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Govt. is withdrawing extradition Bill to fully allay public concerns, says Carrie Lam

Easing tensions: Pedestrians looking at a monitor displaying a press conference by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in Hong Kong on Wednesday. AFPANTHONY WALLACE

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who on Wednesday withdrew the controversial extradition Bill, expressed hope that the city will move forward from a “highly vulnerable and dangerous” place and find solutions.

“Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law,” a sombre Ms. Lam said as she sat wearing a navy blue jacket and pink shirt with her hands folded on a desk in front of her.

The withdrawal, a key demand of protesters but just one of five, came after unrest that drove the former British colony to the edge of anarchy as the government repeatedly refused to back down — igniting pitched battles across the city of seven million, the arrests of more than 1,000 protesters, and leaving a society deeply divided.

Many are furious about perceived police brutality and the number of arrests — 1,183 at the latest count — and want an independent inquiry. “The government will formally withdraw the Bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” Ms. Lam said.

“I pledge that the government will seriously follow up the recommendations of the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Council) report. From this month, I and my principal officials will reach out to the community to start a direct dialogue... we must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions.”

The protests began in March but snowballed in June and have since evolved into a push for greater democracy for the city which returned to China in 1997.

The Bill would have allowed extraditions to mainland China where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.

It was not immediately clear if killing the Bill would help end the unrest. The immediate reaction appeared sceptical and the real test will be how many people take to the streets.

Some lawmakers said the move should have come earlier.

“The damage has been done. The scars and wounds are still bleeding,” said pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo. “She thinks she can use a garden hose to put out a hill fire. That’s not going to be acceptable.”

Limited room

In the voice recording obtained by Reuters, Ms. Lam said at a meeting last week that her room to find a political solution to the crisis was “very limited”, as authorities in Beijing now viewed the situation as a matter of national security. Beijing’s apparent endorsement of the withdrawal of the Bill comes after the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rule since he took power in 2012.

Others said the move was not enough. “This won’t appease the protesters,” said Boris Chen, 37, who works in financial services. “In any kind of time, people will find something they can get angry about.”

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Cheung Kwok-kwan said Ms. Lam’s announcement was not a compromise to appease those promoting violence, but a bid to win over moderates in the protest camp. “It was likely speaking to the so-called peaceful, rational, non-violent people who were unsatisfied with the governments response before,” he said.

One woman, Pearl, 69, said the protests were no longer about the Bill.

“Some of those guys may change their minds, maybe, but just a minority,” she said of the protesters. “Some of them just want to create trouble and they will continue to do so.”

Wrong timing

Leung Yiu-ting, president of the Hong Kong Education University student union, said the timing was wrong.

“Until the five demands are met, I don’t think the protests and the social movement will stop,” he said.

The protesters’ other four demands are: the retraction of the word “riot” to describe rallies, the release of all arrested demonstrators, an independent inquiry into the police perceived brutality and the right for Hong Kong people to democratically choose their own leaders.

The Chief Executive’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill’s withdrawal.

PM Boris Johnson demands snap election on October 15

Brexit supporters demonstrating in London.APAlastair Grant

The British Parliament on Wednesday voted to prevent Prime Minister Boris Johnson taking Britain out of the European Union without a deal, but he sought an election just weeks before Brexit to free its hands.

After wresting control of the parliamentary agenda from Mr. Johnson, lawmakers voted 329-300 in the second, most important, reading of a Bill that would force the government to request a three-month Brexit delay rather than leave without a divorce agreement.

Mr. Johnson cast the legislative move in the House of Commons as an attempt to surrender to the EU over Brexit and demanded an October 15 snap election, a step that could free him of any constraints if he won a majority.

The second most powerful man in the Labour Party, John McDonnell, said the no-deal blocking legislation had to get assent from Queen Elizabeth, putting the law onto the statute book, before the party would agree to an election. This could, in theory, happen next Monday.

“We’re... not going to be tricked or conned by Johnson so we’re looking at every way in which, having secured the legislation, he can’t wriggle out of abiding by the law and implementing it,” Mr. McDonnell said.

Parliament’s bid to tie Mr. Johnson’s hands leaves Brexit up in the air, with possible outcomes ranging from a turbulent no-deal EU exit to abandoning the whole endeavour — both outcomes that would be unacceptable to swathes of the United Kingdom’s voters.

Meanwhile, the British government on Wednesday announced a new immigration scheme that will allow European Union nationals to apply for a three-year right to remain in the country in the event of a possible no-deal Brexit.

Talks between Iran and EU members are under way

Hassan RouhaniSTRINGER

President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will announce a new step in scaling back its nuclear commitments by Thursday as it seeks sanctions relief from the U.S., which responded by imposing even more restrictions.

Iran and three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — have been engaged in talks to reduce tensions and save a 2015 nuclear deal that has been unravelling since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from it in May last year.

“I don’t think that... we will reach a deal so we’ll take the third step and we will announce the details today or tomorrow,” Mr. Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump made clear on Wednesday that he was still interested in meeting Mr. Rouhani when the Iranian leader visits New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly.

“Sure, anything is possible,” he told reporters.

But Mr. Rouhani has already ruled out a summit without sanctions relief, and on Wednesday the Trump administration issued its third set of sanctions on Iran in less than a week.

In the latest salvo, the Treasury Department put on its blacklist a shipping network of 16 entities, 10 people and 11 vessels that it said was selling oil on behalf of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force.

It wants to analyse the risks and potential negative consequences

Ashraf GhaniMassoud Hossaini

The Afghan government expressed doubts on Wednesday about a prospective deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, saying officials need more information about the risks it poses.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul this week, when he shared with Afghan officials an agreement “in principle” that Washington has forged with the Taliban and would lead to a pull-out of American troops.

The prospect of a U.S.-Taliban deal has caused much concern among many Afghans, who feel sidelined from the process, worry the hardline Islamists will return to power, and see a beaten America selling out their interests in a bid to escape Afghanistan after 18 years of gruelling war.

Sediq Sediqqi, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman, said that while the Kabul administration supports any progress in an eventual peace process, it wants to prevent any negative consequences.

Kabul is “concerned, therefore we seek clarification about this document so that we can carefully analyse the risks and potential negative consequences, and prevent any danger it may cause,” Mr. Sediqqi said on Twitter.

The statement is Kabul’s first such reaction to the prospective deal, which Mr. Khalilzad presented on Monday.

Google, which owns YouTube video service, will pay $170 million to settle allegations that it broke federal law by collecting personal information about children, the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.

YouTube had been accused of tracking viewers of children’s channels using cookies without parental consent and using those cookies to deliver million of dollars in targeted advertisements to those viewers.

The settlement is the largest since a law banning collecting information about children under age 13 came into effect in 1998.

Gnanasambandar’s hymns offer promise of protection to people against evil forces, seen and unseen. In two special pathigams the saint’s words act like the very nectar or amrita to bring back the dead to life. The first instance happens during Gnanasambandar’s stay at Tirumarukal when the saint sings a soulful pathigam in praise of the Lord to revive a merchant who had succumbed to snake bite.

A more wonderful event takes place when the saint sings a pathigam at the Kapali temple in Mylapore resulting in the miraculous rebirth of Poompavai, pointed out Purasai Sri Natarajan in a discourse. She is the only daughter of Sivanesan, an ardent Siva devotee and an admirer of Gnanasambandar, who has willed his daughter and all his wealth to the saint. But her untimely death leaves Sivanesan heartbroken. Nevertheless, he carefully preserves her mortal remains in a pot. Gnanasambandar learns about Poompavai’s fate when he visits Kapali temple. Discerning the will of God, he addresses the girl in the form of bones and ashes in the pot to come out with the term “varuga,” and also utters the powerful rhetorical phrase “Pothiyo” with absolute faith in God which means, “How can you go away?” The word, on a par with Omkara, becomes the life giving amrita. ‘If it is true that people are born in this world to lead lives of devoted service to the Lord and His devotees and to participate in festivals held in His honour and glory, you make yourself present before all assembled here,” he sings.

When the pathigam is completed, the pot splits up like a lotus bloom and Poompavai emerges as a twelve-year-old girl with folded palms, leaving the entire assembly of believers and non-believers, and even the celestial beings, spellbound in astonishment, says Sekkizhar.

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