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Twelve pro-democracy candidates were formally disqualified Thursday, including prominent Hong Kong activist and former leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement Joshua Wong. Others affected include a number of candidates from more traditional pro-democracy parties, as well as several young activists who cut their political teeth in last year’s pro-democracy protest movement.

On Twitter, Wong accused the Chinese government of showing a “total disregard for the will of (Hong Kongers)” and trampling on “the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy.”

In a statement, the Hong Kong government said it supported the decisions by returning officers to “invalidate 12 nominees for this year’s Legislative Council (LegCo) General Election.”

It said the candidates had been barred on the grounds that they would not uphold the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, recently expanded with a new security law imposed on the city by Beijing, which criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.

“Returning Officers are still reviewing the validity of other nominations according to the laws,” government added. “We do not rule out the possibility that more nominations would be invalidated.”

Election in doubt

Several letters posted online by disqualified candidates from returning officers informing them of their decision cited previous opposition to the security law as a reason for the move.

“The excuse they use is that I describe (the security law) as a draconian law, which shows that I do not support this sweeping law,” Wong said.

Another disqualified candidate, Dennis Kwok, was reportedly barred because of his having expressed an intention to use his position as a legislator “in such a way as to force the Government to accede to certain demands,” effectively the job of an opposition lawmaker in most democratic countries.

The disqualifications come amid widespread reports that the government is preparing to postpone the elections, due to take place on September 6, to next year, due to an ongoing rise in coronavirus cases in the city.

It is not clear how the disqualifications will affect this, or whether there will be another round of nominations next year if the polls are postponed.

In the statement, the Hong Kong government said it “respects and safeguards the lawful rights of Hong Kong people, including the right to vote and the right to stand for elections.”

Students arrested

The move to ban candidates from September’s election comes a day after Hong Kong police arrested several student activists for allegedly committing the new crime of secession under the security law.

Police said those arrested were three males and one female, aged between 16 and 21.

Though the police declined to name the group or those arrested, the political group Studentlocalism said on Facebook that its members were among those apprehended, naming one as former leader Tony Chung.

Studentlocalism was one of several political groups in Hong Kong which announced it was ending operations in the city due to the new security law, though it did not delete its social media pages and said activists overseas would continue their work.

In a press conference late Wednesday, police spokesman Lee Kwai-wah said the organization had “posted about the establishment of a new party that advocates Hong Kong independence on social media.”

“We have to enforce the laws even if the crimes are committed on the internet. Don’t think you can escape from the responsibility in cyberspace and commit crimes,” Lee added.



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Dreamworld accident: Australian theme park fined over four deaths

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image copyrightAlamy

image caption(L-R) Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in 2016

The operator of Australia’s Dreamworld theme park has been fined A$3.6m (£2m; $2.5m) over the deaths of four people on a malfunctioning water ride.

Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in October 2016 when their raft crashed into another and overturned, crushing them.

Park operator Ardent Leisure admitted in July to breaching safety laws.

The company said it accepted responsibility and had worked to improve safety standards.

The four victims – all adults – died almost instantly after the Thunder River Rapids Ride rafts collided, an inquiry heard in 2018. Two children were also on board but survived.

The accident at Australia’s biggest theme park was caused by a pump that malfunctioned near the end of the ride.

On Monday, a court said the company had failed in its duty of care and should have taken steps to make the ride safer.

“Steps were not that complex or burdensome and only mildly inconvenient and really were inexpensive,” Magistrate Pamela Dowse said.

“They operated the most iconic amusement park in the country, which targeted and attracted families.

“There was complete and blind trust placed in the defendant by every guest who rode the Thunder River Rapids Ride.”

image copyrightCORONERS COURT OF QUEENSLAND
image captionThe raft carrying passengers flipped in the collision

The size of the fine reflected the severity of the company’s failure, she added. Ardent had been facing a maximum A$4.5m fine.

Chief executive John Osborne said: “Ardent accepts responsibility for this tragedy, and we fully accept the consequences.”

Families of the victims also delivered statements to the sentencing court on Monday, expressing grief and anger over their loss.

  • Australia theme park admits guilt over ride deaths

“That Cindy died violently is unacceptable to us,” said Helen Cook, aunt to Ms Low. “Knowing her death could have been avoided is unacceptable and infuriating.”

In February, a coroner found the accident had been “only a matter of time” as the theme park had not properly assessed the ride’s safety risk in over 30 years.

Dreamworld briefly shut down for six weeks after the accident in 2016, during which it demolished the ride.

The company has reported operating losses every year since the accident, including more than A$260m in losses in its theme park division.

It is also fighting a class action from shareholders who claim the company misled them on the park’s safety measures.

Related Topics

  • Theme parks

  • Queensland
  • Australia

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Swiss voters clearly reject curbs on EU immigration

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The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) had forced a binding referendum on the EU agreement in a bid to curb immigration to the country where foreigners make up a quarter of the population.

The measure lost by 62%-38% margin.

The SVP – the biggest party in parliament – has long pushed to take back control of immigration, echoing some arguments pro-Brexit politicians used in the run-up to Britain’s exit from the EU. It won a referendum on the issue in 2014, only to see parliament water down its implementation.

Opponents said the plan would have robbed business of skilled workers and torpedoed accords that enhance non-EU member Switzerland’s access to the crucial EU single market.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, the referendum could have forced the government to annul the EU agreement if negotiations did not produce a deal on ending the pact voluntarily, something Brussels has ruled out.

A “guillotine clause” meant that ending free movement would have toppled other bilateral pacts on land and air transport, procurement, technical barriers to trade, and research.

Around two-thirds of the 2.1 million foreigners living in Switzerland in 2019 were citizens of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which with Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

More than 450,000 Swiss live in the EU.

The domestic political battle immediately turned to Switzerland’s biggest foreign policy headache: a stalled treaty meant to cement ties with the EU but which critics say infringes too much on Swiss sovereignty and would never win a referendum.

The treaty would have Bern routinely adopt single market rules and create a new platform to resolve disputes.

With questions open over state aid, rules to protect high Swiss wages, and access to welfare benefits, the Swiss have dragged their feet while trying to forge a domestic consensus, triggering a row over cross-border stock trading.

Amid relatively high turnout, voters narrowly blocked an attempt to make it easier to shoot wolves deemed a threat to livestock.

In an unexpectedly close vote, they approved the government’s plans to buy new fighter jets for up to 6 billion Swiss francs ($6.46 billion).

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Pelosi begins mustering Democrats for possible House decision on presidency

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Pelosi, in a Sunday letter to House Democrats, urged them to consider whether the House might be pulled into deciding who is president when determining where to focus resources on winning seats in November. This could lead to more concerted efforts by Democrats to win in states such as Montana and Alaska — typically Republican turf but where Democrats have been competitive statewide. In these states, Democratic victories could flip an entire delegation with a single upset House victory.

“The Constitution says that a candidate must receive a majority of the state delegations to win,” Pelosi wrote. “We must achieve that majority of delegations or keep the Republicans from doing so.”

Pelosi has also raised the issue repeatedly in recent weeks with her leadership team. Other senior House Democrats told POLITICO they’d heard about these concerns from colleagues in recent weeks.

“We’re trying to win every seat in America, but there are obviously some places where a congressional district is even more important than just getting the member into the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional lawyer.

Trump, too, has taken notice of the obscure constitutional resolution to a deadlocked Electoral College, both in public and private.

“And I don’t want to end up in the Supreme Court and I don’t want to go back to Congress either, even though we have an advantage if we go back to Congress — does everyone understand that?” Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday. “I think it’s 26 to 22 or something because it’s counted one vote per state, so we actually have an advantage. Oh, they’re going to be thrilled to hear that.”

In private, Trump has discussed the possibility of the presidential race being thrown into the House as well, raising the issue with GOP lawmakers, according to Republican sources.

Under the Constitution, the winner of the presidential election isn’t officially chosen until Congress certifies the Electoral College vote total on Jan. 6, 2021. That vote comes several days after the newly elected Congress is sworn in, meaning the delegation totals will change to reflect the winners of House races in November.

If neither Biden nor Trump has secured the 270 electoral votes required to win, the newly seated House delegations will then cast votes to determine a winner. States whose delegations reach a tie vote are not counted.

But it’s more than a math equation. If the House is asked to resolve an Electoral College stalemate, the country will be witnessing one of harshest exercises of raw power in history. If Democrats retain control of the House, they could opt against seating potential members whose elections remain contested, even if state officials say otherwise.

An informal whip count has already begun. Democrats hold a one- or two-vote seat edge in seven states that are expected to feature at least one sharply contested House race: Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire. Republicans hold a similarly tenuous edge in Florida. The Alaska and Montana at-large seats are held by Republicans, meaning a Democrat would change the delegation’s vote in a presidential tally.

Pennsylvania’s House delegation is split evenly between the parties, but Democrats are expected to pick up seats after a redistricting that blunted some GOP advantages. Michigan is a wildcard as well, despite the slight Democratic edge in the delegation makeup. Amash, an independent who supported Trump’s impeachment, is retiring, with his seat likely to go to a Republican Trump ally who would leave the delegation deadlocked.

A Democratic Party strategist said the party apparatus was still primarily focused on protecting Democrats in vulnerable districts. But winning state delegations is also on the radar — especially in states where the efforts align.

“It is fair to say that this is something that folks have been thinking about,” the strategist said. “There is a great deal of overlap like Alaska, Montana.”

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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