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Pompeo Says Hong Kong ‘No Longer Autonomous from China’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that he has reported to the U.S. Congress that Hong Kong is “no longer autonomous from China” and “Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws,” given facts on the ground. Today, I reported to Congress that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, given facts on the ground. The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) Riot police form a line as they plan to clear away people gathered in the Causeway Bay district in Hong Kong, May 27, 2020.Taiwan React China’s moves have also reverberated in Taiwan, where many have long watched how Beijing treats Hong Kong residents. On Wednesday, more than 20 civil society groups gathered in Taipei Wednesday to show solidarity with Hong Kong.  One attendee, named Justine, told VOA, “If the national security law is passed, 7.5 million people in Hong Kong will be unsafe, and the Chinese Communist Party is labeling the people who seek democracy and autonomy as terrorists, so now (every) Hong Konger is a fighter.”Many in Taiwan see China’s moves in Hong Kong as the start of a new, tense era over the region’s future.  Wu Rwei-ren, a research fellow with the Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica told VOA that this is a “calculated brinkmanship” from China while other countries are struggling with combating the COVID-19 pandemic.   “This marks the first war amid the new cold war between the US and China,” he said, “Hong Kong’s fight for autonomy will be persistent, and Taiwan will likely be the next target.”Joyce Huang, Yihua Lee, Jeanette Chiang,  and Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report

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Human Rights Watch Details Harm to Filipino Children from Drug War

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday released harrowing accounts of the drug war’s impact on Filipino children.The 48-page report outlines police killings of children, the bullying and stigma that drug users’ children face, the psychological damage to those who have witnessed family members’ deaths, and the resulting poverty when parents and guardians are killed.The HRW report followed similar ones by Amnesty International, which further detail the devastation of drugs.Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on the illegal drug trade began with his inauguration in June 2016. His anti-drug campaign garnered international attention when human rights advocates uncovered thousands of killings and extrajudicial executions by state forces and vigilante groups.Within the first six months of Duterte’s presidency, more than 7,000 people believed to have been connected with the drug trade were killed — an average of 34 a day. Besides instructing law enforcement to rid the country of drugs, Duterte encouraged citizens to kill suspected drug dealers or users as a part of their “duty.”Since then, Filipino activists have alleged that more than 27,000 people have been killed under Duterte, while the government said the number was closer to 6,600. Contrasting reports and increasing concerns prompted the U.N. Human Rights Council to launch an investigation into the killings in July 2019.UN Launches Probe on Philippines Drug War DeathsFilipino activists have claimed some 27,000 people have been killed as police terrorize poor communitiesThe Duterte administration’s drug crackdown has contributed to overcrowding in prisons, producing breeding grounds for coronavirus outbreaks. Eventual outbreaks in some of the Philippines’ jails forced the country to release nearly 10,000 inmates in early May.  Philippines Frees Nearly 10,000 Inmates as Coronavirus Hits JailsCountry, which nationwide has reported 9,000 infections and 603 deaths, races to halt spread of virus in its overcrowded jails

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Ukrainian Court Finds Lviv Student Guilty of Torching RFE/RL Reporter’s Car 

A Ukrainian court has found a university student guilty of torching an RFE/RL reporter’s car, a decision that the media organization’s president said brings prosecutors closer to apprehending the organizers of the premeditated crime.   A court in the western city of Lviv on May 25 handed down a suspended five-year sentence with a three-year probation period to Yakob Sarakhman for setting Halyna’s car ablaze on the night of January 30.   The 19-year-old university student admitted his guilt to the court and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, Tereshchuk’s lawyer, Oleh Mytsyk, said.   FILE – The burned-out car of RFE/RL journalist Halyna Tereshchuk in Lviv.Police have not provided a motive for the crime, but many reporters in Ukraine have been attacked, and even killed, over the years due to their investigative work. Ukraine ranked 96th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.   “The conviction is an important first step in holding accountable the perpetrators of this hateful crime. The arson attack not only targeted an RFE/RL colleague, and terrorized her family, but it was a worrisome attempt to intimidate independent journalism in Ukraine,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement.   “I call on the Ukrainian authorities to identify and prosecute those who ordered the attack in addition to the individual who carried it out.”   Police have named two other suspects in the arson attack: Mykhaylo Cherdak, a local police official, and Vadym Dmytrenko, an unemployed individual with a criminal record.   Cherdak is in hiding and his whereabouts unknown, while Dmytrenko is under house arrest. 

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Uzbek Sports Journalists Ousted After On-Air Comments About Dam Failure

Two Uzbek sports journalists have left their positions after criticizing the state-run television channel for its coverage of the aftermath of a devastating dam failure earlier in May that killed at least four people and displaced tens of thousands of others.Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official of Sport TV and Radio told RFE/RL on May 25 that Bobur Akmalov, the editor of Sport TV, and the channel’s director-general, Jamoliddin Bobojonov, had been fired.The official did not give any further details, but his comments came after local media reports said the two had been relieved of their duties after they submitted their resignations on May 22.Another Tashkent-based journalist familiar with the situation told RFE/RL that Akmalov and Bobojonov had been forced to resign for expressing their opinions in a Football Plus program aired by the Oriat Dono radio station on May 18.During the broadcast in question, Bobojonov and Akmalov, who was also the anchor of the Football Plus program on Oirat Dono, criticized state-run Uzbekistan 24 for its coverage of the Sardoba dam burst, which flooded several nearby villages. Bobojonov said during the broadcast that “on paper and on the Uzbekistan 24 TV channel, everything is great” in Uzbekistan, “while real life is something completely different.””Well, after watching the reports by Uzbekistan 24, I had the impression that people in Sardoba were happy with the disaster,” Bobojonov said, laughing.Akmalov agreed with Bobojonov and also laughed, saying that reports about President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s visit to the area hit by the floods after the dam burst looked like reports from North Korea, “where people always look happy no matter what.”In a Facebook statement, Alisher Hojaev, chairman of the Uzbek National Television and Radio Company (MTRK), accused Akmalov and Bobojonov of “violating corporate ethics and making baseless and untrue allegations.”The statement was later removed from Facebook.A group called People’s Control has launched a petition on Facebook supporting the two journalists and demanding Hojaev’s resignation.RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service contributed to this report.

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Australian Police End Probe of Journalist, Suspected Whistleblower 

Australian police said Wednesday they were dropping an investigation of a prominent journalist who obtained classified documents for a 2018 story on national security. The article by Annika Smethurst, which ran in the Australian-based News Corp newspapers, alleged the federal government was preparing to give intelligence agencies new powers that would allow it to spy on Australian citizens.  Police raided Smethurst’s Canberra home last June as part of an investigation into who may have leaked the documents that provided the basis for her story.  A day later, police raided the Sydney headquarters of Australian Broadcasting Corporation looking for evidence of the whistleblower who provided documents behind a 2017 report that Australian troops had committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Ian McCartney, the deputy commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, said no charges will be brought against Smethurst or the whistleblower who leaked the documents.  But McCartney said Dan Oakes and Sam Clarke, the two ABC journalists who reported the Afghanistan story, were still under investigation. The police decision not to charge Smethurst comes just weeks after Australia’s High Court invalidated the search warrant used to search her home on a technicality. The separate raids angered Australia’s media organizations, who set aside their fierce competitive rivalry to issue a joint demand for greater press freedoms and legal protections for public-interest journalism.       

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South Korea Sees Biggest COVID-19 Spike in Weeks

South Korean health officials Wednesday reported the nation’s highest number of new coronavirus infections in seven weeks as the nation is easing its restrictions.In his daily briefing in Seoul, South Korean Vice Health Minister Kim Kang-lip said that 37 of the 40 new cases are related to the recent outbreak from nightclubs in Itaewon, Seoul’s multicultural district. Kim said the remaining three are infections from abroad.All but four of the new cases were in densely populated areas in Seoul where officials are scrambling to stop transmissions linked to nightclubs, karaoke rooms and an e-commerce warehouse.Kim said authorities are keeping an eye on the warehouse, owned by local e-commerce company Coupang, after discovering dozens of coronavirus infections linked to workers there. Kim says they suspect the company was not enforcing basic workplace COVID-19 regulations, and they are testing the company’s 3,600 employees.South Korea has reported 269 deaths and 11,265 cases, after managing to contain a severe outbreak earlier.The spike comes as some two million students returned to school Wednesday.  

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Hypocrisy Gone Viral? Officials Set Bad COVID-19 Examples

“Do as I say, but not as I do” was the message many British saw in the behavior of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s key aide, who traveled hundreds of miles with coronavirus symptoms during the country’s lockdown.
While  Dominic Cummings has faced calls for his firing  but support from his boss over his journey from London to the northern city of Durham in March, few countries seem immune to the perception that politicians and top officials are bending the rules that their own governments wrote during the pandemic.
From U.S. President Donald Trump to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, global decision-makers have frequently set bad examples, whether it’s refusing to wear masks or breaking confinement rules aimed at protecting their citizens from COVID-19.  
Some are punished when they’re caught, others publicly repent, while a few just shrug off the violations during a pandemic that has claimed more than 350,000 lives worldwide.
Here are some notable examples:New Zealand Health Minister Calls Himself An “Idiot”
In April, New Zealand’s health minister was stripped of some of his responsibilities after defying the country’s strict lockdown measures. David Clark drove 19 kilometers (12 miles) to the beach to take a walk with his family as the government was asking people to make historic sacrifices by staying at home.
“I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me,” Clark said. He also earlier acknowledged driving to a park near his home to go mountain biking.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said normally she would fire Clark but that the country couldn’t afford massive disruption in its health sector while it was fighting the virus. Instead, she stripped Clark of his role as associate finance minister and demoting him to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.Mexico’s Leader Shakes Hands
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it pained him not to embrace supporters during tours because of health risks, but he made a remarkable exception in March, shaking hands with the elderly mother of imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. Asked about shaking her hand when the government was urging citizens to practice social distancing, López Obrador said it would have been disrespectful not to.  
“It’s very difficult humanly,” he said. “I’m not a robot.”  America’s Pandemic Politics
The decision to wear a mask in public is becoming a political statement in the U.S. It’s been stoked by Trump — who didn’t wear a mask during an appearance at a facility making them — and some other Republicans, who have questioned the value of masks. This month, pandemic politics shadowed Trump’s trip to Michigan as he toured a factory making lifesaving medical devices. He did not publicly wear a face covering despite a warning from the state’s top law enforcement officer that refusing to do so might lead to a ban on his return.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, wore a mask along with his wife, Jill, as they laid a wreath Monday at a Delaware veterans’ memorial — his first public appearance since mid-March. Trump later retweeted Fox News analyst Brit Hume’s criticism of Biden for wearing a mask in public.
Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for not wearing a mask  while on a visit to the Mayo Clinic.
Netanyahu’s Passover Holiday
While the rest of Israel was instructed not to gather with their extended families for traditional Passover Seder in April, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin hosted their adult children for the festive holiday meal, drawing fierce criticism on social media. Israeli television showed a photo of Avner Netanyahu, the premier’s younger son, attending the Seder at his father’s official residence.  
Benjamin Netanyahu later apologized in a televised address, saying he should have adhered more closely to the regulations.  The French Exception
French President Emmanuel Macron also has been inconsistent with masks, leaving the French public confused. Although Macron has sometimes appeared in a mask for visits at hospitals and schools, it’s a different story in the Elysee presidential palace and for speeches. During a visit to a Paris hospital on May 15, Macron initially wore a mask to chat with doctors but then removed it to talk with union workers.  
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also faced criticism this month for huddling with dozens of mask-makers in a factory for a photo where everyone removed their masks.  
Putin’s Different Approach
The only time Russian President Vladimir Putin wore protective gear in public was on March 24, when he visited a top coronavirus hospital in Moscow.  Before donning a hazmat suit, Putin shook hands with Dr. Denis Protsenko, the head of the hospital. Neither wore masks or gloves, and a week later, Protsenko tested positive for the virus. That raised questions about Putin’s health, but the Kremlin said he was fine.
Putin has since held at least seven face-to-face meetings, according to the Kremlin website. He and others didn’t wear masks during those meetings, and Putin also didn’t cover his face for events marking Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.
When asked why Putin doesn’t wear a mask during public appearances, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin has a different approach to protecting the president’s health.
“When it comes to public events, we ask medical workers to test all the participants in advance,” Peskov told reporters.  Puerto Rico Official’s Inconsistent Message
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez was criticized for not always wearing a mask despite holding new conferences ordering people to cover their face outside their homes and inside businesses. A member of the opposition Popular Democratic Party also filed a police complaint last week against members of Vázquez’s New Progressive Party, alleging they violated a curfew by gathering to inaugurate the party’s new headquarters. Police are investigating the incident, which angered many Puerto Ricans.  Scottish Medical Official Takes The Low Road
Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr. Catherine Calderwood, broke her own rules and traveled to her second home during lockdown in April. She faced blowback after photos emerged of her and her family visiting Earlsferry in Fife, which is more than an hour’s drive from her main home in Edinburgh. She apologized and resigned.
“I did not follow the advice I’m giving to others,” Calderwood said. “I am truly sorry for that. I’ve seen a lot of the comments from … people calling me a hypocrite.”  Japan’s Gambling Scandal
A top Japanese prosecutor was reprimanded and later resigned this month after defying a stay-at-home recommendation in a gambling scandal.
Hiromu Kurokawa, the country’s No. 2 prosecutor who headed the Tokyo High Prosecutors’ Office, acknowledged that he wasn’t social distancing when he played mahjong for money at a newspaper reporter’s home twice in May. Japan didn’t enforce a stay-at-home recommendation, but his case outraged the public because many were following social distancing measures.  Italian Press Conference Criticism
At a March news conference to open a COVID-19 field hospital in Milan’s old convention center, photographers and video journalists were pushed into corners that did not allow proper spacing. Only text reporters were given seating in line with regulations. The Codacons consumer protection group announced it would file a complaint with prosecutors in Milan.
“What should have been a moment of great happiness and pride for Lombardy and Italy was transformed into a surreal event, where in violation of the anti-gathering rules, groups of crowds formed,” Codacons said.  South Africa’s Rule-Breaking Dinner
In April, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was placed on special leave for two months and forced to apologize by President Cyril Ramaphosa after she violated stay-at-home regulations. Ramaphosa directed police to investigate after a photo emerged on social media of Ndabeni-Abrahams and several others having a meal at the home of former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana.Spanish Hospital Ceremony Investigated
Madrid’s regional and city officials sparked controversy when they gathered on May 1 for a ceremony shuttering a massive field hospital at a convention center. Eager to appear in the final photo of a facility credited with treating nearly 4,000 mild COVID-19 patients, dozens of officials didn’t follow social distancing rules. Spain’s restrictions banned more than 10 people at events like the one that honored nurses and doctors. The central government opened an investigation, and Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso apologized. She said officials “got carried away by the uniqueness of the moment.”
Former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also defied strict stay-at-home orders, with a television station filming him power walking around in northern Madrid. The Spanish prosecutor’s office is investigating whether Rajoy, who was premier from 2011 to 2018, should be fined.Indian Cricket Game Criticized
In India, a top leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party drew flak last weekend after playing a game of cricket. Manoj Tiwari, also a member of India’s parliament, said he followed social distancing rules during the game. Videos circulating on social media showed Tiwati without a mask. He was also seen taking selfies with people.  Leaders Who Follow The Rules
Some leaders are setting a good example, including Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Media jokingly called him the most relaxed politician in the world after he was photographed queuing at a supermarket this month, wearing a mask and following social distancing measures. The photo was widely shared on social media.  
Another rule-follower is Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who did not visit his ill 96-year-old mother in a nursing home during the last eight weeks of her life because of coronavirus restrictions. He only came to her bedside during her final hours this month.  
“The prime minister has respected all guidelines,” according to a statement read by a spokesman. “The guidelines allow for family to say goodbye to dying family members in the final stage. And as such the prime minister was with her during her last night.” 

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Greece Deploys Forces to Build Fence on Turkish Border 

Greece is mobilizing forces to boost defenses along its land frontiers with Turkey. The move as Turkey threatens to resume the flow of thousands of migrants to Europe through Greece. The deployment also follows plans by Greece to expand its border fence in the contentious border region. Officials in Athens say they are deploying more than 400 specially trained officers, including riot police, in the northeast region of Evros. 
 The deployment on Wednesday adds to the eleven hundred officers already in the area. An  additional 800 are expected arrive in the coming weeks as Greece ratchets up plans, as Defense Minister Nikos Papagiotopoulos says to defend itself from Turkey’s actions by extending an existing border fence. 
Soldiers and police in the region remain on a code-red alert, he says. 
Greece is reinforcing its defenses by expanding the fence because, officials say, it does not want to be caught by surprise if Turkey makes any sudden moves.  
While both are NATO allies, relations between the two neighbor states have plummeted to a low point since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the borders to millions of refugees trapped in his country, allowing them free access to Europe through Greece.  FILE – Migrants wait to board on buses outside Moria camp on their way to the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, May 3, 2020.The move turned the border region of Evros into a dangerous flashpoint as Greece — already inundated with more than 100,000 refugees — was left pushing back what its leaders called a massive migrant invasion in February. 
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey closed its borders and ordered migrants back into closed reception centers. 
But as lockdown measures are now relaxing across Europe and beyond, Turkey’s foreign minister said yesterday that migrants and refugees in his country may as well be preparing to make the move anew to Europe — a remark that alarmed officials in Athens. 
 FILE – Greek Army soldiers detain a group of migrants that crossed from Turkey to Greece, near the village of Protoklisi, in the region of Evros, Greece, March 10, 2020.Greece is now scrambling to seal its land border in the Evros region, tripling the size of an existing 12-kilometer fence — a move that has annoyed Ankara. 
Conservative lawmaker Tassos Hadjivassiliou explains why. 
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said.  “Once this fence goes up,  Turkey will be severely compromised of its ability to push through migrants. And if that happens, then Ankara will have lost its most powerful tool of leverage against Europe… and its chances, therefore, of clinching a new deal with Brussels, plus added financial support will fade.” 
Ankara’s deteriorating economy and political pressure on Erdogan leadership underpin much of these crisis fears. 
Hostility between Greece and Turkey has risen noticeably in the Aegean recently. Over the weekend, dozens of Turkish soldiers moved to block Greek soldiers from surveying marshland along the Evros river to extend the fence. 
Local media and residents said they spotted troops inching into Greek territory and camping out on Greek soil  — a move that enraged Athens, which lodged a protest with Ankara but later denied that any Turkish soldiers had set foot on Greek soil. 
“There were many suspicious movements at the time,” Panagiotopoulos told a local broadcaster late Wednesday.  
He refused to elaborate. 
Human rights experts in Greece warn that migrants are paying the toll in the latest Greek-Turkish spat, remaining trapped in overcrowded camps and in continued lockdown. 

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