Thursday, June 13, 2019

Thousands of Hong Kong protesters gather, government offices shut after violent protests

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters readied in Hong Kong on Thursday for more potential clashes with police over a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed demonstrators.

A protester holds a sign following a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, in Hong Kong, China June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Small scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators around the city’s legislature, the epicenter of the violence, while some protesters rushed to stop police from removing supplies of face masks and food.
Uniformed police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways, while a long row of police vans was parked nearby. Plainclothes police officers checked commuters’ identity papers.
Schoolchildren joined the steadily growing crowd, which swelled to a few thousand by midday, from around 20 early in the day.
“We are ready to have a protracted war with the government,” said one protester, Natalie Wong. “I am young, that’s why I have to fight for Hong Kong.”
The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concerns it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.
The legislature remained closed, with the council issuing a notice that the group’s meeting would not be held on Thursday.
Authorities have shut government offices in the financial district for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.
On Wednesday, police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes to clear demonstrators from the legislature, with officials saying 72 people had been admitted to hospital by 10 p.m.
It was the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover.
Several thousand demonstrators stayed until the early hours of morning near the legislature in the Admiralty district, while thousands more retreated to the Central business district, overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, including HSBC and AIA.
Hong Kong’s benchmark stock exchange slid as much as 1.5 percent on Thursday, extending losses from the previous day.
Most roads around the business district were opening for traffic, but Pacific Place, a prime shopping mall next to the legislature, stayed shut.
Banks, including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS, said they had suspended branch services in the area.
Banks in the Central district emphasized it was ‘business as usual’ but many offered staff the option of working from home.
“As a precaution, we shut two outlets early where the protests were taking place. Our priorities are the safety of our employees and supporting our customers,” said HSBC, whose ground-level public space at its headquarters has previously been a focal point for protests.
Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence late on Wednesday and urged a swift restoration of order.
While acknowledging the controversy, Lam has refused to postpone or withdraw the bill, which she and her officials say is necessary to plug “loopholes” that allow the city to be a haven for criminals wanted on the mainland.
Lam has said the courts would provide human rights safeguards in vetting case-by-case extraditions to mainland China.
Opponents, including leading lawyers and rights groups, say China’s justice system is marked by torture and forced confessions, arbitrary detention and poor access to lawyers.
In an impromptu media standup in the legislature, democratic lawmakers strongly criticized Lam’s heavy-handed police response.
“We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that,” said legislator Fernando Cheung.
“But ‘mother Carrie Lam’ did it. What kind of mother is she? I have never seen such an evil-hearted mother.”
In editorials on Thursday, Chinese state media said the protests were “hammering” Hong Kong’s reputation.
“It is lawlessness that will hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its fugitive law,” said the English-language China Daily.
Face masks, goggles, helmets and water bottles strewn around the legislature area were being cleaned up, while a police team stood nearby, looking relaxed.
The adjacent Admiralty metro station remained shut while commuters crowded into other stations, with some diverted into sprawling bus queues.
Concern over the unrest prompted Hong Kong’s Tourism Board to call off its dragon boat carnival this weekend and index provider MSCI to cancel a Thursday conference at a hotel near the skirmishes.
The city’s Bar Association expressed concern over video footage of police using force against largely unarmed protesters.
“In these cases the police may well have overstepped their lawful powers in maintaining public order,” it said in a statement.
Amnesty International joined domestic rights groups in condemning Wednesday’s use of police force as excessive, while a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva said it was following the situation closely.
“We call on all parties to express their views peacefully and on Hong Kong’s authorities to engage in an inclusive and transparent dialogue over the draft legislation,” the spokeswoman said.
Diplomatic pressure was also building after leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the protests.
The European Union said it shared many Hong Kong citizens’ concerns over the proposed extradition reforms and urged an in-depth public consultation.
“This is a sensitive issue, with potentially far-reaching consequences for Hong Kong and its people, for EU and foreign citizens, as well as for business confidence,” it said in a statement.
Reporting by Julie Zhu, Sumeet Chatterjee, Clare Jim, Jennifer Hughes, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret, Alun John, Vimvang Tong, Jessie Pang and Felix Tam; Additional reporting by David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode in HONG KONG, Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez

Shops in Hong Kong close doors to ‘find breath of freedom’

HONG KONG — By the entrance of his restaurant, Kelvin Chung hung a piece of paper announcing the restaurant’s intention to strike on Wednesday.

“Hoping to find a breath of freedom,” the sign said, adding that the shop would offer free honey green tea at lunch time to boost the city’s morale.
His modest Japanese-style grill joined other small businesses that closed their doors to show solidarity with thousands of protesters who blocked government buildings in central Hong Kong, forcing the Legislative Council to postpone debate on highly contentious changes to the territory’s extradition’s laws.
Chung said the legislation is unlikely to have an impact on his restaurant, Delicorner, which offers fried chicken and grilled eel paired with tea. But the 30-year-old said he felt obliged to strike because he cared about the future of Hong Kong.
“The kind of democracy that we long for should be fearless,” Chung said.
The proposed amendments would allow people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial.
Opponents say that would subject people to the mainland’s murky judicial system, which has been accused of bringing vague charges against critics of Communist Party rule and holding unfair trials. Many in Hong Kong worry that the changes would erode the semi-autonomous region’s rule of law and legal independence.
Chung said his goal is to become a psychological counselor, and he is worried that the extradition bill would prevent him from speaking freely to his clients.
“Maybe the law originally had a good objective,” he said, “but the main worry is that mainland China’s legal system is not trustworthy.”
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, June 3, 2019

China warns students about ‘risks’ of going to the U.S. in the latest twist to the trade war

BEIJING —  China warned students on Monday to think about the “risks” associated with attending college in the United States, an apparent sign that the authorities in Beijing are expanding the boundaries of the trade war to include educational exchanges.
The warning comes as the Chinese government looks for ways to retaliate against the Trump administration for the tariffs it has imposed on $250 billion worth of goods from China, including fish and tungsten. 
Tentative plans are underway for President Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to meet at the Group of 20 summit in Japan later this month to try to find a way out of the protracted trade war. But analysts said that they will meet only if substantial progress has been made — and that there has been none so far.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing on Monday, Xu Yongji, an official from the Education Ministry, said that the Trump administration and Congress had “politicized some normal China-U.S. educational exchanges and cooperation activities.”
“[They] are cracking down on them under the banner of ‘China threat’ and ‘China infiltration,’ and they are stigmatizing Confucius Institutes as a tool for China,” she said, referring to the programs through which Beijing has sought to expand Chinese language and cultural studies into American universities.
“[They] are accusing Chinese students and scholars in the United States of launching ‘nontraditional espionage’ activities and causing trouble for no reason,” Xu said, advising current and potential students to “strengthen” their risk assessments before deciding to study in the United States.
Chinese students have made up an increasingly large proportion of international students in the United States in recent years, numbering more than 370,000 in the past academic year — or almost one-third of all international students. They have become a valuable source of income for many colleges.
 But the rate at which they are being rejected for visas is concerning the authorities here.
In 2018, 331 of the 10,313 students who applied to study in the United States on Chinese government scholarships were rejected, according to government figures. That amounted to a rejection rate of 3.2 percent. But in the first three months of this year, 182 of the 1,353 students who applied — or 13.5 percent — were unable to go because ofvisa problems, the China Scholarship Council statistics showed.
Furthermore, officials said that visas are taking longer to issue and are being issued for shorter periods.
This comes as the United States has revoked the 10-year visas of some Chinese scholars dealing with U.S. relations.
“These kinds of behaviors have already hurt the dignity of Chinese students studying in the United States and have seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people,” Xu said. “This American behavior is causing a cold snap in China-U.S. educational exchanges and cooperation.”
In recent days, the Chinese Internet has been busy with news that Chinese citizens will now be required to submit information about their social media accounts when applying for a U.S. visa. This includes sharing usernames for Chinese services including WeChat, Weibo and Youku, the visa department of China CYTS Tours wrote on its online accounts.
 The Chinese Embassy in the United States issued a notice on its website Sunday about the new requirement, reminding citizens to “truthfully provide the application materials.” 
No quick end is in sight for the trade war, which began when Trump vowed to close the United States’ roughly $400 billion trade deficit with China. He has imposed tariffs of 25 percent on $250 billion in Chinese imports and has threatened to add duties to the remaining $300 billion in goods that the United States imports from China.
The administration has also put Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant, on a blacklist that effectively bars U.S. companies from supplying it with computer chips, software and other components without government approval. 
Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. products, but has run out of American goods to tax. That has led it to take other reciprocal actions, including announcing a plan to establish a blacklist of “unreliable” foreign companies and organizations, effectively forcing companies worldwide to choose whether they would side with Beijing or Washington.
Liu Yang contributed to this report.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Hazard lifts Belgium in Euro qualifying as Depay triggers Dutch rout

Paris (AFP) - Eden Hazard ensured Belgium kicked off their qualifying campaign for Euro 2020 in style on Thursday with a brace in a home victory over Russia, while a Memphis Depay-inspired Netherlands romped to a 4-0 win over Belarus.
World Cup semi-finalists Belgium earned a battling 3-1 win over Russia in Brussels as Hazard struck twice for Roberto Martinez's side in their opening game in Group I.
Youri Tielemans rounded off a flowing move with a crisp low strike to fire Belgium ahead on 14 minutes at the King Baudouin Stadium, but Thibaut Courtois gifted Russia an immediate equaliser.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper, put under pressure by Artem Dzyuba, panicked and scuffed the ball straight to Denis Cheryshev who duly swept home into an empty net.
Michy Batshuayi had a shot cleared off the line, and later hit the post, but Hazard restored Belgium's lead just before half-time after drawing a foul from Yuri Zhirkov in the area.
The Chelsea playmaker sealed the three points two minutes from time with an alert finish, while Aleksandr Golovin was sent off for Russia just before the end.
"I enjoyed myself tonight. I take a lot of pleasure from this victory, in which I scored two goals," said Belgium captain Hazard.
"After our last game against Switzerland (a 5-2 defeat), we had to respond in front of our own fans."
Cyprus thrashed San Marino 5-0 to provisionally seize top spot in the group, while Scotland crashed to a humiliating 3-0 loss in Kazakhstan -- a nation ranked 117th in the FIFA rankings.
Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy notched early goals for Kazakhstan before Baktiyor Zainutdinov's terrific header extinguished any chance of Scotland recovering.
- Depay dazzles -
In Rotterdam, Memphis Depay pounced on a sloppy backpass to put the Dutch ahead inside 60 seconds against Group C opponents Belarus.
The Lyon forward set up Georginio Wijnaldum for their second on 21 minutes, with Depay tucking away a penalty after half-time following a foul by Mikhail Sivakov.
Depay whipped in a cross for skipper Virgil van Dijk to nod in a fourth late on, leaving the Netherlands level on points with Northern Ireland, who beat Estonia 2-0 with Niall McGinn and Steven Davis on target in Belfast.
"It's hard to choose between the goals and the assists," said Depay. "The first goal was good because it was the outside of my foot, but I also enjoyed the flick that set up the second."
Krzysztof Piatek continued his magnificent season as he came off the bench to grab the only goal in a 1-0 win for Poland away to Austria in Group G.
The AC Milan forward, already with 19 goals in 27 Serie A appearances this term, has now scored twice in three outings for his country following his international debut in September.
"This was a first step in qualifying. It was a very important game and a very important win. We took three points and so we're very happy," said Poland striker Robert Lewandowski.
World Cup runners-up Croatia, relegated from the top tier of the Nations League last year, ground out an unconvincing 2-1 victory against Azerbaijan in Zagreb.
Rami Sheydaev put Azerbaijan on top on 19 minutes before Croatia hit back through Borna Barisic and a 79th-minute effort by Andrej Kramaric in Group E.
Slovakia top the section on goal difference following a 2-0 defeat of Hungary in Trnava, as Ondrej Duda and Albert Rusnak scored for the hosts.

North Korea Seeks to Split Alliance Between South Korea and U.S.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Saturday escalated its attempt to create a rift between South Korea and the United States, as Washington sent mixed signals over whether it would tighten or relax sanctions on the North.

Ever since the summit meeting between the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, late last month abruptly ended without a deal, North Korea has ceaselessly urged South Korea to distance itself from the United States and to push ahead with joint economic projects that have been held back by American-led United Nations sanctions.
North Korea’s official trade has been devastated by international sanctions imposed since 2016. The country has tried to circumvent them by importing refined fuel or exporting coal through ship-to-ship transfers on the high seas, a move banned under United Nations sanctions. It has also sought to undermine the sanctions by boosting economic cooperation with South Korea.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea remains eager to boost inter-Korean economic ties, raising fears at home and abroad that he may steer his government away from international efforts to enforce sanctions against the North. But in reality, Mr. Moon’s hands are tied unless the United States and North Korea reach an agreement on denuclearizing the North and Washington helps to ease sanctions.
On Saturday, DPRK Today, a North Korean government-run website, accused Mr. Moon’s government of reneging on its promise to improve inter-Korean ties and giving priority to “cooperation with a foreign force” over “cooperation among the Korean nation.”
“The South Korean authorities’ behavior is deeply deplorable,” it said. “The only things the South will get from cooperating with the U.S. will be a deepening subordination, humiliation and shame.”
North Korean state media has been issuing similar messages in recent days, even denigrating Mr. Moon’s efforts to mediate talks between his “American boss” and North Korea, and advising Mr. Moon’s government to throw its policy “in a garbage can.”
Mr. Moon suffered another slap in the face when the North abruptly withdrew its staff from a joint inter-Korean liaison office on Friday.
“The South’s authorities can’t do anything without approval or instruction from the United States, so how do they think they can be a mediator or facilitator?” the North Korean website Meari said on Friday. “They should know their place.”
Mr. Moon has dedicated his diplomatic resources to facilitating dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang, and has promoted building peace on the Korean Peninsula as his main policy goal. But his mediator’s role has run into a wall since the breakdown of the Hanoi meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.
He faced accusations that he had oversold Mr. Trump on Mr. Kim’s willingness to give up his nuclear weapons, even as North Korea accused him of working on behalf of Washington. But Mr. Moon remains determined to keep the momentum for diplomacy alive.
The Hanoi summit meeting broke down when Mr. Kim insisted that the most punishing United Nations sanctions against his country should be lifted in return for a partial dismantlement of his country’s nuclear program.
Before the Hanoi meeting, analysts had feared that Mr. Trump might sign onto a partial denuclearization deal and claim it as a victory. But in the end, he listened to his aides’ advice and walked away without signing a deal.
After the Hanoi meeting, Mr. Trump has continued to reaffirm his good relationship with Mr. Kim and his willingness to make a deal. But the American president’s aides remain firm against lifting sanctions, arguing that it would deprive Washington of its most powerful tool to force North Korea’s complete denuclearization.
On Thursday, the United States Treasury Department demonstrated Washington’s determination to keep squeezing the North by designating for punitive measures two Chinese shipping companies that had helped North Korea evade sanctions through deceptive methods like ship-to-ship transfers of cargo.
South Korea was thrown into confusion after Mr. Trump tweeted that he ordered his government on Friday to withdraw “additional large scale sanctions” against the North. The tweet was initially taken as overruling the Treasury’s announcement the day before.
But United States officials later explained that Mr. Trump had been referring to additional North Korea sanctions that were under consideration but not yet formally issued.
“President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters.
That raised hopes among Mr. Moon’s domestic supporters, who took Mr. Trump’s latest move as a sign that Washington did not want to antagonize North Korea with new sanctions. During a news conference in Hanoi immediately after his meeting with Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump said he didn’t want to talk about increasing sanctions partly because there were “a lot of great people in North Korea that have to live also.”
“By withdrawing additional sanctions against North Korea, President Trump showed his firm will to continue dialogue to realize the denuclearization of North Korea,” Lee Hae-sik, a spokesman of Mr. Moon’s governing Democratic Party, told reporters on Saturday.
But the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said that Mr. Moon has been used as “a pawn” by Mr. Kim and had ended up creating a fission in the alliance with Washington.
“President Moon Jae-in and his Blue House still don’t grasp the reality and have a delusional belief that he is a mediator or facilitator,” Jun Hee-kyung, a spokeswoman for the opposition party, said in a statement.
By dropping North Korea-related sanctions, Mr. Trump was trying to defuse growing tensions between Washington and Pyongyang after the Hanoi breakdown, said Harry J. Kazianis, director of Korean studies at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest.
Recently, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui of North Korea threatened to suspend negotiations with Washington and said that Mr. Kim would soon decide whether to resume nuclear and missile tests, which it has not carried out in more than a year.
“Trump’s canceling out of sanctions might have been a bid to get North Korea to change its thinking,” Mr. Kazianis said.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Understanding global and US economic sanctions programmes

 Over the latter half of 2018, and into 2019, there has been much talk in the local public domain, and in Parliament, about matters that touch on the topic of sanctions. Indeed, where very little was known about sanctions, it is clear that more citizens — and parliamentarians and government technocrats — have come to appreciate the fundamentals and nuances that attend to economic sanctions. The following comments and observations are presented in furtherance of a wider and deeper understanding of this topic as it doth appear that it will continue to be an unwelcome irritant for Jamaica and the economies of the world for the foreseeable future.
Sanctions are not new, and perhaps can be traced back at least to 432 BC when Pericles, the Greek statesman and general, issued the so-called “Megarian Decree” in a partial response to the abduction of two women of the house of Aspasia, she being a courtesan and the reputed mistress of Pericles. The decree, levied upon Megara by the Athenian Empire, was a set of economic sanctions that included the restriction of access to the Attic market and the use of the Athenian shipping harbours by the Megarians.
By way of definition, economic sanctions and trade embargoes (generally sanctions) are government actions to prevent economic support of certain foreign countries and governments and targeted individuals, entities, and organisations (eg, terrorists, narcotic traffickers, nuclear weapons proliferators) as a means of implementing foreign policy and protecting national security interests. Sanctions can be comprehensive — restricting interactions with an entire country, region or government — or they can be targeted to specifically named businesses, groups or individuals, eg list-based such as the UN Security Consolidated Sanctions List, and the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Sanctions List. Sanctions can include arms embargoes, import/export bans, travel bans, and the freezing of assets.
Every country, economy, local financial institution, individual and every entity is potentially vulnerable to sanctions. Even if sanctions are not legally binding in a local jurisdiction, the reality of our inter-connectedness and dependency on access to global financial markets and services puts that jurisdiction in scope via the extra-territorial reach of certain sanctions laws and regulations. US sanctions issued by the OFAC and European Union (EU) sanctions are such examples. The fact that Jamaica's major trading partners are the US, UK, Canada and the EU puts Jamaica and other countries in scope of US sanctions and EU sanctions. Generally, all UN sanctions programmes passed by the UN Security Council are in scope for Jamaica as all member states are obligated to comply with council decisions.
The main reason for our interest in sanctions is that there is a real risk that arises from violations of, or non-compliance with applicable UN and country-specific sanctions. Consequences of non-compliance or breaches of economic sanctions can be severe with direct and indirect impact on individuals, corporations and financial institutions in particular, governments and entire countries. For the individual, the consequences include the imposition of fines, loss of job and possible loss of career due to regulatory prohibitions, criminal prosecution, conviction and imprisonment. For companies and banks, they can be excluded from financial markets. In addition, for governments, they can be denied access to global trade and financial services.
As the United States currently has the most active and biting economic sanctions programmes, it is instructive to focus on some key elements of the US OFAC sanctions programme and regimes. OFAC is a financial intelligence and enforcement agency of the US Treasury Department that administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions in support of US national security and foreign policy objectives. All US persons must comply with US OFAC sanctions regulations, including all US citizens and permanent resident aliens (green card holders), regardless of where they are located. Under US sanctions regulations, any person and any entity in the US jurisdiction is considered a US person. All US incorporated entities and their foreign branches are considered to be US persons and are in scope of US sanctions.
OFAC administers and enforces over 30 economic and trade sanction programmes worldwide. These programmes innovatively target specific actors and regimes to separate them from access to the US financial system. These programmes include comprehensive initiatives against the Crimean region, Iran, Syria and North Korea; list-based programmes targeting individuals and entities such as the Global Magnitsky, the Palestinian Legislative Council and Hizhallah; sectoral programmes targeting a country's economy (public sector, financial services, energy, defence, etc) with examples being the Government of Venezuela and sectors within the Russian Federation.
Property that is subject to US sanctions require the US person, among other things, to do one or more of the following: entities that are in scope of US sanctions can be directed to block, reject or freeze transactions; or to avoid the facilitation of financial services, all at the direction of OFAC.
According to 2017 OFAC reporting, US$119 million in fines were imposed on individuals for violations of US sanctions. Reports are that for the period 2009- 2018, the US Treasury and other US government agencies extracted fines of approximately US$19.4 billion in comparison to US$8.5 million extracted by non-US governmental authorities for the same period.
US sanctions can impact Jamaica in the ordinary course of business by increasing the cost of remitting funds to Jamaica and, in particular, US dollar clearings of cheques and electronic funds transfers. Jamaicans and other nationals who cross US borders can be detained for enhanced interrogation if their names or other personal identifiers match any of the names or identifiers on US sanctions lists. Incidentally, the US sanctions list is not a secret list; it can be authoritatively accessed via the Internet at the website for the US Treasury Department using the URL
Bringing the commentary back to Jamaica, the Venezuela-related sanctions programme represents the implementation of multiple legal authorities, some in the form of presidential executive orders and some in the form of public laws (statutes) passed by the US Congress. These authorities are further codified by OFAC and, as of now, several individuals and government entities in Venezuela are sanctioned by the US. Included is Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA), which is the Venezuelan State-owned oil and natural gas company which owns a 49 per cent stake in Petrojam. So while Petrojam is not sanctioned by OFAC, there is a geo-political nexus as a sanctioned entity is a joint partner with Petrojam.
In April 2018 OFAC imposed a sanction designation on United Company Rusal Plc, which exercises ownership of UC Rusal Jamaica Limited and operates in Jamaica. This is the first time that a Jamaican company has been sanctioned by the United States and the severe and adverse effects of the sanctions have been widely publicised.
It is likely that, over time, entities will be removed from the OFAC list but, for sure, other entities will be designated and placed on future OFAC lists. It behoves us all, including our government representatives and technocrats, our financial firms, and our emerging global entrepreneurial class to become aware of the risks inherent to global sanctions programmes and the US economic sanction regime in particular.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Trump Vows He'll 'Never Ever Back Down' On Border Security

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump kept his hard line Monday on the partial government shutdown, now in a fourth week over his insistence on billions of dollars for a long, impregnable wall at the U.S. Mexico border. “When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never, ever back down,” Trump said, repeating his strong view that the wall is needed on both security and humanitarian grounds. He spoke to farmers attending a convention in New Orleans.
As Congress returned to Washington for a second week of legislative business since House control reverted to Democrats, the shutdown hit Day 24, affecting federal workers and services. Trump has demanded $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall, while Democrats, who oppose the wall as both immoral and ineffective, insist Trump re-open the government before they negotiate further border security.
Before leaving for the speech, Trump said he had dismissed a proposal from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to reopen the government for several weeks and continue dealing with Democrats over money for the wall.
“I did reject it, yes,” Trump said. “I’m not interested. I want to get it solved. I don’t want to just delay it.”
Trump also backed further away from the idea of declaring a national emergency as an escape hatch, saying: “I’m not looking to call a national emergency. This is so simple we shouldn’t have to.”
From the White House, Trump argued that he alone was ready to negotiate, noting that a group of House and Senate Democrats were touring hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
“A lot of the Democrats were in Puerto Rico celebrating something. I don’t know, maybe they’re celebrating the shutdown,” Trump said.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were not on the trip to Puerto Rico. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted Monday: “Speaker Pelosi has been in DC all weekend working from the Capitol.”
Trump asserted weeks ago that he would “own” the shutdown, and polls show that he is taking most of the blame from Americans. But he now blames his political foes. He targeted Pelosi and Schumer Monday on Twitter, arguing that the shutdown “has become their, and the Democrats, fault!”
Trump has kept Washington on edge over whether he would resort to an emergency declaration, citing what he says is a “crisis” of drug smuggling and the trafficking of women and children at the border. The president initially sounded as though such a move was imminent, but then pulled back. He has said several times since he first mentioned the idea in public this month that he prefers a legislative solution.
A key question is how long Trump is willing to hold out in hopes of extracting concessions from Democrats. Graham, who spoke with Trump by telephone on Sunday morning, said the legislative path “is just about shut off” and blamed intransigence by Pelosi.
The speaker’s office had no immediate comment.
Democrats oppose an emergency declaration and would likely challenge the move in court. Some Republicans are wary, too, fearing how a future Democratic president might use that authority.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., called Graham’s idea to reopen the government a “great place to start.”
“I do think if we reopen the government, if the president ends this shutdown crisis, we have folks who can negotiate a responsible, modern investment in technology that will actually make us safer,” Coons said.
Trump says technology is nice, but that the border can’t be secured without a wall.
The White House has been laying the groundwork for an emergency declaration, which is feared by lawmakers in both parties.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he’d “hate to see” a declaration issued because the wall wouldn’t get built, presumably because of legal challenges. Democrats voted in the past for border security and should again, he said.
“I actually want to see this wall get built,” Johnson said. “I want to keep pressure on Democrats to actually come to the negotiating table in good faith and fund what they have supported in the past.”
Graham favors a declaration and said the time for talk is running out.
“It’s the last option, not the first option, but we’re pretty close to that being the only option,” he said.
Graham and Coons spoke on “Fox News Sunday” and Johnson appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Thousands of Hong Kong protesters gather, government offices shut after violent protests

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters readied in Hong Kong on Thursday for more potential clashes with police over a planned extrad...