Misguided Focus Hinders Response to DRC, Mozambique Insurgencies, Experts Say

Experts are warning that a focus on alleged Islamist militant ties is hindering efforts to respond to insurgencies in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
Local insurgent groups have claimed ties to Islamic State to increase their clout, but the groups operate autonomously, experts who study the regions say.
 
On April 18, a strike on an army base near the Congo’s border with Uganda left several Congolese soldiers dead and others injured.
 
It was the first attack credited to Wilayat Central Africa, previously known as the Allied Democratic Forces, a group that has pledged allegiance to IS.
 
A month later, an IS group took responsibility for attacks in northeastern Mozambique, part of a growing insurgency in the country led by several groups, including Ahlu Sunnah wa-Jama and al-Shabab. The latter group, consisting of about 1,000 fighters who operate in decentralized units, shares its name but no known connection with the Somali terrorist organization.
 
On July 24, IS released a video featuring a man named “Sheikh Abu Abdul Rahman” who called for an end to division and infighting among Muslims in Central Africa. He also called for the creation of a caliphate. The video features heavily armed fighters in a forested area pledging allegiance to IS.
 
Some saw the proclamation as a sign of solidarity between the Mozambican and Congolese extremist groups. But experts are unsure whether links to IS signal a new threat or simply reflect the groups’ attempts to raise their profile.
 
Ryan O’Farrell, an extremism researcher studying at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said experts have found virtually no evidence that IS has trained, funded or equipped its African affiliates.
 
“It also doesn’t necessarily fit Islamic State’s model. They have affiliates all over the continent, and most of them haven’t received training or weapons from Islamic State Central,” O’Farrell told VOA. “Pretty much all of its affiliates are local groups that have local recruitment networks and local financial capacity and local weapons procurement channels. And so, they affiliate themselves with Islamic State as a brand.”

FILE – A South African soldier from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is seen during a patrol to hold off attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces rebels in Oicha, DRC, Oct. 08, 2018.

Nearly daily attacks in the Cabo Delgado region have made the insurgency in Mozambique one of Africa’s deadliest. The group in the DRC has pulled off high-profile attacks, killing U.N. peacekeepers.
But at their core, they remain local insurgencies, O’Farrell said.
 
“Their targets are primarily local,” O’Farrell said. “That’s very rarely the MO for some of the more peripheral Islamic State affiliates. But within those zones or within any territory in North Kivu (DRC) and within Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, they’re very active.”
 
Yussuf Adam, an associate professor of contemporary history at the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique, said that rather than receiving arms or provisions from IS, insurgent groups in Mozambique are capturing them from the Mozambican Armed Forces.

“They kill two persons here, three persons there. They take ammunition, and so on. And it seems that they … feed themselves or, you know, feed their operations from guns they collect,” he told VOA.

Adam said the only international component to the insurgency is that some of the local fighters traveled to Afghanistan to fight the Russians in the 1980s. Unconfirmed reports suggest fighters received training in Somalia.
 
In a discussion on VOA’s radio interview program “Encounter,” experts said the insurgency in Mozambique is hard to understand because they have not made any public pronouncements. They are decentralized and likely include former street hawkers with links to organized crime.
 
Judd Devermont, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the insurgency in Mozambique may have Islamist roots, but other factors fuel it. These include resentment over natural gas discoveries, which have not benefited the local population, and heavy-handed operations by security forces, resulting in civilian deaths.

“This is what I would call an insipid insurgency,” Devermont said. “That’s important because it means that there are opportunities here in the embryonic stage to address its concerns, snuff it out and bring back some of these individuals as part of society.”

Oil and gas companies hiring locals who might otherwise become frustrated and join the insurgency would help a lot, Devermont said.

Adam believes the insurgency cannot be addressed by looking at it internationally. Instead, he urged policymakers to look at the local grievances of northern Mozambique, which has long been cut off from the economic hubs of the country and underserved by the central government.
 
“Violence breeds violence,” Adam said. “What we need is to start working readily to see what are the problems, what is the political and economy of northern Mozambique.”

 

From: MeNeedIt

Indonesia Arrests 34, Blocks Internet in Papua to Curb Protests

Indonesia has arrested 34 people and cut internet access in its easternmost region of Papua to rein in violence after protesters torched buildings, a market and a prison over mistreatment of students and perceived ethnic discrimination.

Police have flown in 1,200 more officers to quell sometimes violent protests since Monday in towns such as Manokwari, Sorong, Fakfak and Timika, near the giant Grasberg copper mine operated by Freeport McMoran’s Indonesian unit.

The communication ministry has blocked the internet and telecoms data to prevent Papuans from accessing social media since Wednesday, although telephone calls and text messages are unaffected, said ministry spokesman Ferdinandus Setu.

“This is an effort to curb hoaxes and, most importantly, stop people from sharing provocative messages that can incite racial hatred,” he added.

A separatist movement has simmered in Papua for decades, with frequent complaints of rights abuses by security forces, but the recent anger appears to be linked to racist slurs against Papuan students who were detained last week.

The students were arrested in a dormitory in the city of Surabaya in East Java after being accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag during an Independence Day celebration.

Smaller demonstrations and rallies in support of Papua flared nationwide on Thursday, while the chief security minister, police chief and military commander visited Sorong to inspect the sites of the most violent protests.

Official said two rallies in the Nabire and Yahukimo areas of Papua were peaceful, the Kompas news site said.

In Jakarta, the capital, more than a hundred Papuan students marched from army headquarters to the gates of the presidential palace, shouting pro-independence slogans demanding “Referendum for Papua” or “Freedom for Papua”.

Some held posters demanding the right to self-determination and an end to racism and colonialism in West Papua. Papuan students also held a smaller protest in the nearby city of Bogor.

President Joko Widodo told reporters he would invite religious and community leaders from across Papua for talks next week.

Widodo has urged the army and police chiefs to act against officers who behaved in a “racist manner” towards students, his chief of staff told news channel CNN Indonesia.

Police have arrested 34 people in Timika, where thousands of protesters threw stones at a parliament building, houses, shops and a hotel on Wednesday, police said. They accused 13 of being members of a pro-Papua independence separatist group.

Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

Widodo has sought to ease tension and improve welfare by building infrastructure.

He has visited the region more often than any of his predecessors, and plans to open a bridge next month in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, his secretariat said.

From: MeNeedIt

Iran Showcases New Long-Range Missile System

Iranian state media said the government showcased a domestically built long-range, mobile surface-to-air missile system on Thursday.

The system’s unveiling came on Iran’s National Defense Industry Day and at a time of rising tension between Iran and the United States.

Iran developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes barring it from importing many weapons.

Concerns over Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program contributed to the United States last year leaving the pact that Iran sealed with world powers in 2015 to rein in its nuclear ambitions in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.

 

From: MeNeedIt

No Rohingya Turn Up for Repatriation to Myanmar

A fresh push to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar fall flat on Thursday, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh.

Members of the Muslim minority, 740,000 of whom fled a military offensive in 2017, are refusing to return without guarantees for their safety and a promise that they will at last be given citizenship by Myanmar.

“The Myanmar government raped us, and killed us. So we need security. Without security we will never go back,” Rohingya leader Nosima said in a statement.

“We need a real guarantee of citizenship, security and promise of original homelands,” said Mohammad Islam, a Rohingya from Camp 26, one of a string of sites in southeast Bangladesh that are home to around a million people.

“So we must talk with the Myanmar government about this before repatriation.”

The vehicles provided to transport the first batch out of 3,450 earmarked for return turned up at 9:00 am (0300 GMT) at the camp in Teknaf.

But more than six hours later none had showed up and the vehicles departed empty. Officials said they would return on Friday.

“We’ve interviewed 295 families. But nobody has yet shown any interest to repatriate,” Bangladesh Refugee Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told reporters.

He said that officials would continue to interview families.

– ‘Bengali interlopers’ –

The Rohingya are not recognised as an official minority by the Myanmar government, which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in the country for generations.

UN investigators say the 2017 violence warrants the prosecution of top generals for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court has started a preliminary probe.

It has sullied the international standing of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and former political prisoner who has risen to be the top civilian official in Myanmar.

The latest repatriation attempt — a previous push failed in November with many of those on a returnees list going into hiding — follows a visit last month to the camps by high-ranking officials from Myanmar.

Bangladesh’s foreign ministry forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyidaw cleared 3,450 individuals for “return”.

Rohingya community leader Jafar Alam told AFP the refugees had been gripped by fear since authorities announced the fresh repatriation process.

They also feared being sent to camps for internally displaced people (IDP) if they went back to Myanmar.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told a TV channel in Dhaka that Thursday’s no-show was “very disappointing” but he hoped “good sense would finally prevail”.

“The Rohingya want to achieve all their demands by taking us (Bangladesh) as hostage. But I don’t know how long we can accept it,” he told Jamuna TV.

Chinese and Myanmar diplomats were also at the Rohingya refugee camp.

The latest repatriation attempt comes in the wake of July talks between Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

China is a key ally of Myanmar, and Hasina said then that Beijing would “do whatever is required” to help resolve the Rohingya crisis.

“Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya,” Human Rights Watch said Thursday. “So refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return.”

From: MeNeedIt

No Rohingya Come for Repatriation to Myanmar

A fresh push to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar appeared Thursday to fall flat, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh.

“We have been waiting since 9:00 am (0300 GMT) to take any willing refugees for repatriation,” Khaled Hossain, a Bangladesh official in charge of the Teknaf refugee camp, told AFP after over an hour of waiting. “Nobody has yet turned up.”

FILE – Rohingya refugees stand in a queue to collect aid supplies in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Jan. 21, 2018.

Nearly 1 million Rohingya

About 740,000 of the long-oppressed mostly Muslim Rohingya minority fled a military offensive in 2017 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing, joining 200,000 already in Bangladesh.

Demanding that Buddhist-majority Myanmar guarantee their safety and citizenship, only a handful have returned from the vast camps in southeast Bangladesh where they have now lived for two years.

The latest repatriation attempt — a previous push failed in November — follows a visit last month to the camps by high-ranking officials from Myanmar led by Permanent Foreign Secretary Myint Thu.

Bangladesh’s foreign ministry forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyidaw cleared 3,450 individuals for “return.”

Rohingya Nur Islam talks to AFP after U.N. officials and Bangladesh refugee commission interviewed him at a refugee camp in Teknaf, Aug. 21, 2019.

Safety and citizenship

But Wednesday, several Rohingya refugees whose names were listed told AFP they did not want to return unless their safety was ensured and they were granted citizenship.

“It is not safe to return to Myanmar,” one of them, Nur Islam, told AFP.

Officials from the U.N. and Bangladesh’s refugee commission have also been interviewing Rohingya families in the settlements to find out if they wanted to return.

“We have yet to get consent from any refugee family,” a U.N. official said Wednesday.

Rohingya community leader Jafar Alam told AFP the refugees had been gripped by fear since authorities announced the fresh repatriation process.

They also feared being sent to camps for internally displaced people (IDP) if they went back to Myanmar.

FILE – Rohingya refugees line up to receive humanitarian aid in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Oct. 23, 2017.

Second anniversary

Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said they were “fully prepared” for the repatriation with security tightened across the refugee settlements to prevent any violence or protests.

Officials said they would wait for a few more hours before deciding whether to postpone the repatriation move.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that repatriations had to be “voluntary.”

“Any return should be voluntary and sustainable and in safety and in dignity to their place of origin and choice,” Dujarric told reporters.

The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors on the issue Wednesday.

Sunday will mark the second anniversary of the crackdown that sparked the mass exodus to the Bangladesh camps.

The Rohingya are not recognized as an official minority by the Myanmar government, which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in Rakhine for generations.

From: MeNeedIt

Syrian Activists: Airstrikes Hit Hospital in Rebel Village

Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have hit a hospital in a rebel-held northwestern village, knocking it out of service. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Thiqa news agency, an activist collective, said the Rahma hospital in Tel Mannas was hit early on Wednesday.

Activists reported several airstrikes on Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, as government forces captured new areas from insurgents.

A Syrian government military offensive began April 30 against rebels in Idlib, home to 3 million people. More than half a million have been displaced by violence elsewhere.

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres authorized an investigation into attacks on health facilities and schools in the rebel-held enclave, following a petition from Security Council members.

From: MeNeedIt

China Threatens Sanctions on US Firms Linked to Taiwan Warplanes Sale

China on Wednesday blasted a huge planned U.S. arms shipment to self-ruled Taiwan and threatened to sanction firms involved in the sale of F-16 fighter jets.

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday approved the transfer of 66 Lockheed Martin-built F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan in a U.S.$8 billion deal, following another huge military hardware sale agreed just last month.

The deals come as ties between Washington and Beijing are already strained by a punitive multi-billion dollar trade war.

“China will take all necessary measures to safeguard our interests including imposing sanctions on the U.S. companies participating in this arms sale to Taiwan,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing.

The sale “is a serious U.S. interference in our internal affairs and undermines our sovereignty and security interests”, he said.

China views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

It bristles at any countries that might lend Taiwan diplomatic support or legitimacy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday that President Donald Trump had approved the proposed sale after Congress was notified last week.

The F-16s “are deeply consistent with the arrangements, the historical relationship between the United States and China”, Pompeo said.

“Our actions are consistent with past U.S. policy. We are simply following through on the commitments we’ve made to all of the parties.”

‘Cancel at once’

China said it had lodged diplomatic protests against the deal and on Wednesday urged the U.S. to “cancel this arms sale plan at once, stop selling arms to Taiwan and cut its military contact with Taiwan”.

Taiwan’s plan to upgrade its air defenses comes amid increasing Chinese military incursions into its air space and a spokesman for the president said the jets would “substantially enhance our air defense capabilities”.

Taiwan currently has a fleet of old-model F-16s purchased in 1992, which have undergone several crucial upgrades.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin says the newest version, known as the F-16 Block 70/72, includes many avionics, weapons and radar technologies not in existence when earlier models were created.

It is structurally stronger, the company says, so that it “can fly and fight to 2070 and beyond”.

The approval of the sale comes as Washington and Beijing face off in tough trade negotiations that economists say are hurting both of the superpowers, as well as dragging down the global economy.

In a statement, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees U.S. foreign military sales, said Taiwan’s purchase of the F-16s “will not alter the basic military balance in the region”.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the recipient’s capability to provide for the defense of its airspace, regional security, and interoperability with the United States.”

 

From: MeNeedIt

Trump Acknowledges China Policies May Mean US Economic Pain

President Donald Trump acknowledged his aggressive China trade policies may mean economic pain for Americans but insisted they’re needed for more important long-term benefits. He contended he does not fear a recession but is nonetheless considering new tax cuts to promote growth.

Asked if his trade war with China could tip the country into recession, he brushed off the idea as “irrelevant” and said it was imperative to “take China on.”

“It’s about time, whether it’s good for our country or bad for our country short term,” Trump said on Tuesday.

Paraphrasing a reporter’s question, Trump said, “Your statement about, ‘Oh, will we fall into a recession for two months?’ OK? The fact is somebody had to take China on.”

The Republican president indicated that he had no choice but to impose the tariffs that have been a drag on U.S. manufacturers, financial markets and, by some measures, American consumers.

China, though, said trade with the U.S. has been “mutually beneficial” and appealed to Washington to “get along with us.” A foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, on Wednesday expressed hope Washington can “meet China halfway” in settling disagreements. 

Trump was clear that he didn’t think the U.S. is at risk of a recession and that a boom was possible if the Federal Reserve would slash its benchmark interest rate.

“We’re very far from a recession,” Trump said. “In fact, if the Fed would do its job, I think we’d have a tremendous spurt of growth, a tremendous spurt.”

Yet he also said he is considering a temporary payroll tax cut and indexing to inflation the federal taxes on profits made on investments, moves designed to stimulate faster growth. He downplayed any idea that these thoughts indicate a weakening economy and said, “I’m looking at that all the time anyway.”

Asked about his remarks, White House spokesman Judd Deere said, “The president does not believe we are headed for a recession. The economy is strong because of his policies.”

Trump faces something of an inflection point on a U.S. economy that appears to be showing vulnerabilities after more than 10 years of growth. Factory output has fallen and consumer confidence has waned as he has ramped up his trade war with China. In private, Trump and his advisers have shown concern that a broader slowdown, if not an outright recession, could arrive just as he is seeking reelection based on his economic record.

Trump rattled the stock and bond markets this month when he announced plans to put a 10% tax on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports. The market reaction suggested a recession might be on the horizon and led Trump to delay some of the tariffs that were slated to begin in September, though 25% tariffs are already in place for $250 million in other Chinese goods.

The president has long maintained that the burden of the tariffs is falling solely on China, yet that message was undermined by his statements to reporters Tuesday prior to a meeting in the Oval Office with the president of Romania.

“My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t take China on,” Trump said. “But I like doing it because I have to do it.”

The world economy has been slowing in recent months, and recent stock market swings have added to concerns that the U.S. economy is not immune. A new survey Monday showed a big majority of economists expect a downturn to hit by 2021.

Addressing that possibility, Trump focused anew on pressuring the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates. Presidents have generally avoided criticizing the Federal Reserve publicly, but Trump has shown no inclination to follow that lead. Rather, he’s positioning Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to take the fall if the economy swoons.

“I think that we actually are set for a tremendous surge of growth, if the Fed would do its job,” Trump said. “That’s a big if.”

Trump recommended a minimum cut of a full percentage point in the coming months.

From: MeNeedIt

Syrian Activists: Airstrikes Hit Hospital in Rebel Village

Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have hit a hospital in a rebel-held northwestern village, knocking it out of service. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Thiqa news agency, an activist collective, said the Rahma hospital in Tel Mannas was hit early on Wednesday.

Activists reported several airstrikes on Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, as government forces captured new areas from insurgents.

A Syrian government military offensive began April 30 against rebels in Idlib, home to 3 million people. More than half a million have been displaced by violence elsewhere.

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres authorized an investigation into attacks on health facilities and schools in the rebel-held enclave, following a petition from Security Council members.

From: MeNeedIt

Hong Kong’s Evolving Protests: Voices From the Front Lines

On a recent sweltering Saturday, a day now reserved for protest in Hong Kong, a demonstrator named Wayne stepped past a row of plastic barricades, lifted a pair of binoculars and squinted.

Four hundred meters away, a line of riot police stood with full-length shields, batons and tear gas launchers.

It was a familiar sight for Wayne after more than two months on the front lines of Hong Kong’s turbulent pro-democracy demonstrations. Along with hard hats and homemade shields, face-offs with police have become part of the 33-year-old philosophy professor’s new normal.

The stories of Wayne and three other self-described “front line” protesters interviewed by The Associated Press provide insights into how what started as a largely peaceful movement against proposed changes to the city’s extradition law has morphed into a summer of tear gas and rubber bullets. They spoke on condition they be identified only by partial names because they feared arrest.

The movement has reached a moment of reckoning after protesters occupying Hong Kong’s airport last week held two mainland Chinese men captive, beating them because they believed the men were infiltrating their movement.

In the aftermath, pro-democracy lawmakers and fellow demonstrators — who have stood by the hard-liners even as they took more extreme steps — questioned whether the operation had gone too far.

It was the first crack in what has been astonishing unity across a wide range of protesters that has kept the movement going. It gave pause to the front-liners, who eased off the violence this past weekend, though they still believe their more disruptive tactics are necessary to get the government to answer the broader movement’s demands.

The demands grew from opposing legislation that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited for trials in mainland China’s murky judicial system to pressing for democratic elections, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s resignation and an investigation into allegations of police brutality at the demonstrations.

The protesters on the front lines are the ones who throw bricks at police and put traffic cones over active tear gas canisters to contain the fumes. They have broken into and trashed the legislature’s chambers, blocked a major tunnel under Hong Kong’s harbor, besieged and pelted police headquarters with eggs and halted rush-hour subways by blocking the train doors from closing.

To Lam, these are “violent rioters” bent on destroying the city’s economy. To China’s ruling Communist Party, their actions are “the first signs of terrorism.”

To these most die-hard protesters, there’s no turning back.

“The situation has evolved into a war in Hong Kong society,” said Tin, a 23-year-old front-line demonstrator. “It’s the protesters versus the police.”

When Hong Kong’s youth banded together for this summer’s protests, they established a few rules: They would not have clear leaders, protecting individuals from becoming symbols or scapegoats. And they would stick together, no matter their methods.

The peaceful protesters would not disavow the more extreme, sometimes violent tactics of the front-liners, who would distract the police long enough for others to escape arrest.

These were lessons learned from 2014, when the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement fizzled after more than two months without winning any concessions. Many involved feel internal divisions partly led to defeat.

Chong, a 24-year-old front-liner, said everyone’s opinion is heard and considered, and they decide on the right path together. But no decision is absolute: The demonstrators have pledged to not impede actions they may disagree with.

Two massive marches roused Chong and others who had given up on political change after the failure of Occupy Central, also dubbed the Umbrella Revolution.

On consecutive weekends in June, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the extradition bill. It struck at fears that China is eroding civil rights that Hong Kong residents enjoy under the “one country, two systems” framework.

“I didn’t think I would ever do this again,” said Chong, who quit his job as an environmental consultant to devote himself to the protests. “But this time, society is waking up.”

On June 12, three days after the first march, protesters blocked the legislature and took over nearby streets, preventing the resumption of debate on the extradition bill. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Lam suspended the bill indefinitely the day before the second march, but it didn’t mollify the protesters, who turned out in even greater numbers.

As their demands expanded, Lam offered dialogue but showed no signs of giving ground.

That’s when hard-liners like Chong and Wayne became convinced that peaceful protest might not be enough.

They blocked roads with makeshift barricades and besieged the Chinese government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, defacing the national seal over its entrance. Week after week, they clashed with police, who became an object of their anger. Every round of tear gas only seemed to deepen their conviction that the government did not care.

“We’ve had numerous peaceful protests that garnered no response whatsoever from the government,” said J.C., a 27-year-old hairstylist who quit his job in July. “Escalating our actions is both natural and necessary.”

Then came the “white shirt” attack. On July 21, dozens of men beat people indiscriminately with wooden poles and steel rods in a commuter rail station as protesters returned home, injuring 44. They wore white clothing in contrast to the protesters’ trademark black.

A slow police response led to accusations they colluded with the thugs. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said resources were stretched because of the protests.

Many saw the attack as proof police prioritized catching demonstrators — around 700 have been arrested so far — over more violent criminals. That view has been reinforced by other images, including police firing tear gas at close range and a woman who reportedly lost vision in one eye after being hit by a beanbag round shot by police.

Each accusation of police brutality emboldens the hard-core protesters to use greater violence. Gasoline bombs and other flaming objects have become their projectiles of choice, and police stations are now their main target.

In this cauldron of growing rage, the protesters set their sights on Hong Kong’s airport.

Hundreds of flights were canceled over two consecutive nights last week as protesters packed the main terminal, blocking access to check-in counters and immigration.

While the major disruption of one of the world’s busiest airports got global attention, it was the vigilante attacks on two Chinese men that troubled the movement.

In a written apology the following day, a group of unidentified protesters said recent events had fueled a “paranoia and rage” that put them on a “hair trigger.” During the prior weekend’s demonstrations, people dressed like protesters had been caught on video making arrests, and police acknowledged use of decoy officers.

At the airport, the protesters were looking for undercover agents in their ranks. Twice they thought they found them.

The first man ran away from protesters who asked why he was taking photos of them. Protesters descended on him, bound his wrists with plastic ties and interrogated him for at least two hours. His ordeal ended only when medics wrested him away on a stretcher.

The second man was wearing a yellow “press” vest used by Hong Kong journalists but refused to show his credentials. In his backpack, protesters found a blue “Safeguard HK” T-shirt worn at rallies to support police.

A small group of protesters repeatedly beat him, poured water on his head and called him “mainland trash.” He turned out to be a reporter for China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper.

Footage of the mob violence inflamed anti-protester sentiment in China, where the reporter became a martyr. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy lawmakers said it was something that “will not and should not happen again.”

Within the movement, some apologized for becoming easily agitated and overreacting. Others questioned whether provocateurs had incited the violence.

Through it all, the front liners called for unity. They pointed to the injuries sustained on their side and the rioting charges that could lock them up for 10 years.

On the night of the airport beating, Wayne couldn’t get through the crowd to see what was happening, but he understood how the attackers felt.

“I would have done the same thing,” he said. “It’s not rational, but I would have kicked him or punched him at least once or twice.”

From: MeNeedIt