of this year’s forum is the rise of China, and panelists have repeatedly highlighted the growing threat the Beijing government poses to the freedom and security of democracies around the world.

O’Brien’s remarks came hours after Cindy McCain presented an award in the name of her late husband, Sen. John McCain, to “the Hong Kong people.”

In an impassioned speech accepting the prize, Hong Kong lawmaker Emily Lau said she hoped the president would sign the Hong Kong bill and called on attendees to “do your best to ensure that there will be no rivers of blood in Hong Kong.”

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, warned that a presidential veto of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “would send a very clear signal to China that at the end of the day he will turn in favor of China, so China can do whatever it wants in Hong Kong.”

Beijing, meanwhile, warned Washington against passing the bill into law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement: “We urge the U.S. to grasp the situation, stop its wrongdoing before it’s too late, and immediately take measures to prevent this act from becoming law.”

Lau and Figo Chan, a 23-year-old social democrat who coordinated the participation of 50 political parties and activists groups in the current protest movement, told POLITICO they also called for targeted sanctions against Chinese officials over their efforts to weaken checks and balances in Hong Kong and their sometimes violent response to protests.

“I support legislation to punish officials who violate human rights by banning them and freezing their assets,” Lau said, but she acknowledged that Hong Kong may become a pawn in Trump’s trade war with China.

“We are sort of caught right in the middle. We know he changes his mind every day. We were not born yesterday. There are certain things we cannot influence,” Lau said.

While defiant, both Lau and Chan are pessimistic that the democracy movement can succeed in the absence of a more coordinated Western strategy against China’s attempts to roll back democratic checks and balances in the territory.

“We don’t trust China,” Chan said. He expects a wave of “massive imprisonment, arrest and prosecution.”

Hong Kong holds council elections on Sunday, which some have characterized as a referendum on the democracy protests. But Lau warned the international community to keep Sunday’s vote in perspective.

“These councils have no power. You know, they are advisory bodies” only, she said.

Lau — a legislator for 25 years and former Hong Kong Democratic Party chair — says the new generation of protestors still have a lot to prove: “They can’t just suddenly say, oh, I protest three weeks, I’m going to stand for election. If people still vote for them, good luck. But I want people to really do the work and then stand.”

Asked what the U.S. was prepared to do if China launched a bloody crackdown in Hong Kong as it did in Tiananmen in 1989, O’Brien declined to specify on the grounds that it was a “hypothetical question.”

“I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. We’ve already seen too much violence in Hong Kong,” he said. “I hope the violence doesn’t continue, and we hope that we don’t have a Tiananmen Square situation in Hong Kong. That would be a terrible thing.”

“The United States will do its part,” he said.

But citing how some other Western countries seem more interested in dealing with Beijing than in standing up to Chinese leaders, he the real question is, “What is the world prepared to do about China if there’s that sort of crackdown?”

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, a former Conservative minister and chair of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, told the Halifax forum that there are doubts “there would be any price to pay” if the Chinese military rolled into Hong Kong to quell the protests.

“We’re basically more interested in the trade,” Neville-Jones concluded.



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