Ukraine, Poland Want Continued Sanctions on Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Saturday that he and Poland’s president had agreed that sanctions ought to continue against Russia until Ukraine regained the territory it lost in Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. 
 
Zelenskiy, accompanied by some members of his Cabinet, was on his first visit to Poland as president for political talks and to attend ceremonies planned for Sunday to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II. 
 
He said he and Polish President Andrzej Duda had discussed the next steps needed to end the war in eastern Ukraine and to return the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine. 
 
“We have agreed on our next steps to stop the war in eastern Ukraine and to bring back occupied Crimea,” Zelenskiy said.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in a move that Ukraine and almost all the world views as illegal. The European Union and the U.S. imposed sanctions. 
 
In eastern Ukraine, a deadly conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has gone on for five years.    

A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service gives a sign to people to stop as they approach a checkpoint at the contact line between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops in Mayorsk, Ukraine July 3, 2019.

Zelenskiy said his and Duda’s “joint and principal position” is that the EU “sanctions should be reviewed only to be increased — not otherwise,” unless existing peace agreements are fully implemented and “the territorial unity of Ukraine according to its internationally agreed borders” is restored. 
 
Duda said he assured Zelenskiy of his support for continuing sanctions on Russia and protecting “Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”  
  
Duda said especially in the context of Sunday’s World War II anniversary, “we must stress how very important it is that no one, in Europe or in the world, is allowed to change borders by force.” 
 
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and dozens of world leaders also will take part in the anniversary ceremonies in Warsaw.  The invasion of Poland by Nazi German troops on Sept. 1, 1939, marked the outbreak of World War II. 
 
Poland remained under Nazi German occupation for more than five years and lost some 6 million citizens. 

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Is Russia Using Patriotism as a Political Tool?

In Russia, countrywide celebrations have been held to mark the 350th anniversary of the national flag. Yet, only 50 percent of respondents polled in a recent survey could correctly name the sequence of the colors on the flag. Russia recently saw a surge of patriotic celebrations orchestrated by local and federal authorities. Yulia Savchenko has more from Moscow on the state-promoted events.
 

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Teenage Climate Star Greta Thunberg Takes Her Friday School Strike to UN

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg took her Friday school strikes to the gates of the United Nations, surrounded by hundreds of other young activists, calling on adults to take action on climate change. Thunberg will speak at a climate change summit of world leaders next month at the U.N. General Assembly. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from Washington.
 

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Residents of Kashmir Border Town Urge Modi to End Lockdown

While millions of people continue to live under a prolonged security lockdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir, villagers near the border on the Pakistani side of the disputed territory complain intensified military skirmishes between the two countries are also impacting their routine life. Ayaz Gul reports from the border town of Chakothi.
 

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Syrian Troops to Start Unilateral Cease-Fire in Idlib

The Russian military says Syrian government forces will begin a unilateral cease-fire in the northwestern province of Idlib in the coming hours.

The Russian military reconciliation center says the cease-fire will go into effect Saturday morning at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT).
 
 Friday’s report comes as government forces have intensified their offensive over the past weeks capturing rebel-held areas in Hama province and nearby Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.

 The Russian military called on the opposition to end “provocations” and engage in peaceful settlement.

Russia is a main backer of Syrian government forces.

The announcement came as hundreds of protesters in Idlib marched toward a border crossing with Turkey demanding that Ankara either open the border or demand an end to the government attack.

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China Denies Visa, Expelling Wall Street Journal Reporter

Chinese authorities have declined to renew the press credentials of a Beijing-based Wall Street Journal reporter, effectively expelling a journalist who extensively covered President Xi Jinping and Communist Party politics.

The foreign ministry said Friday in response to a faxed question about Singaporean reporter Chun Han Wong’s visa that some foreign journalists with the “evil intention to smear and attack China” are “not welcome.”

The action comes one month after Wong co-wrote a story detailing an Australian investigation into alleged links between Xi’s cousin and money laundering and suspected organized crime.

A spokesperson for Dow Jones, the WSJ’s parent company, said in a statement that authorities declined to renew Wong’s press credentials. The spokesperson said the company is looking into the matter but did not elaborate.

Wong declined to comment.

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Uganda: Traveling Girl from Congo Dies of Ebola

A 9-year-old Congolese girl who tested positive for Ebola in neighboring Uganda has died, officials said Friday, as the World Health Organization said that the outbreak has neared 3,000 cases.

The young girl’s body will be repatriated with her mother back to Congo for a funeral, according to Dr. Eddy Kasenda, Ebola representative in the Congolese border town of Kasindi.

“We are finalizing the administrative formalities so that the body is repatriated and buried here in Congo, her native country,” Kasenda said. “We are collaborating with the health services of neighboring Uganda and we will strengthen the sanitary measures here in Kasindi.”

A Ugandan official at the hospital where the girl had been in isolation confirmed her death overnight. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The girl, who was traveling with her mother, was identified at a border screening Wednesday as a possible Ebola patient and isolated.

Porous borders
 
Although cases of cross-border contamination have been rare, this case highlights the risk of Ebola spreading across the border into neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. Borders in the region are often porous, and many people traveling at night use bush paths to cross over.  

FILE – School-going pupils from the Democratic Republic of Congo cross the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the DRC, Aug. 14, 2019.

In June, a family of Congolese with some sick family members crossed into Uganda via a bush path. Two of them later died of Ebola, and the others were transferred back to Congo.

Uganda has had multiple outbreaks of Ebola and hemorrhagic fevers since 2000.

Because the 9-year-old Ebola victim passed through an official entry point this week, Ugandan health authorities believe she had no contact with any Ugandan.

Ebola has killed nearly 2,000 people in eastern Congo since August 2018. The disease is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

WHO said Friday that cases have reached 3,000 in Congo, with 1,893 confirmed deaths and some 900 survivors. An average of 80 people per week are sickened by the virus, which has infected most people in Congo’s North Kivu province. 
 
The Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo hasn’t shown signs of slowing down despite new treatments and vaccines given to more than 200,000 people in the region and the use of two therapeutic treatments being used as part of a clinical trial. 

Obstacles
 
Insecurity has been one factor in a region where rebel groups have fought for control of mineral-rich lands for decades. Ebola also has spread because of mistrust by communities who have also staged attacks against health workers. Many people in eastern Congo don’t trust doctors and other medics.

“Many people are afraid to seek treatment for illnesses, worried they will be sent to an Ebola Treatment Center where they fear they could contract the disease. As an actor within the response, we must assume our own responsibility,” said Bob Kitchen, Vice President of Emergencies at the International Rescue Committee. “One year into the response, the lack of community acceptance remains the single greatest obstacle to containing the outbreak. Building trust with the community doesn’t just mean dialogue with the affected population. It means working with the community to adapt the response and address the overall needs they are facing inside and outside of the Ebola outbreak.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will travel this weekend to Congo with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and senior officials, including Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

On Friday, he called on partners to increase their presence in the field. 
 
“Our commitment to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is that we will work alongside them to stop the Ebola outbreak,” Ghebreyesus said. “Our commitment also means strengthening the health systems to give them all the other things they need. Building strong systems is what will protect people, communities and the world.”

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Outgoing Italian PM Accepts Fresh Mandate to Form New Government

Outgoing prime minister Giuseppe Conte has accepted a fresh mandate from Italy’s head of state to form a new coalition government backed by the populist Five Star Movement and the center-left Democrats party. Markets reacted positively the end to the 3-week political crisis, which could have triggered a snap election. But many in Italy are wondering how long such an alliance will last.

Conte appears determined and convinced he will be capable of establishing a government backed by a new coalition made up of the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Left party. Although the two political groups have been past enemies, they have agreed to unite and work together.

The political crisis was caused by the League leader, Matteo Salvini, who announced three weeks ago he was no longer prepared to work with the Five Star Movement. 

League leader Matteo Salvini gestures as he speaks to the media after consultations with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, Italy, Aug. 28, 2019.

The decision by the Left Democrats to work with the 5SM stems not only from the desire to enter parliament but also from wanting to avoid a snap general election, which at this time would likely be won by Salvini’s League party.

Coming out of his talks with the Italian president, Conte made clear the new government would not be one “against,” but “for the good of citizens.” 

He added that he would create a government that will represent a “novelty.”

Conte also said Italy is undergoing a very delicate phase and must emerge from this political crisis as quickly as possible.

He sais “we must get down to work immediately, to draw up a budget to avert the VAT hike that will protect savers and offer solid prospects for economic growth and social development.”

The prime minister already has began to hold meetings to reach an agreement on policies and about how to divide the ministerial positions between the two parties, which will make up the new coalition government.

Conte said he expects to go back to the Italian president with a full list in approximately a week. Once the new government is sworn in, it has 10 days to win a no-confidence vote in parliament.

The new alliance and Conte’s good intentions in the name of political stability seem to have averted snap elections, for the time being, and markets reacted positively to the news. But Italians in the streets and political observers see it as an unlikely alliance and fear it is unlikely to last.

For the time being, League leader Salvini’s plans for an early poll may have been thwarted and his move certainly backfired as he now will be relegated to the opposition. But it remains to be seen whether the move will, in fact, further increase his already soaring popularity.

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Venezuela’s Maduro Says Settlement Talks Could Soon Resume

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says his representatives could return to negotiations with the opposition in talks he abruptly halted earlier this month.

Maduro said in an interview released Thursday that “good news” could come in the next few days about settlement talks hosted by Norway. He’s under pressure to leave power from opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has backing from the United States and more than 50 other nations.

“Contacts with Venezuelan opposition delegates have resumed,” Maduro said in an interview with the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency. “The next few days will bring good news about the dialogue.”

Maduro ended the talks this month when the Trump administration hit his government with a new round of punishing economic sanctions. The measures froze all Venezuela’s U.S. assets and blocks companies and individuals from doing business with Maduro’s government.

The socialist Maduro said in the interview that his representatives are in contact with the opposition as well as Norwegian officials who have overseen the talks held on the Caribbean island of Barbados.

Maduro, who often calls Guaidó a puppet of the U.S. capitalist empire, remains in power with backing from the Venezuelan military and international allies including Cuba, Russia, China and Turkey.

Venezuela’s opposition hasn’t commented, but Guaidó has said that he expected Maduro’s representatives to return to the talks because they have no other options.

The possibility of resumed dialogue comes amid a historic economic and political crisis in Venezuela that has driven more than 4 million people to flee the country in recent years.

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Sanders Brings Climate Discussion to South Carolina Coast

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders returns to South Carolina Thursday for a conversation on climate change in a popular tourist destination along the coast of the critical early-voting state.

The gathering is being held in Myrtle Beach, a focal point of South Carolina’s $20 billion tourism industry. It comes on the heels of the Vermont senator’s release last week of a $16.3 trillion climate change plan that calls for the United States to move to renewable energy across the economy by 2050 and declare climate change a national emergency.

How climate changes affect coastal communities is a major concern along the 190 miles of Atlantic coastline in South Carolina, which holds the first 2020 voting in the South. In the historic city of Charleston, even a moderate amount of rainfall has become enough to flood streets and make parts of the urban peninsula impassable.

According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, by 2045, chronic flooding could inundate more than 16,000 homes along the state’s coast and low-lying areas, with about 15,000 of those in the areas surrounding Myrtle Beach. The region’s subtropical climate and extensive beaches attract more than 19 million visitors each year.

Earlier this week, Sanders told voters in coal-producing Kentucky that it’s possible to be a friend of coal miners and a believer in climate change as he pushed for cleaner energy sources to combat global warming. Sanders also vowed to help communities tied to coal and other fossil fuel industries in the transition toward renewable energy production such as solar and wind power.

Sanders says his 10-year “nationwide mobilization” would create 20 million jobs. His proposals include sourcing 100% of the country’s electricity from renewable and zero-carbon emission power and committing more than $2 trillion in grants for low- and middle-income families to weatherize and retrofit their homes and businesses, with the goal of reducing residential energy consumption.

Sanders has teamed up with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on climate legislation and endorsed the Green New Deal, a sweeping proposal that’s becoming a rallying point both for Democratic presidential hopefuls and liberals in the party’s base. Republicans have argued that the plan is too radical and would drive the economy off a cliff and lead to a huge tax increase.

The climate change discussion kicks off two days of campaign events for Sanders in South Carolina. On Friday, he has scheduled a town hall meeting in Florence on “Medicare for All,” the government-run single-payer approach to health care.

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CNN Apologizes for Misleading Hong Kong Headline  

CNN has apologized for a misleading headline that appeared on its website during its coverage Sunday of the Hong Kong riots.

At one point, a headline reading “Police Use Petrol Bombs and Water Cannons Against Hong Kong Protesters” flashed on the screen.

According to Hong Kong police, officers shot water cannons at barricades, not people, and it was the demonstrators who threw the gasoline bombs.

CNN’s Hong Kong bureau chief Roger Clark admitted in a letter to police that the headline was “erroneous.”

Clark said CNN is “working hard to ensure that reporting of the Hong Kong protests is fair and balanced at all times.”

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Swedish Teen Climate Activist Sails Into New York for UN Summit 

Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York on Wednesday after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emissions sailboat to attend a conference on global warming. 
 
The 16-year-old Swede set sail from Plymouth, England, on Aug. 14. At 4 a.m., she tweeted:

Land!! The lights of Long Island and New York City ahead. pic.twitter.com/OtDyQOWtF5

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 28, 2019

Thunberg came to the U.S. for the U.N. climate summit and chose to sail rather than fly to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions that come with commercial jet travel. 
 
Thunberg said she first learned about climate change when she was 8 years old and became very concerned about the future of humanity.  
 
A few years later, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder and selective mutism.  “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary,” she told the audience at a TED Talk last year. “Now is one of those moments.” 
 
In August 2018, Thunberg stopped attending school on Fridays and took to protesting alone outside the Swedish parliament. She called it a strike intended to draw attention to climate change.  
 
Thousands of students have since taken up her cause around the world, staying out of school on Fridays and demanding adults do something about climate change. 
 

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sails into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, a zero-emissions yacht, Aug. 28, 2019.

The boat carrying Thunberg, the Malizia II, has the hashtag #FridaysForFuture under “UNITE BEHIND THE SCIENCE” inscribed on the sails.  
 
The sailboat’s onboard electronics are powered by solar panels and underwater turbines. It has no toilet or fixed shower aboard, no windows below deck and only a small gas cooker to heat up freeze-dried food. 

Thunberg’s boat was greeted by a flotilla of 17 sailboats representing each of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals on their sails.
 
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed Thunberg on Twitter: 

Welcome to New York, @gretathunberg!

The determination and perseverance shown during your journey should embolden all of us taking part in next month’s #ClimateAction Summit.

We must deliver on the demands of people around the world and address the global climate crisis. pic.twitter.com/dGUZr9fFQM

— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 28, 2019

Thunberg will speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit next month and then attend a climate summit in Chile in December. She is taking a year off from school to pursue her activism.  

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O’Rourke Campaign Ejects Breitbart Reporter From Event

Beto O’Rourke’s campaign says it ejected a Breitbart News reporter from an event at a South Carolina college because it wanted to ensure that students felt “comfortable and safe.”

Joel Pollak, the conservative web site’s senior editor-at-large, said a Benedict College campus police officer asked him to leave the site of a speech Tuesday by the Democratic presidential candidate. Pollak wrote on Breitbart that a campaign staff member told him he was being ejected because he’d been disruptive at past events.

O’Rourke spokeswoman Aleigha Cavalier on Wednesday said Breitbart walks the line between being news and a perpetrator of hate speech.

She said given Pollak’s “previous hateful reporting” and the sensitivity of the topics being discussed with black students, the campaign asked him to leave.
 

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New DRC Cabinet Prompts Accusations that Kabila’s Regime Still Holds Power

As the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s new president unveils his coalition government, opposition members are complaining about being left out. 

On Monday, President Felix Tshisekedi announced his cabinet, seven months after winning a contested election that landed him in the country’s highest office. The 65-member cabinet includes 23 appointees from Tshisekedi’s Direction for Change Party and 42 from former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo coalition. But members of the DRC’s numerous other political parties are warning that the cabinet gives too much power to allies of the former president and not enough to opposition voices. 

Emery Kalwira, president of the opposition group Congolese Coalition, said that Tshisekedi’s predecessor, Kabila, maintains the majority of the seats in the government and doesn’t want to leave power. 

“He is [Kabila] still the main leader of the DRC and Tshisekedi isn’t the real president,” he told VOA’s Daybreak Africa radio program. “That is why we want to call all the people to get up and to put them out and to begin a good transition with our popular salvation authority.”

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In January, Tshisekedi took office, despite critics saying the election he won was rigged. Now opposition voices are accusing the new president of being a puppet.

“You know that Kabila is controlling the two parliamentary senate and the parliament and the biggest majority from the government composition is from him. That shows that … Congolese people will still be suffering, and that’s why we say Mr. Kabila must go out. Because Tshisekedi is not the real president,” Kalwira added. 

But Abraham Lukabwanga, president of the press to Tshisekedi, told VOA that the 76% of the cabinet are new to the government in an interview with Africa News Tonight. “Those are people that have never been into politics. They never had the position, so this can lead to a really big change,” he said.

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Lukabwanga stressed that the cabinet is diverse and includes representatives of all 26 of DRC’s provinces, including women and young people who previously did not have a voice in government. He said they are determined to address pressing issues in the country, including corruption and an ongoing Ebola outbreak. 

“What you’ve seen the last 48 hours since the government has been published is the joy of, the satisfaction of, I may say, the majority of people who are happy to say that now we do have a government. It’s time to work. We don’t have time to waste,” he said.

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‘Now or Never’: Hong Kong Protesters Say They Have Nothing to Lose

Exasperated with the government’s unflinching attitude to escalating civil unrest, Jason Tse quit his job in Australia and jumped on a plane to join what he believes is a do-or-die fight for Hong Kong’s future.

The Chinese territory is grappling with its biggest crisis since its handover to Beijing 22 years ago as many residents fret over what they see as China’s tightening grip over the city and a relentless march toward mainland control.

The battle for Hong Kong’s soul has pitted protesters against the former British colony’s political masters in Beijing, with broad swathes of the Asian financial center determined to defend the territory’s freedoms at any cost.

Faced with a stick and no carrot – chief executive Carrie Lam reiterated on Tuesday protesters’ demands were unacceptable – the pro-democracy movement has intensified despite Beijing deploying paramilitary troops near the border in recent weeks.

“This is a now or never moment and it is the reason why I came back,” Tse, 32, said, adding that since joining the protests last month he had been a peaceful participant in rallies and an activist on the Telegram social media app. “If we don’t succeed now, our freedom of speech, our human rights, all will be gone. We need to persist.”

Since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997, critics say Beijing has reneged on a commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms under a “one country, two systems” formula.

Opposition to Beijing that had dwindled after 2014, when authorities faced down a pro-democracy movement that occupied streets for 79 days, has come back to haunt authorities who are now grappling with an escalating cycle of violence.

“We have to keep fighting. Our worst fear is the Chinese government,” said a 40-year-old teacher who declined to be identified for fear of repercussions. “For us, it’s a life or death situation.”

‘If we burn, you burn’

What started as protests against a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, has evolved into demands for greater democracy.

“We lost the revolution in 2014 very badly. This time, if not for the protesters who insist on using violence, the bill would have been passed already,” said another protester, who asked to be identified as just Mike, 30, who works in media and lives with his parents.

He was referring to the 79 days of largely peaceful protests in 2014 that led to the jailing of activist leaders. “It’s proven that violence, to some degree, will be useful.”

Nearly 900 people have been arrested in the latest protests.

The prospect of lengthy jail terms seems to be deterring few activists, many of whom live in tiny apartments with their families.

“7K for a house like a cell and you really think we out here scared of jail,” reads graffiti scrawled near one protest site.

HK$7,000 ($893) is what the monthly rent for a tiny room in a shared apartment could cost.

The protests pose a direct challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose government has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention to quell violent demonstrations is possible.

Some critics question the protesters’ “now or never” rallying cry, saying a crackdown by Beijing could bring an end to the freedoms in Hong Kong that people on the mainland can only dream of.

The campaign reflects concerns over Hong Kong’s future at a time when protesters, many of whom were toddlers when Britain handed Hong Kong back to Beijing, feel they have been denied any political outlet and have no choice but to push for universal suffrage.

“You either stand up and pull this government down or you stay at the mercy of their hands. You have no choice,” said Cheng, 28, who works in the hospitality industry.

“Imagine if this fails. You can only imagine the dictatorship of the Communists will become even greater … If we burn, you burn with us,” he said, referring to authorities in Beijing.

“The clock is ticking,” Cheng added, referring to 2047 when a 50-year agreement enshrining Hong Kong’s separate governing system will lapse.

‘Not China’

As Beijing seeks to integrate Hong Kong closer to the mainland China, many residents are recoiling.

A poll in June by the University of Hong Kong found that 53% of 1,015 respondents identified as Hong Kongers, while 11% identified as Chinese, a record low since 1997.

With the prospect of owning a home in one of the world’s most expensive cities a dream, many disaffected youth say they have little to look forward to as Beijing’s grip tightens.

“We really have got nothing to lose,” said Scarlett, 23, a translator.

As the crisis simmers, China’s People’s Liberation Army has released footage of troops conducting anti-riot exercises.

But graffiti scrawled across the city signals the protesters’ defiance.

“Hong Kong is not China” and “If you want peace, prepare for war” are some of the messages.

Tse said he believes violence is necessary because the government rarely listens to peaceful protests.

“Tactically I think we should have a higher level of violence,” he said. “I actually told my wife that if we’ll ever need to form an army on the protester side I will join.”

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Are Water Shortages Driving Migration? Researchers Dispel Myths

Water scarcity is one factor driving millions of people from their homes each year but is often not the only reason why they move, researchers told an international conference on Tuesday.

In most cases, other economic and social problems like conflict, corruption or a lack of jobs contribute to the decision to leave, they said.

They warned against over-simplifying the links between water and migration, and said many of those who do move – at least partly because of water-related pressures such as floods, droughts and pollution – may not travel far.

“International migration is very expensive and very risky and it lies beyond the reach of many of the poorest people who are most vulnerable to water security and drought,” said Guy Jobbins of the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

Those who suffer water-related shocks to their livelihoods – losing animals or crops – “are less likely to have the funds to start again in South Africa or France”, he told an audience at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Conversely, there was some evidence to suggest that people who have better access to secure, affordable water are more likely to have enough financial resources to migrate, he added.

Although much is made of international migration, most movement related to water is inside countries, often from one rural place to another, said Sasha Koo-Oshima, deputy director of land and water at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

FILE – Newly-arrived women who fled drought queue to receive food distributed by local volunteers at a camp for displaced persons in the Daynile neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, in Somalia, May 18, 2019.

Three out of four of the world’s poor live in rural areas and rely heavily on agricultural production, with food insecurity, water contamination and drought forcing people from their homes – especially the young, she added.

Efforts should be stepped up to prevent water scarcity and make it profitable for young people to stay on rural land, she said.

But if people do leave, “it is not necessarily a negative phenomenon”, as humans have always moved in search of a better life, she added.

Refugee scapegoats

Researchers also called for a more sophisticated analysis of how mass migration impacts on water supplies.

In Jordan – the world’s second most water-scarce country, according to Hussam Hussein, a Middle East water researcher at Germany’s University of Kassel – a large influx of refugees from Syria, after civil war broke out there in 2011, led to tensions with their host communities, especially in cities.

Jordan hosts about 750,000 Syrians, the vast majority in urban areas, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). But contrary to public discourse, their presence is not the main cause of the country’s water shortages, said Hussein.

“When we look at the numbers, the impact of refugees is not as important as unsustainable use (of water) in the agricultural sector,” he said.

Mismanagement of water resources, leaks, illegal wells and intensive farming made up the majority of water losses in parched Jordan, he added.

In war-torn Syria, water scarcity and climate-related events such as drought had been a “trigger” for the conflict but not a primary cause, said Fatine Ezbakhe of the Mediterranean Youth for Water Network.

Instead a lack of water amplified political instability and poverty that fueled migration and unrest, she added.

Now improvements to water supplies could be used to persuade people to return home, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If we actually invest in water, we could… try to make people go back and restart (in) the rural areas they left in the first place,” she said.

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