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Envoy for North Korea expected to get No. 2 State Dept. job

October 28, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, is expected to be nominated as early as this week to be second-in-command at the State Department, officials said Monday. Two Trump administration officials and a congressional aide familiar with the selection process said the White House is expected to nominate Biegun to be the next deputy secretary of state in the coming days. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Biegun would replace John Sullivan, who has been nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. Both positions require Senate confirmation. Biegun has had a prominent role in the delicate negotiations that led to historic meetings between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A former Ford Motor Co. executive who served in previous Republican administrations and has advised GOP lawmakers, Biegun has led as yet unsuccessful negotiations to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons since being appointed to his current post in August 2018. He is expected to keep the North Korea portfolio if he is confirmed to the new post, the officials said.

His nomination has been expected since mid-September, but its timing has been unclear amid turmoil in the State Department over the House impeachment inquiry into the administration’s policy toward Ukraine.

Sullivan was nominated to be envoy to Moscow in September although his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was just set for Wednesday, making Biegun’s nomination to fill the soon-to-be vacant No. 2 spot at the State Department more urgent.

Sullivan’s confirmation hearing is likely to be dominated by questions from committee Democrats about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and his role in Ukraine policy. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified to impeachment investigators earlier the month that Sullivan was the official who informed her that she had lost Trump’s confidence and was being recalled early from Kyiv. Democrats are expected to use Wednesday’s confirmation hearing to press Sullivan on the extent of his involvement in Ukraine and why the department bowed to a campaign to oust Yovanovitch spearheaded by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Fire burns down structures at historic Japanese castle

October 31, 2019

TOKYO (AP) — A fire early Thursday burned down structures at Shuri Castle on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, nearly destroying the UNESCO World Heritage site. Firefighters were still battling the blaze a few hours after the fire started early Thursday and nearby residents were evacuated to safer areas, Okinawa police spokesman Ryo Kochi said.

The fire in Naha, the prefectural capital of Okinawa, started from the castle’s main structure. The main Seiden temple and a Hokuden structure, or north temple, have burned down. A third main structure Nanden, or south temple, was also burned down later.

Nobody has been injured. The cause of the fire was not immediately known. A fire department official in protective gear told reporters in a televised interview from the scene that the fire was reported by private security company that recognized the alarm. The fire that started near the main hall then quickly jumped to the other key buildings.

Footage on NHK television showed parts of the castle, engulfed in orange flames and turning into charred skeleton, collapsing to the ground. Many residents gathered and looked on from a hillside road, where many people quietly took photos to capture what’s left of the castle before it’s lost. Some people were crying.

“I feel as if we have lost our symbol,” said Naha mayor Mikiko Shiroma, who led an emergency response team. “I’m shocked.” Shiroma vowed to do everything she could to save what is remained of the castle.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the central government will also do the utmost for the reconstruction of the castle, which stands on a national park. Kurayoshi Takara, a historian at Univerisity of the Ryukyus who helped reconstruct the Shuri Castle, said he was speechless when he saw the scene. He told NHK that the castle reconstruction was a symbolic event for the Okinawans to restore their history and Ryukyu heritage lost during the war.

“I still can’t accept this as a reality,” Takara said. “It has taken more than 30 years and it was a monument of wisdom and effort of many people. Shuri Castle is not just about buildings but it reconstructed all the details, even including equipment inside.”

The ancient castle is a symbol of Okinawa’s cultural heritage from the time of Ryukyu Kingdom that spanned about 450 years from 1429 until 1879 when the island was annexed by Japan. The castle is also a symbol of Okinawa’s struggle and effort to recover from World War II. Shuri Castle burned down in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa near the war’s end, in which about 200,000 lives were lost on the island, many of them civilians.

The castle was largely restored in 1992 as a national park and was designated as the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. Okinawa was under the U.S. occupation until 1972, two decades after the rest of Japan regained full independence.

South Korea shows its US-made F-35 stealth jets for 1st time

October 01, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Tuesday displayed some of its newly purchased U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighter jets for the first time during its Armed Forces Day ceremony, a development that will likely infuriate rival North Korea.

Under its biggest-ever weapons purchase, South Korea is to buy 40 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin by 2021. The first few batches of the aircraft arrived in the South this year. North Korea has sharply reacted to the deliveries, calling them a grave provocation that violate recent inter-Korean agreements aimed at lowering military tensions.

On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in reviewed military planes including an F-35, missiles and artillery systems that were displayed on the ground at the start of the ceremony at an air base in southeastern South Korea.

Moon and other top officials later watched three F-35s and other warplanes flying in close formation one after another. In a televised speech during the ceremony, Moon said he felt “secure about the might of our military armed with new equipment such as F-35As that we disclosed for the first time.” He said South Koreans would also be “very proud” of the military capacity.

South Korea previously publicized photos of its F-35s, but it was the first time the aircraft were shown at an official event since the first two of the planes were delivered here in March, according to the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration.

Moon, a liberal who espouses greater reconciliation with North Korea, was behind a flurry of North Korea-U.S. diplomacy on the North’s nuclear program. During his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang last September, the two Koreas struck a set of agreements meant to ease military animosities such as halting front-line live-fire exercises and dismantling guard posts along their border.

Many conservatives in South Korea have said the deals greatly undermined South Korea’s national security because North Korea’s nuclear threats remain intact. Moon said during Tuesday’s ceremony that strong national security would support dialogue and cooperation with North Korea and an effort to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Nuclear diplomacy largely remains stalled since the second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February collapsed due to disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea. Kim and Trump held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to resume diplomacy.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito ascends Chrysanthemum Throne

October 22, 2019

TOKYO (AP) — Three booming cheers of “Banzai!” rang out Tuesday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as Naruhito formally declared his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne as the nation’s 126th emperor. As a driving autumn rain briefly gave way to sunshine and 2,000 guests looked on, Naruhito pledged at an elaborate, ritual-laden ceremony to serve as a symbol of the state for his people. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated him and led the cheers of “Banzai,” which traditionally means “10,000 years.”

The enthronement ceremony is the high point of several succession rituals that began in May when Naruhito inherited the throne after the abdication of Akihito, his father. Naruhito leads the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, which historians say goes back 1,500 years.

The short ceremony, which some critics say was largely meant to allow Abe’s ultra-conservative government to win public support, was marked by extraordinary contrasts — from the rhythmic shuffle of dozens of court dignitaries’ long, stiff, antiquated robes as they brushed over mats leading to the throne room, to the thunder of cannon salutes reverberating through the palace.

“I hereby proclaim my enthronement to those at home and abroad,” Naruhito said. “I hereby swear that I will act according to the constitution and fulfill my responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always praying for the happiness of the people and the peace of the world as I stand with the people.”

The ceremony began with the sound of a bell. Naruhito, wearing a formal brownish-orange robe that was dyed in sappanwood and Japanese wax tree bark and a black headdress decorated with an upright tail, then stood perfectly still while a pair of black-robed chamberlains pulled aside and secured the purple curtains surrounding the throne.

The throne, called “Takamikura,” is a 6.5-meter- (21-foot-) high decorative structure resembling a gazebo. It was taken apart in 3,000 pieces and transported last year from the former Imperial Palace in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, where emperors lived until 150 years ago, and reassembled and repaired with new lacquer coatings.

Outside the palace, hundreds of well-wishers gathered to celebrate the enthronement, waving flags and shouting “Banzai!” almost in sync with the ceremony that they monitored on their smartphones. Despite the time, effort and cost put into preparations, the ceremony lasted only about 30 minutes.

It was originally modeled after one by the ancient Tang dynasty of China and is the second of three ceremonies that follow the May succession. Next month sees the highly religious and divisive ritual of Daijosai, or the Great Thanksgiving.

While the harvest ritual is an annual event that the emperor performs privately, the government funds the first one by a new emperor as part of the succession ceremonies. A one-off shrine for the Nov. 14-15 ritual is being constructed at the palace.

Some experts have raised questions over the government’s funding of 16 billion yen ($150 million) for ceremonies that contain religious rites like Daijosai. Most of the cost goes to a one-time shrine that will be demolished after the event.

Criticism, however, was largely eclipsed by the festive mood, in part because Naruhito’s succession came about because of abdication, not death, palace watchers said. To mark the occasion, Abe’s ultra-conservative government granted pardons to about 550,000 eligible applicants. The decision was not publicly debated.

The pre-war custom of clemency by the emperor, who was revered as a god in those days, has triggered criticism as being undemocratic and politically motivated. At the time of former Emperor Akihito’s enthronement, 2.5 million people were given amnesty.

Earlier Tuesday, the 59-year-old Naruhito put on a white robe and prayed at Kashikodokoro and two other shrines, to report to gods ahead of the ceremony. Enshrined at Kashikodokoro is the sun goddess Amaterasu, the mythological ancestress of Japan’s emperors.

Recent changes to the enthronement ceremony included a slightly smaller structure for the empress — called “Michodai,” or “The August Seat of the Empress” — where Naruhito’s wife, Masako, stood, dressed in traditional costume. It was first used by Naruhito’s grandmother.

Naruhito and Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, hosted a court banquet Tuesday evening for about 400 guests, including foreign dignitaries and heads of Japan’s administrative, legislative and judicial branches and their spouses.

A parade originally planned for Tuesday afternoon had been postponed until Nov. 10 because of a recent typhoon that caused flooding and other damage in central and northern Japan. Naruhito and Masako have been warmly welcomed by the Japanese public. They made positive impressions by freely conversing with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump during their visit weeks after Naruhito’s succession in May, palace watchers say.

“I think people have high expectations for the emperor, who is fluent in foreign languages and internationalized,” said historian and monarchy expert Eiichi Miyashiro, who is also a journalist. Naruhito, who studied at Oxford, is a historian, a viola player and an expert on water transport. Masako has struggled for more than a decade since developing “adjustment disorder” after giving birth to the couple’s only child, Princess Aiko, and facing pressure to produce a boy in Japan’s monarchy, which allows only male heirs.

A shortage of males in the royal family has raised succession concerns and prompted calls for a debate, possibly to allow female emperors. Naruhito has an 83-year-old uncle and two potential heirs — his younger brother Crown Prince Akishino and a 13-year-old nephew.

Abe and his ultra-conservative supporters insist on male-only succession, while a majority of the general public supports allowing female emperors.

Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report.

Chaos as Hong Kong lawmakers thwart leader’s annual address

October 16, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Furious pro-democracy lawmakers twice forced Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to stop delivering a speech laying out her policy objectives Wednesday, clamoring for her to resign in chaotic scenes that caused her to walk out of the legislature.

Lam was able to deliver the annual address more than an hour later by video, but the reception inside the Legislative Council marked a slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with anti-government protests now in their fifth month.

When Lam started delivering the speech, she was shouted down by chanting pro-democracy lawmakers who held aloft placards showing her waving with hands colored blood-red. She left the chamber and then came back a few minutes later to try again, only to be interrupted one more time. Again, she left. One lawmaker wearing a paper mask showing the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Lam was leaving.

Finally, 75 minutes after the previously scheduled start of the lengthy address, Lam delivered it via video link, with China’s yellow-starred red flag to her right and Hong Kong’s flag on her left. Describing the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as going through “major crisis,” Lam said: “People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?”

She appealed for its 7.5 million citizens to “cherish the city,” warning that “continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong.” Standing ramrod-straight, she then launched into a dry and detailed explanation of plans to tackle Hong Kong’s shortage of affordable housing, a long-standing source of discontent, and other welfare issues. With its focus on such minutiae as building new tunnels and freeing up land for development, the 50-minute speech seemed likely to fuel protesters’ criticism that Lam is deaf to their concerns about the future of the territory’s freedoms, unique in China.

Even before Lam delivered it, one of the protesting lawmakers, Claudia Mo, dismissed the address as a “shame and a sham” and said the chief executive had lost all authority. “She is just a puppet on strings, being played by Beijing,” Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other lawmakers outside the chamber after they successfully thwarted Lam’s address there.

They played a recording on a small loudspeaker they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters and of protesters’ wails. “These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people,” said lawmaker Tanya Chan. “Please, please, please Mrs. Carrie Lam, don’t let us suffer any more.”

She and others called for Lam’s resignation. “This is the only way that we can have a good future,” said Chan. Lam had been bracing for trouble in the chamber as her government battles the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and have snowballed into a sustained anti-government, anti-police and anti-China movement.

The widespread use of teargas by riot-control squads and 2,600 arrests, some appearing heavy handed, have triggered public disgust with the 30,000-strong police force once considered among Asia’s finest. Hardcore black-clad and masked protesters have responded with widespread vandalism of China-linked businesses, subway stations and other targets, and attacked police with gasoline bombs and other weapons.

This month, two police shootings that injured teenage protesters, the stabbing of a police officer, and the detonation of a small, remote-controlled bomb close to police officers ratcheted up violence to levels unprecedented in the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Saying rioters are “spreading chaos and fear,” Lam appealed for order and sought to end her address on a positive note. Her Facebook profile was updated before she spoke, with a photo of a smiling Lam against a backdrop of a rainbow over Hong Kong’s harbor.

“We have to put aside differences and stop attacking each other,” she said. “I thoroughly believe that Hong Kong will be able to ride out this storm and move on.”

China-Australia rift deepens as Beijing tests overseas sway

October 03, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s ban on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s involvement in its future 5G networks and its crackdown on foreign covert interference are testing Beijing’s efforts to project its power overseas.

In its latest maneuver, China sent three scholars to spell out in interviews with Australian media and other appearances steps to mend the deepening rift with Beijing _ a move that appears to have fallen flat.

In a recent press conference at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Chen Hong, the head of Australian studies at East China Normal University, accused Australia of acting as a “pawn” for the United States in lobbying other countries against Huawei’s involvement in the nascent 5G networks.

“Australia has been in one way or another, so to speak, pioneering this kind of anti-China campaign, even some kind of a scare and smear campaign against China,” Chen said. “That is definitely not what China will be appreciating, and if other countries follow suit, that is going to be recognized as extremely unfriendly,” he said.

After meetings in Beijing last week, Richard Marles, the opposition’s defense spokesman, assessed the relationship as “terrible.” A growing number of Australians are convinced that Beijing has been using inducements, threats, espionage and other clandestine tactics to influence their politics _ methods critics believe Beijing might be honing for use in other western democracies.

“Australia is seen as a test bed for Beijing’s high-pressure influence tactics,” said Clive Hamilton, author of “Silent Invasion,” a best seller that focuses on Chinese influence in Australia. “They are testing the capacity of the Australian democratic system to resist,” he said.

Still, Australian officials have downplayed talk of a diplomatic freeze. They must balance a growing wariness toward China and their desire for strong ties with the U.S. with the need to keep relations with their resource-rich country’s largest export market on an even keel.

Australia relies on China for one-third of its export earnings. Delays in processing of Australia exports of coal and wine at Chinese ports have raised suspicions of retaliation by Beijing. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared to side with President Donald Trump on the issue of China’s trade status during a recent visit to Washington, he sought to temper suggestions by Trump that he had expressed “very strong opinions on China” in their closed-door meeting.

“We have a comprehensive, strategic partnership with China. We work well with China,” Morrison replied. Trump and Morrison did agree that China has outgrown trade rule concessions allowed to developing nations, advantages it insists it should still be able to claim.

Australia also chose to side with the U.S, in shutting Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear producer, out of its next generation 5G rollout on security grounds. Huawei, and the Chinese government, objected to that, saying the security concerns were exaggerated for the sake of shutting out competition. But Huawei still renewed a sponsorship deal with an Australian rugby team, saying it hopes the ban will be lifted.

Morrison, the prime minister, has won praise from the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times for standing up for Gladys Liu, the first Chinese-born lawmaker to be elected to Australia’s Parliament, when she was attacked for her associations with the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party, whose mission is to exert influence overseas.

Hong Kong-born Liu, a conservative, was elected in May to represent a Melbourne district with a large population of ethnic Chinese voters. She says she has resigned from such organizations and any honorary positions she might have held, some possibly without her “knowledge or consent.”

Morrison accused her critics of smearing the 1.2 million Chinese living in Australia. That was a “decent gesture,” the Global Times said. But while it seeks to control damage from the tensions with Beijing, the Australian government has been moving to neutralize its influence by banning foreign political donations and all covert foreign interference in domestic politics.

Opposition lawmakers likened Liu’s situation to that of Sam Dastyari, who resigned as a senator in 2017 over his links to Chinese billionaire political donor Huang Xiangmo. Huang successfully sued Australian media outlets for defamation over the allegations of his involvement in Chinese political interference. But he lost his Australian permanent residency after it was discovered that his company had paid Dastyari’s personal legal bills. Huang also appeared with him at a news conference for Chinese media where Dastyari supported Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, contradicting Australia’s bipartisan policy.

Chen and the other two Chinese scholars recently dispatched to Australia to try to sway public opinion insisted China was without blame. “If we’re talking about Australia-China relations, I think the responsibility totally is on the Australian side,” Chen said. “China always promotes friendship and mutual benefits between our two countries.”

The Chinese scholars singled out for criticism Hamilton and another Australian author, John Garnaut, who has described Australia as the canary in the coal mine of Chinese Communist Party interference.

Hamilton’s book was published last year, but only after three publishers backed out, fearing retaliation from Beijing. It became a top seller. Hamilton told a U.S. congressional commission last year that Beijing was waging a “campaign of psychological warfare” against Australia, undermining democracy and silencing its critics.

In separate testimony, Garnaut, a former government security adviser, told the House of Representatives Arms Services Committee that China was seeking to undermine the U.S.-Australian security alliance.

In 2016, the government commissioned Garnaut to write a classified report that found the Chinese Communist Party has been seeking to influence Australian policy, compromise political parties and gain access to all levels of government.

He has said Australia is reacting to a threat that other countries are only starting to grapple with. “This recognition has been assisted by the sheer brazenness of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s drive for global influence and by watching Russian President Vladimir Putin and his agents create havoc across the United States and Europe,” Garnaut wrote.

“In the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, it is far more difficult to dismiss foreign interference as a paranoid abstraction,” he added. Garnaut, whose friend Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been detained in Beijing since January on suspicion of espionage, declined to comment to The Associated Press.

China wants to make an example of Australia, said Chinese-born Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, who was detained for 10 days and interrogated about his friend Garnaut’s investigation while visiting China in 2017.

“For the last two decades, Australia has been taken for a soft target because of this myth of economic dependence on China, so they believe they have sufficient leverage to force Australia to back off,” said Feng, a professor of China studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.

“They are extremely upset that Australia somehow in the last two years has taken the lead in what we call the democratic pushback” against Chinese interference, he said.

From Beirut to Hong Kong, protests evoke global frustration

October 26, 2019

BEIRUT (AP) — In Hong Kong, it was a complicated extradition dispute involving a murder suspect. In Beirut, it was a proposed tax on the popular WhatsApp messenger service. In Chile, it was a 4-cent hike in subway fares.

Recent weeks have seen mass protests and clashes erupt in far-flung places triggered by seemingly minor actions that each came to be seen as the final straw. The demonstrations are fueled by local grievances, but reflect worldwide frustration at growing inequality, corrupt elites and broken promises.

Where past waves of protests, like the 2011 Arab Spring or the rallies that accelerated the breakup of the Soviet Union, took aim at dictatorships, the latest demonstrations are rattling elected governments. The unrest on three continents, coupled with the toxic dysfunction in Washington and London, raises fresh concerns over whether the liberal international order, with free elections and free markets, can still deliver on its promises.

THE PEOPLE STILL WANT THE FALL OF THE REGIME

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese poured into the streets after the government floated a new tax on WhatsApp on the heels of an austerity package that came in response to an increasingly severe fiscal crisis.

The protests rapidly escalated into an indictment of the entire post-civil war order , in which a sectarian power-sharing arrangement has transformed former warlords and other elites into a permanent political class. In the three decades since the war ended, the same leaders have used patronage networks to get themselves re-elected again and again even as the government has failed to reliably provide basic services like electricity, water and trash collection.

A similar story has unfolded in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, where a government that distributes power and top offices among Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds has calcified into a corrupt stasis, with parties haggling over ministries as services and infrastructure fall into further ruin despite the country’s considerable oil wealth.

“Thieves! Thieves!” protesters in both countries chanted this week.

“Massive economic mismanagement coupled with spiraling corruption have pauperized large segments of the Arab people,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. “It is no wonder then that millions of Arabs are fed up.”

The protests in both countries target governments that are close to Iran and backed by its heavily armed local allies, raising fears of a violent backlash. Nearly 200 Iraqis have been killed in recent clashes with security forces, and supporters of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group have brawled with protesters in Beirut.

“There is no magical bullet or easy answer to the severe crisis of governance in Arab lands,” Gerges said. “The struggle will be fierce and long and costly, but there is no turning back.”

RISING UP AGAINST A RISING CHINA

Hong Kong’s protests erupted in early June after the semiautonomous city passed an extradition bill that put residents at risk of being sent to China’s judicial system. At one point, protesters said they had brought 2 million people into the streets.

Authorities were forced to drop the extradition proposal , which was triggered by the need to resolve the status of a murder suspect wanted for killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan. But by then, the movement had snowballed to include demands for full democracy in the form of direct elections for the city’s top leader.

Since China took control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, the city’s leaders have been selected by an elite committee made up mostly of pro-Beijing tycoons. Local councillors and half of the Asian financial center’s legislature are directly elected, but the other half are chosen by representatives from the finance, tourism, catering, accounting and other industries, which adds to the public discontent over stifled promises of democracy.

Underlying the Hong Kong protest movement are rising fears about China’s tightening grip on the city and worries that Beijing is reneging on promises not to meddle with Hong Kong’s Western-style civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.

Protesters also fear China’s technology-powered authoritarianism. Wearing masks to conceal their identities, they have cut down “smart lampposts” and smashed surveillance cameras. They worry about artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition surveillance systems capturing their biometric data and sending it for processing by Chinese technology giants to track and identify them.

UNREST IN WEALTHY, DEMOCRATIC CHILE

On Friday, an estimated 1 million Chileans filled the streets of the capital Santiago, more than ever took to the streets during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet or the democratic governments that came after him.

The protests were sparked by the subway fare hike but soon morphed into a mass movement against inequality in one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries. At least 19 people have been killed as protesters have clashed with police in recent days.

Protesters tried to force their way onto the grounds of Chile’s legislature Friday, provoking an evacuation of the building. Police fired tear gas to fend off hundreds of demonstrators on the perimeter as some lawmakers and administrative staff hurried out of the legislative building, which is in the port city of Valparaiso.

Marta Lagos, head of Latinobarometro, a nonprofit survey group in Chile, said the protests have exposed the shortcomings of the country’s political system. “There is a failure of the system of political parties in its ability to represent society,” Lagos said.

Struggling to contain the strife, President Sebastián Piñera’s administration announced increases in the minimum wage, raised minimum pensions by 20% and rolled back the subway fare increase.

He put a 9.2% increase in electricity prices on hold until the end of next year, but with analysts predicting his resignation and fresh elections, the consequences of that move could fall to his successor.

CATALAN PROTESTS TAKE A VIOLENT TURN

For years, Catalan separatists have held peaceful, festive marches, but the movement took a violent turn last week when protests erupted over the imprisonment of nine leaders who led a bid for independence from Spain in 2017.

That failed attempt left the separatist movement rudderless, with 12 of its leaders arrested and most of the rest fleeing the country, including former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont.

New activist collectives have emerged in their place, including one calling itself the Tsunami Democratic, which uses its own app and encrypted messages to call for “civil disobedience.”

But one of its first calls to protest, after the Oct. 31 Supreme Court ruling jailing the leaders, turned into a massive siege of Barcelona’s international airport, with rioters clashing with police late into the night.

The group has borrowed some of its tactics and rhetoric from the Hong Kong protesters, and protesters in both places have staged demonstrations in support of one another, though most Hong Kong protesters have been careful not to push for independence from China — one of President Xi Jinping’s “red lines.”

That one movement is struggling against domination by one-party China while the other is rising up against a European democracy is a distinction that has been lost in the tear gas.

Associated Press writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.

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