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Britain Warns Citizens of Hong Kong Extradition Threat

Concerns are growing over the reach of the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong as Britain warned several of its citizens that they could face arrest and extradition to the former British colony. 

China passed the national security law in June 2020 in response to months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Beijing claimed the law was necessary to restore order to the territory and, in its words, “protect people’s rights.” Critics say the law curtails basic democratic freedoms and is aimed at suppressing political opposition. Over 140 people have been arrested under the legislation since it was introduced, including opposition lawmakers, activists, journalists and media executives.

 

Among those arrested was opposition activist Andy Li, who was charged with foreign collusion in 2020 after allegedly lobbying foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

Several British citizens were named in the court papers relating to Li’s case. Earlier this month, the British government contacted them to warn they could face arrest and extradition to Hong Kong if they traveled to any country that had an extradition agreement with the Chinese territory.

U.S.-born British citizen Bill Browder was among at least five people contacted by the British Foreign Office. He has successfully campaigned in several countries for Magnitsky sanctions against human rights abusers, named after his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009.

Browder told VOA Monday that his involvement stemmed from that lobbying. “Specifically, my name was mentioned because I was having discussions with various people about Magnitsky sanctions against the Hong Kong officials who were involved in this suppression of democracy,” he said. “After alerting me to my name being in the document, the (British) Foreign Office officials pointed out to me that the Chinese national security law doesn’t just apply domestically to residents of Hong Kong; it applies to anyone, anywhere in the world. And I guess the point of their reach out was to alert me to that fact and to the possibility that I may be subject to some type of persecution myself from the Chinese authorities for being involved in these discussions.”

Browder has already faced several attempts by Russia to have him arrested and extradited on fraud charges through Interpol, the global agency that communicates arrest warrants between police forces. Browder says those charges are clearly politically motivated, but he is, nevertheless, limited as to where he can travel.

“I basically contain my travel to what I describe as ‘rule of law’ countries. So, for example, I won’t travel to South Africa, even though I actually own a home in South Africa, because it’s not really considered to be a rule of law country, whereas I would travel to Germany regardless of what treaties they have because I know that a court will not hand me over to Russians or Chinese on politically motivated cases,” Browder said.

China has not commented on the British government’s warnings. More than a dozen countries have extradition agreements with Hong Kong, including India, South Africa and Portugal. Several countries, however, tore up their extradition treaties with Hong Kong following the introduction of the national security law. These include Britain, the United States, Australia, Germany and France.

 

British pro-democracy activist Luke de Pulford, who had also been named in the Hong Kong court papers relating to the prosecution of Andy Li, was approached by the British Foreign Office last week. He told VOA that Britain should stand up to Beijing.

“It’s a really sad indictment and reflection on the U.K.’s cowering before China. We’re now in a situation that having failed to honor their promises to the people of Hong Kong, the U.K. is telling people that they can’t go to third countries because they might end up in prison. They might be extradited to China,” de Pulford recently told VOA.

Under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration signed between Britain and China before the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, Beijing promised to maintain the territory’s autonomy under the so-called Basic Law and the principle of “one country, two systems.”

In a statement, the British government told VOA: “The UK will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people. As a co-signatory to the Joint Declaration, we will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, to call out the violation of their freedoms, and to hold China to their international obligations.”

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Britain Warns Citizens of Hong Kong Extradition Threat

Concern is growing over the reach of China’s so-called national security law that it recently imposed on Hong Kong. Britain warned several of its citizens that they could face arrest and extradition to the former British colony. Henry Ridgwell reports from London. 

Camera: Henry Ridgwell

 

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Facebook Puts Instagram Kids Project on Hold

Facebook is putting its Instagram Kids project on hold amid growing concerns about potential harmful effects on young people, including anxiety and depression.

The idea is to provide youngsters with the Instagram social media experience but with no ads, more parental control and age-appropriate content.

U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged Facebook to scrap the plan entirely for safety concerns.

“Today is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children’s wellbeing should come before Big Tech’s profits,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, an advocacy group focused on children.

“We commend Facebook for listening to the many voices who have loudly and consistently told them that Instagram Youth will result in significant harms to children.”

Golin vowed to continue fighting against Instagram Kids “until they permanently pull the plug.”

While Instagram Kids would require parental permission to join, the company said it was putting the idea on pause to “continue to build opt-in parental supervision tools for teens,” the company said in a blog post.

“We’ll continue our work to allow parents to oversee their children’s accounts by expanding these tools to teen accounts (aged 13 and over) on Instagram.” 

The company said the reality is that kids are online and that a product like Instagram Kids would be “better for parents.”

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported internal Facebook documents showed the company knows Instagram can have harmful effects on teens, particularly girls. According to the Journal, Facebook has done little to address the issue.

Facebook called the report inaccurate.

(Some information in this report comes from Reuters.) 

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5.8 Quake Hits Crete, Killing One

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake rocked the Greek island of Crete Monday morning, leaving at least one person dead and several injured.

Across the island, people were reportedly seen running out of buildings and homes, while many older buildings suffered damage.

“The earthquake was strong and was long in duration,” Heraklion Mayor Vassilis Lambrinos told private Antenna television.

Greek authorities dispatched civil engineers around the island to assess damage.

“We are urging people who live in damaged older buildings to remain outdoors. One aftershock can cause a collapse,” seismologist Efthimios Lekkas, who heads Greece’s Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization, told The Associated Press. “We are talking about structures built before 1970. Structures built after 1985 are built to a higher standard that can withstand the effect of an earthquake.”

Crete is a popular tourist destination, and according to reports, the quake did not disrupt international flights to Heraklion, nor did it cause serious damage to hotels.

The only known fatality was in the town of Arkalochori, which is about 30 kilometers outside of Heraklion. A man was reportedly working on the renovation of a chapel when the dome caved in.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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Volcano Lava Flow Halts but Many Confined Over Toxic Gas Fears

A Canary Islands volcano that has been erupting for over a week fell silent Monday as coastal residents were confined over toxic gas fears when the lava hits the sea.

La Cumbre Vieja, which straddles a southern ridge in La Palma in the Atlantic archipelago, erupted on September 19, spewing out rivers of lava which have slowly crept towards the sea.

But on Monday morning, there was no lava and ash emerging, with the week-long rumble of the eruption fading to silence, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. 

It was not immediately clear whether the eruption had stopped completely or merely paused, as smoke was still emerging from the top. 

“Volcanic activity in La Palma has reduced significantly in the last few hours. We must be very vigilant about how it evolves because the scenario can change quickly,” Madrid’s Institute of Geosciences tweeted. 

“It seems the volcano has entered a phase of decreased activity. We will see how it evolves in the coming hours.”

And the Involcan volcanology institute gave a similar assessment.

“In the last hours, the volcanic tremor has almost disappeared, as well as the… explosive activity,” it tweeted.

Contacted by AFP, Involcan was unable to say whether the eruption had finished or just paused, with a spokesman saying its experts were “evaluating the different scenarios”. 

Overnight, the inhabitants of several coastal areas were ordered to stay at home to avoid harm from the release of toxic gases when the lava finally reaches the sea, a process which has been much slower than initially expected. 

When the molten lava enters the ocean, experts warn it will send clouds of toxic gas into the air, as well as explosions and a fragmentation of the lava, which shoots outwards like bullets. 

The authorities have set up a no-go zone to head off curious onlookers.

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Social Democrats Win Most Votes in German Election

Preliminary results Monday showed Germany’s center-left Social Democrats winning the largest share of the vote in national parliamentary elections as parties battle to see who will succeed outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

The Social Democrats received 25.7% of the vote Sunday, followed by 24.1% for Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union. 

State Governor Armin Laschet of the conservative CDU bloc and outgoing Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats are vying to become the leader of Europe’s biggest national economy as Merkel steps down after 16 years as chancellor.

 

Each said they would be reaching out to smaller parties to try to form a governing coalition with a goal of having a new government in place before the end of the year. 

The top targets for support will be the environmentalist Green party, which finished third with 14.8%, and the pro-business Free Democrats who finished fourth with 11.5%. 

Merkel will remain in office on a caretaker basis until her successor is chosen.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Agence France Presse. 

 

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Recount Finds Iceland Just Misses Female-majority Parliament

Iceland briefly celebrated electing a female-majority parliament Sunday, before a recount produced a result just short of that landmark for gender parity in the North Atlantic island nation.

The initial vote count had female candidates winning 33 seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, the Althing, in an election that saw centrist parties make the biggest gains.

Hours later, a recount in western Iceland changed the outcome, leaving female candidates with 30 seats, a tally previously reached at Iceland’s second most recent election, in 2016. Still, at almost 48% of the total, that is the highest percentage for women lawmakers in Europe.

Only a handful of countries, none of them in Europe, have a majority of female lawmakers. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda leads the world with women making up 61% of its Chamber of Deputies, with Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico at or just over the 50% mark. Worldwide, the organization says just over a quarter of legislators are women.

“The female victory remains the big story of these elections,” politics professor Olafur Hardarson told broadcaster RUV after the recount.

Iceland’s voting system is divided into six regions and the recount in western Iceland was held after questions about the number of ballots cast. The mistakes have not been entirely explained but are thought to be the result of human error.

The three parties in the outgoing coalition government led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir won a total of 37 seats in Saturday’s vote, two more than in the last election, and appeared likely to continue in power.

Opinion polls had suggested a victory for left-leaning parties in the unpredictable election, which saw 10 parties competing for seats. But the center-right Independence Party took the largest share of votes, winning 16 seats, seven of them held by women. The centrist Progressive Party celebrated the biggest gain, winning 13 seats, five more than last time.

Before the election, the two parties formed Iceland’s three-party coalition government, together with Jakobsdottir’s Left Green Party. Her party lost several seats, but kept eight, outscoring poll predictions.  

The three ruling parties haven’t announced whether they will work together for another term but given the strong support from voters it appears likely. It will take days, if not weeks, for a new government to be formed and announced.  

Climate change had ranked high on the election agenda in Iceland, a glacier-studded volcanic island nation of about 350,000 people in the North Atlantic. An exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards — with 59 days of temperatures above 20 C (68 F) — and shrinking glaciers have helped drive global warming up the political agenda.

But that didn’t appear to have translated into increased support for any of the four left-leaning parties that campaigned to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.

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Swiss Approve Same-sex Marriage by Landslide in Referendum

Switzerland voted by a wide margin to allow same-sex couples to marry in a referendum on Sunday, bringing the Alpine nation into line with many others in western Europe.

Official results showed the measure passed with 64.1% of voters in favor and won a majority in all of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, or states.  

Switzerland’s parliament and the governing Federal Council supported the “Marriage for All” measure. Switzerland has authorized same-sex civil partnerships since 2007.  

Supporters said passage would put same-sex partners on equal legal footing with heterosexual couples by allowing them to adopt children together and facilitating citizenship for same-sex spouses. It would also permit lesbian couples to utilize regulated sperm donation.  

Opponents believe that replacing civil partnerships with full marriage rights would undermine families based on a union between one man and one woman.

At a polling station in Geneva on Sunday, voter Anna Leimgruber said she cast her ballot for the “no” camp because she believed “children would need to have a dad and a mom.”

But Nicolas Dzierlatka, who voted “yes,” said what children need is love.  

“I think what’s important for children is that they are loved and respected — and I think there are children who are not respected or loved in so-called ‘hetero’ couples,” he said.

The campaign has been rife with allegations of unfair tactics, with the opposing sides decrying the ripping down of posters, LGBT hotlines getting flooded with complaints, hostile emails, shouted insults against campaigners and efforts to silence opposing views.  

Switzerland, which has a population of 8.5 million, is traditionally conservative and only extended the right to vote to all its women in 1990.

Most countries in western Europe already recognize same-sex marriage, while most of those in central and eastern Europe don’t allow wedlock involving two men or two women.

Supporters say it could still be months before same-sex couples can get married, mainly because of administrative and legislative procedures.  

Also on Sunday, voters dismissed a proposal spearheaded by left-wing groups to raise taxes on returns from investments and capital such as dividends or income from rental properties in Switzerland as a way to ensure better redistribution and fairer taxation.

Results showed 64.9% voting against it in a country known for its vibrant financial sector and relatively low taxes, and as a haven for many of the world’s richest people. No canton voted in favor.

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EU-US to Seek Shared Tech Rules Despite French Anger

The EU and U.S. will this week embark on a tricky effort to deepen ties on tech regulation, but with France resisting the project in the wake of a falling out with Washington over a submarine deal.

High-level talks will begin in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday despite efforts by Paris to delay the meeting in retaliation for a pact among the U.S., Australia and Britain, dubbed AUKUS, that saw Canberra scrap a multibillion-dollar submarine order from France.

The EU-U.S. Trade and Tech Council was set up after a summit in June to look at issues including trying to attune their strategies on regulating internet giants and defend democratic values.  

The council came at the request of the Europeans, who are seeking concrete signs of increased transatlantic cooperation after years of tension under former President Donald Trump, especially over trade.

President Joe Biden’s administration will be represented by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

On the European side, EU executive vice presidents Margrethe Vestager and Valdis Dombrovskis will lead talks.

Vestager, the EU’s tech policy expert, said the talks would attempt to enhance cooperation “in the areas where there is a shared sense of values being two big, old democracies.”

Unspoken in her comments was the rise of China, with Washington understood to be pressing its EU partners to join forces in isolating Beijing on the global stage.

This is being resisted in Europe, where powerful member states France and Germany are reluctant to blindly follow Washington’s increasing assertiveness.

“European officials want to avoid the TTC simply becoming an unproductive exercise at China-bashing,” said former EU trade boss Cecilia Malmstrom and analyst Chad Bown in a paper for the Peterson Institute in Washington.  

The talks in Pittsburgh, a rust-belt city that has grown into a tech hub, are the first installment of the Trade and Tech Council, with another round expected in the spring, Vestager said.

EU diplomats said France sharply criticized the talks at a meeting on Friday, reminding member states that previous attempts to deepen trade ties with Washington led nowhere.

‘No place in a democracy’

Dombrovskis, who is also the EU’s trade commissioner, cautioned that the new effort was not an attempt to clinch a trade deal, with memories still fresh of the failed attempt to strike an ambitious accord during the Obama administration.

The European Commission, which handles trade policy for the EU’s 27 member states, also failed to finalize a smaller scale deal with former U.S. President Donald Trump, beyond a zero-tariff pact on lobsters.

“It’s not like a free trade agreement,” the former Latvian prime minister told reporters. “It’s more about long-term benefits.”  

Dombrovskis pointed to potential cooperation on banning unwanted foreign investments or tackling supply chain problems, such as with microchips.

The talks will be broken into 10 working groups on a wide range of issues, with Vestager looking to find common ground on how to curb Big Brother, such as in preventing excesses in artificial intelligence.

“We do not find that these practices should have a home in a democracy,” she said. “I have a strong feeling that this is something that is really shared with the Americans.”

The talks will take place while both sides remain at loggerheads over the steel and aluminum tariffs that were imposed by Trump, but which Biden has yet to remove.

On the tariffs, Dombrovskis said, “We are engaging very seriously with the U.S., and we are mindful also (of the) timelines, that by December 1, this issue should be solved.”

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