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Carrie Lam asks protesters to end violence and chaos, warns of lasting economic troubles

Demonstrators at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport on Friday. REUTERSTHOMAS PETER

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam warned on Friday that two months of pro-democracy demonstrations were causing economic chaos in the city but ruled out making concessions to “silence the violent protesters”.

The embattled leader met with business leaders as thousands of pro-democracy activists staged a sit-in at Hong Kong airport, hoping to win international support for their movement.

Ms. Lam, whose support for a Bill to allow extradition to mainland China sparked the crisis, warned that the economic impact of the unrest threatened to be worse than the 2003 SARS outbreak in the financial hub.

“Compared to the economic downturn caused by SARS that we handled previously, which caused an economic storm, the situation this time is more severe,” she said at an abruptly organised press conference. “In other words, the economic recovery will take a very long time.”

The private sector and the tourism industry in particular have raised concerns about the economic impact of the ongoing protests on the city, with travel agencies reporting drops of up to 50% in group tour bookings and the tourism board warning of double-digit declines in visitor arrivals in the second half of July.

Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific has also warned that inbound bookings are down.

Protesters have continued to stage almost daily rallies which have seen increasingly violent confrontations with police, prompting several countries to issue Hong Kong travel warnings for their citizens.

Extradition Bill

The protests began two months ago over the controversial extradition Bill but have morphed into a broader movement demanding democratic reforms.

Ms. Lam has refused to cave in to the demands, which include a call for the direct election of the city’s Chief Executive, currently chosen by Beijing.

“As far as political solution is concerned, I don’t think we should just sort of make concessions in order to silence the violent protesters,” she said.

“We should do what is right for Hong Kong. And at this moment, what is right for Hong Kong... is to stop the violence, and to say no to the chaotic situation that Hong Kong has experienced in the last few weeks, so that we can move on.”

On Friday, activists staged a sit-in at Hong Kong airport’s arrivals hall and held up signs in Chinese and English condemning police violence. “No rioters, only tyranny,” the demonstrators chanted as they began a three-day action. “Save Hong Kong from tyranny and police brutality!” read one sign.

Protesters have staged increasingly inventive rallies across Hong Kong, and brought out supporters ranging from families to lawyers in a bid to show the broad backing for their demands.

But the demonstrations have also increasingly descended into violence, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters hurling bricks and bottles.

The airport sit-in is the second time the demonstrators have brought their message to the busy travel hub, hoping to garner support from international arrivals.

“Ask me about Hong Kong” read signs in different languages attached to the sleeves of some of the protesters.

China’s aviation regulator on Friday demanded that Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways suspend personnel who have engaged in illegal protests in the city from staffing flights into its airspace from August 10.

Hong Kong has been embroiled in increasingly violent anti-government street protests for the past two months, which a top Chinese official described this week as the greatest crisis since its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Last week, a Cathay pilot was among over 40 people charged with rioting for allegedly taking part in violent clashes with the police near Beijing’s main representative office in the city.

On Friday night, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said the Cathay crew who engaged in the protests pose a threat to aviation safety in mainland China, according to a statement on its website.

The aviation authority ordered Cathay to provide identification information for its crew on mainland-bound flights. Crew members without the authority’s approval will not be allowed into its airspace.

They share their experiences about the perils of extremism

Kheda SaratovaKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV

Zalina Gabibulayeva, a mother of five, says she was “tricked” into joining the jihadists in Syria five years ago. Now, repentant and repatriated to Russia’s Chechnya, she goes to schools to teach others of the dangers of extremism.

Countries around the world are grappling with the question of how to treat citizens who went to the Islamic State “caliphate” and have since decided to return.

That problem is felt particularly keenly in Russia, which has seen thousands of people leave to fight alongside jihadists in Syria, according to President Vladimir Putin.

While some Western nations have stripped IS recruits of citizenship or banned them from coming back, Russia has repatriated women and children.

Most of Russia’s IS recruits came from Muslim-majority Caucasus republics, such as Chechnya.

The republic, however, has welcomed in women like Ms. Gabibulayeva — with the expectation that some will go to work to prevent young Muslims from becoming radicalised. “It’s very difficult for (the women) to talk about their experience but we get them to understand it’s a way to show they repent,” says Kheda Saratova, who sits on the rights council of Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Ms. Saratova hopes Russian authorities will remove their ban on repatriating women from Syria and Iraq. The activist says around 200 women and children have already been brought back.

First version to launch later this year

Chinese telecom giant Huawei unveiled its own operating system on Friday, as it faces the threat of losing access to Google’s Android platform, amid escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.

The highly anticipated operating system is considered crucial for the tech titan’s survival as it confronts a looming White House ban on U.S. companies selling technology products to Huawei, which could remove its access to Android.

Richard Yu, the head of Huawei’s consumer business, revealed HarmonyOS — HongMeng in Chinese — at a press conference in Dongguan. He said the first version would launch later this year in its smart screen products, before expanding across a range of smart devices, including wearable technology, over the next three years. “If you’re asking when will we apply this to the smartphone, we can do it at any time,” he said.

“If we cannot use it (Android) in the future, we can immediately switch to the HarmonyOS.” But Mr. Yu said Huawei had no plan to “launch a smartphone with HarmonyOS” while noting that “our backup plan is always ready”.

Mr. Yu said HarmonyOS was “future oriented” and designed to be “more smooth and secure”, which he said was “completely different” from Android and iOS.

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