New world news from Time: Hong Kong Blocks Annual Vigil Commemorating Tiananmen Square Crackdown

(HONG KONG) — Hong Kong police rejected an application Monday by organizers for an annual candlelight vigil marking the anniversary this week of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, as residents rushed to apply for passports that could allow them to move to the United Kingdom

It would be the first time in 30 years that the vigil, which draws a huge crowd to an outdoor space, is not held in Hong Kong. The vigil commemorates China’s deadly military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The decision follows a vote by China’s ceremonial parliament to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and enact national security legislation for the semi-autonomous territory. Democracy activists and many legal experts worry that the law could curtail free speech and opposition political activities.

Throngs of people lined up on Monday at DHL courier outlets across the city, many to send documents to the U.K. to apply for or renew what is known as a British National (Overseas) passport.

“My BNO passport expired in 2004, but at the time I didn’t renew it because I trusted China,” said 40-year-old Peter Chan, who works in asset management and waited in line for more than two hours.

Chan said he was worried about political and security issues in Hong Kong stemming from the national security law as well as a push by the territory’s legislature to enact a bill that would make it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.

Even though there is rising anti-immigrant and anti-Asian sentiment in the U.K., “it’s still better than Hong Kong,” he said.

“In Hong Kong, you never know what will happen tomorrow,” Chan said.

The police, in a letter to organizers of the candlelight vigil, said it would violate coronavirus social distancing rules that ban gatherings of more than eight people.

Organizer Lee Cheuk-yan, chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, expressed disappointment and urged people to light candles individually and observe a moment of silence.

Amnesty International said authorities should facilitate a socially distanced vigil rather than ban it.

“COVID-19 must not be used as an excuse to stifle freedom of expression,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, the group’s deputy director for East and Southeast Asia. “With this ban, and a disastrous national security law looming, it is not clear if Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil will ever be allowed to take place again.”

Hong Kong has reported five local infections of the coronavirus in the last two days, breaking a nearly two-week streak of no new cases outside of those brought in from abroad.

The rush to apply for passports came after Britain said last week that it might allow holders of the document to stay in the country for a year or more. The proposal came after China’s legislature decided it would enact a national security law for Hong Kong.

The move is aimed at clamping down on a pro-democracy movement that has at times resulted in violent clashes between protesters and the police. Critics say the law erodes the “one country, two systems” framework that promised Hong Kong freedoms not found in mainland China for 50 years.

Protesters demonstrated against the security law at lunchtime Monday at a luxury shopping mall in the Central business district, shouting pro-democracy slogans.

The British National (Overseas) passport, which was issued to Hong Kongers when it was a British colony, allows them to visit the country for an extended period but falls short of offering them citizenship rights.

Currently, BNO passport holders can remain in the U.K. as visitors for six months without a visa. But Britain’s plan to allow them to stay in the U.K. for a longer period could include options that offer a path to citizenship, according to British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

In Hong Kong’s eastern district of Quarry Bay, Vanessa Tai was among more than 40 people who stood in line at a DHL service point, many holding envelopes with application documents.

Tai, 24, said the BNO passport is a Plan B for Hong Kongers who are worried about losing their freedoms as China strengthens its control over the city.

“If I had a choice, I’d rather work and live in Hong Kong. I hadn’t considered emigrating or working overseas before this,” she said. “Nowadays, my family and I are seeking an alternative, just in case.”

As of February, nearly 350,000 Hong Kong residents held BNO passports, although the U.K. government estimated that there are 2.9 million people in the city of 7.5 million who are eligible for the passport.

New world news from Time: Defying Trump’s Landmark Peace Deal, Taliban Continues to Back Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, UN Report Says

The U.S. went to war in Afghanistan with one goal in mind: ridding the country of the threat of al-Qaeda just weeks after the group killed nearly 3,000 people in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, after nearly 20 years of fighting in which more than 3,500 American and coalition lives have been lost, President Donald Trump is pushing to withdraw U.S. forces on the back of a wobbly peace deal signed with the Taliban. But a U.N. report released on Monday shows the Islamist militant group has failed to fulfill one of the central tenets of the agreement – that it would break ties with al-Qaeda – undermining Trump’s biggest foreign policy win as he seeks re-election in November.


Al-Qaeda has 400 to 600 operatives active in 12 Afghan provinces and is running training camps in the east of the country, according to the report released Friday. U.N. experts, drawing their research from interviews with U.N. member states, including their intelligence and security services, plus think tanks and regional officials, say the Taliban has played a double game with the Trump Administration, consulting with al-Qaeda senior leaders throughout its 16 months of peace talks with U.S. officials and reassuring Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, among others, that the Taliban would honour their historical ties” to the terrorist group.

The U.N. report’s authors are pessimistic the Taliban will live up to its end of the peace deal, including pledges to carry out counterterrorism action against al-Qaeda and launch talks with Afghan leaders to reach a permanent ceasefire. “Early indications are that many, if not all, of these objectives will prove challenging,” says the annual report to the U.N. Security Council, published Monday by the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

This is not what the Trump Administration promised the American public and U.S. lawmakers. The deal signed in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29, says the Taliban must “prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went even further in March, insisting that “the Taliban have now made the break with al-Qaeda. “They’ve said they will not permit terror to be thrust upon anyone, including the United States, from Afghanistan,” he told CBS’s Face the Nation a day after the deal was signed, adding that the officials he met in Doha “agreed that they would break that relationship and that they would work alongside of us to destroy, deny resources to and have al-Qaeda depart from that place.”

The fact that none of that has taken place, and the Taliban has instead fostered its relationship with the group that plotted 9/11, according to U.N. experts, raises questions about whether the Administration rushed through a politically expedient deal that negotiators knew was doomed to fail. The U.S.Taliban agreement was supposed to be Trump’s triumphant delivery of an end to a nearly 19-year-conflict-turned-quagmire, that has in addition to the thousands of lives lost, cost U.S. taxpayers some $132 billion. Trump hailed the deal as a chance to “bring our people back home,” adding that “everyone is tired of war.”

Despite Trump’s assurances, the report’s findings echo concerns that U.S. military leaders have also aired. U.S. Central Command’s General Frank McKenzie gave a bleak assessment of the Taliban’s ability to follow through with the deal in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. He was explicitly skeptical about the Taliban’s pledge to break with al-Qaeda. “That is something (the Taliban) are going to have to demonstrate that has not yet been demonstrated,” he said on March 13, roughly two weeks after the peace deal was signed. “We don’t need to trust them, we don’t need to like them, we don’t need to believe anything they say. We need to observe what they do.” Central Command declined to comment further, and the National Security Council and U.S. Forces Afghanistan did not respond to requests for comment.

A State Department spokesperson on Friday said the U.S. will “carefully monitor the Taliban’s progress on all of those metrics using all available information,” via a “robust monitoring and verification mechanism to judge Taliban compliance with their commitments.” The official also cast doubt on the UN report’s validity, saying that given Afghanistan’s security environment “it is our understanding the U.N. experts rely heavily on sources of information that may not provide a complete picture.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Trump Administration’s reaction to the report.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen also rejected U.N. report’s conclusions ahead of its publication, denying that the Taliban conferred at high levels with alQaeda, assured it cooperation and safe haven, or allowed the group to run training camps in the east of the country. “I totally refute this report; it is a baseless accusation aimed at spoiling the peace process. We are fully committed to the agreement and the obligations therein— not to allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against any other country,” Shaheen said in a series of text messages from Doha exchanged with TIME on Friday.

The U.N.’s findings are not the first red flag that the much-lauded peace deal isn’t working. The deal lays out a phased withdrawal all of U.S. forces in return for the Taliban both ceasing fire on American troops and sitting down with Afghan leaders to discuss a future government. Those intra-Afghan talks have already been delayed over a dispute over a prisoner exchange between the Taliban and Afghan government, something the U.S. put in its agreement that Afghan officials say they never agreed to. Taliban attacks on Afghan forces have continued almost unabated.

Nevertheless, the U.S. military has quickened the pace of its troop withdrawal, now down from 13,000 troops in February to roughly 8,600 troops last week, months ahead of schedule, according to Reuters. That’s mostly because the U.S. military has sent personnel home to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic now gripping Afghanistan, but U.S. military leaders are planning to present options for a faster pullout to Trump within the next week or so, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the upcoming meeting. One of those options includes a total drawdown of U.S. forces ahead of the American presidential poll in November, according to The New York Times.

A precipitous U.S. withdrawal could leave Afghanistan headed for a return to the status quo of the years prior to 9/11, when al-Qaeda plotted the 2001 attacks in the country’s mountainous northeast. The U.N. report says the Taliban remains focused on returning Afghanistan to a harsh form of Islamic rule, and is employing tactics to delay intra-Afghan talks to get the maximum number of U.S. troops to withdraw, which would give them more power to threaten the Afghan government, the study authors say. The Taliban have already begun accusing the United States of bad faith when it provides close air support to Afghan Forces while under Taliban attack.

They found that “relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage,” and that the Taliban offered al-Qaeda continuing safe have in its territory, just as it did before 9/11.

Bin Laden was not a threat to the United States’

In the 1990s, al-Qaeda pledged bayat, or fealty, to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, declaring him the “Emir of the Faithful,” and the Taliban had in return offered the group safe haven, according to West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. According to the 9/11 Report, when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson led a delegation to meet the Taliban in Kabul in April 1998, they told him they didn’t know where al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden was, and that in any case, “Bin Laden was not a threat to the United States” — a refrain similar to the one the Taliban is employing with U.S. officials now.

Today, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current head of al-Qaeda, has again pledged bayat to Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada, according to Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal. Akhundzada hasn’t publicly accepted that pledge, Joscelyn adds, thereby tacitly granting legitimacy to al-Qaeda’s goal to establish global rule, based on an extremist militant interpretation of Islam. For the U.S.-Taliban deal to stick, Akhundzada will have to “publicly renounce al-Qaeda’s pledge of allegiance,” and thereby remove the Taliban’s imprimatur on that bloody worldwide campaign. “So far, (Akhundzada) hasn’t done that,” Joscelyn says.

Taliban spokesman Shaheen insists that Akhunzada’s lack of public acknowledgement of the pledge is enough to show the Taliban is breaking with al-Qaeda. “Neither our current leader nor our former leader has accepted their allegiance. It is enough and it is a clear proof of our commitment to what we are saying.” Shaheen dismissed the fact that screenshots from the Taliban’s own Voice of Jihad media outlet issued a statement of acceptance of al-Zawahiri’s pledge in 2015.

The head of the Haqqani Network, another militant group that has staged deadly attacks on U.S. and coalition troops, is the Taliban’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani. He dismissed any “concerns about the potential of Afghanistan being used by disruptive groups to threaten regional and world security,” as “inflatedin a New York Times’ opinion piece published days before the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed.It is not in the interest of any Afghan to allow such groups to hijack our country and turn it into a battleground….We will take all measures in partnership with other Afghans to make sure the new Afghanistan is a bastion of stability and that nobody feels threatened on our soil.”

Despite these public assurances from Taliban leadership, the U.N. report says the Taliban continues its hardline messaging to its base, promising the return of an Islamic Emirate. It has stepped up attacks on Afghan forces and prepared for more, while carefully avoiding attacks on U.S. forces, the report says, which could scupper the peace agreement and keep U.S troops in the country longer. The group remains “internally disciplined enough to be a formidable fighting force” while divided enough to make compromise difficult, with a “significant constituency” of the group that still believes “that they can and will still achieve their aims by force,” the report says.

Toward that end, al-Qaeda and the Taliban held meetings over the course of 2019 and in early 2020 to discuss cooperation related to operational planning, training and the provision by the Taliban of safe havens for al-Qaeda members inside Afghanistan,” the report says. The Taliban and al-Qaeda even discussed forming “a joint unit of 2,000 armed fighters in cooperation with and funded by al-Qaeda” that would patrol key areas of the country in the future, it says.

At one of meetings between the Taliban and al-Qaeda in early 2019, Taliban leaders personally reassured Hamza Usama Muhammad bin Laden, Bin Laden’s son, that the Islamic Emirate would not break its historical ties with al-Qaeda for any price.” (In September 2019, the White House stated Hamza bin Laden had been killed in a “U.S. counterterrorism operation,” but released no date for his demise.) Al-Qaeda’s current leader al-Zawahiri met with members of the Haqqani Network in February 2020, to consult with him “over the agreement with the United States and the peace process,” the report says.

Joscelyn says al-Qaeda remains a threat to the United States, and the Taliban’s loyalty to it extends to the group’s other branches, including Yemen’s al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the FBI and Justice Department recently revealed were behind the deadly attack on U.S. servicemen at Pensacola Air Station in Florida on Dec. 6. The FBI said AQAP had been in constant contact with the Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani, who shot and killed three people at the base where he was training. FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters on May 18 that Alshamrani, “wasn’t just coordinating with (AQAP) about planning and tactics—he was helping the organization make the most it could out of his murders. And he continued to confer with his AQAP associates right until the end, the very night before he started shooting.”

Joscelyn says the Taliban lauded AQAP in a 2016 video, and venerates its current leader Khalid Batarfi, who was trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. “The Taliban incubated a generation of Jihadis, and there’s no evidence they’ve renounced that,” he says.

If the U.S. is successful in getting the Taliban to honor its pledge to split from al-Qaeda, that could cause a schism between its pro- and anti- al-Qaeda camps, the report says. The U.N. monitoring group has tracked the creation of a new rebel Taliban party of senior dissident members mainly residing outside Afghanistan, who refuse to make peace with the U.S., called the Hizb-i Vilayet Islami, or “Islamic Governorate Party.” A senior Afghan official told TIME that Afghan security services had tracked the formation of the offshoot group that pledged to “continue fighting as the Taliban join peace” talks, and confirmed that in their estimation, in many parts of the country, al-Qaeda and the Taliban “are inseparable.” The official spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive security matter.

While the report’s data was only gathered through mid-March, there has been no discernable change since then in the close cooperation between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, says a senior western official familiar with the matter, speaking anonymously to share confidential assessments. Another sign of the Taliban’s unwillingness to temper most other militant groups’ activity other than its own enemy, ISIS-Khorasan is its failure to help the Trump Administration find two Americans still missing in the country. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs was kidnapped by elements of the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan on Jan. 31 and Paul Overby was presumed to have been kidnapped in 2014.

“The fact that they have continued to deny involvement or knowledge of the Frerichs case is another knock on their credibility as a counterterrorism partner,” a senior Administration official tells TIME, speaking anonymously to discuss the Trump Administration’s private frustrations with the Taliban.

Longtime advisors and observers of the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan say the Taliban has done nothing to show it can be trusted to protect U.S. security after U.S. troops have departed. “A drawdown of U.S. troops below the threshold of 8,600 puts at risk the counterterrorism operations under way in Afghanistan that keep Americans safe from Al Qaeda and its external attack plots,” says Kim Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War.

Without a U.S. counterterrorism platform in Afghanistan, the U.S. won’t just be unable to pursue terrorist targets in that country, it will risk its monitoring of South Asia, adds Frederick Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, who fears President Trump is intent on a 100% drawdown of all U.S. forces possibly before the election. Unlike Yemen, Libya and other countries where the U.S. is able to strike from afar, Afghanistan is landlocked.

“We won’t be able to thump al-Qaeda after we’ve left because we won’t be able to get there,” says Kagan. “They will not be able to conduct those kind of operations from boats 600 to 700 miles away….If and when we pull out of it completely, our counterterrorism operations in South Asia will end.”

New world news from Time: These Are 10 ‘Most Urgent’ Cases of Threats to Press Freedom In The World Right Now

A text to a colleague that he was “surrounded by soldiers” was the last that was heard of journalist Ibraimo Abú Mbaruco after he left work in the northern Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique on April 7. Since then, the reporter and news presenter for Palma Community Radio broadcaster hasn’t been seen, nor has he answered calls or messages.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, access to accurate, independent journalism is more important than ever, as misinformation about the virus can have deadly consequences. Yet, amid the pandemic, journalists in multiple countries are under the attack for seeking the truth.

Mbaruco is one of 10 journalists who appear on this month’s list of the most serious cases of attacks on press freedom around the world. The list is maintained by One Free Press Coalition — a collection of nearly 40 news organizations, including TIME — and released monthly. On Monday, the Coalition released the 16th addition.

The arrival of June marks crucial anniversaries for many of the journalists listed. On June 8, four Yemeni journalists — Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed and Tawfiq al-Mansouri — will have been held in detention for five years. In April the four were sentenced to death on charges of spreading “false news.” June 15 also marks the 10th anniversary since ethnic Uzbek journalist Azimjon Askarov was arrested while reporting on human rights abuses. And June 6 marks two years since Saudi blogged Nouf Abdulaziz at her home.

Here are the 10 most urgent cases of journalists under attack for pursuing the truth, ranked in descending order of urgency:

1. Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed and Tawfiq al-Mansouri (Yemen)

Yemeni journalists held five years and sentenced to death.

After death sentencing in April, June 9 will mark five years in detention for Yemeni journalists Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed and Tawfiq al-Mansouri. The Ansar Allah group, known as the Houthis, charged the four with spreading false news “in support of the crimes of Saudi aggression and its allies against the Republic of Yemen.” Their lawyer, who plans to appeal, has been allowed limited courtroom access. More than 150 organizations have called for the decision to be overturned.

Azimjon Askarov
Courtesy of Sherzod AskarovAzimjon Askarov, a contributor to independent news websites, including Voice of Freedom and director of the local human rights group Vozdukh (Air).

2. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan)

Life sentence upheld in case of journalist jailed 10 years in worsening health.

Last month a Kyrgyz court heard the final appeal, and upheld the life sentence, in the case of award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov. June 15 marks 10 years since the ethnic Uzbek was arrested on trumped-up charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred and complicity in the murder of a police officer. His wife, Khadicha Askarova, has written a letter to Kyrgyzstan’s president pleading for his release as his health deteriorates with limited access to medication.

Ibraimo AbuÌ Mbaruco
Courtesy of Juma Abu MbarucoIbraimo Abú Mbaruco, a reporter and news presenter for Palma Community Radio broadcaster.

3. Ibraimo Abú Mbaruco (Mozambique)

Reporter missing for nearly two months.

Ibraimo Abú Mbaruco, a reporter and news presenter for Palma Community Radio broadcaster, has not been heard from since April 7, when he left work in the northern Cabo Delgado province and texted a colleague saying he was surrounded by soldiers.” Civil society organizations have sent a letter to Mozambican President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi expressing concern about the deteriorating human rights situation exemplified by Mbaruco’s apparent military-enforced disappearance.

4. Nariman Memedeminov (Russia)

Journalist punished for writing about human rights violations against indigenous Crimeans.

In mid-May a Russian appeals court upheld charges against Nariman Memedeminov, a Ukrainian freelance journalist who was sentenced last October to 2.5 years in prison. He had already served 1.5 years in pre-trial detention between his arrest in Russian-controlled Crimea and conviction for making “public calls to terrorism” in his reporting. His defense team plans to file a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

5. Nouf Abdulaziz (Saudi Arabia)

Writer imprisoned two years for writing on women’s rights.

June 6 marks two years since Saudi blogger and postgraduate student Nouf Abdulaziz was arrested at her home, among a broad wave of activists silenced for their work relating to gender equality. Trial is pending for the public prosecutor to present several charges including “contact with foreign entities. Abdulaziz is being held in Riyadh’s al-Hair Prison, one of 26 journalists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia according to CPJ’s 2019 prison census, tying it with Egypt for the third-leading jailer of journalists.

Wawa Jackson Nfor
Courtesy of Derrick BakahCameroonian journalist Wawa Jackson Nfor

6. Wawa Jackson Nfor (Cameroon)

Court date set for journalist held in pretrial detention two years.

Journalist Wawa Jackson Nfor faces arraignment before a new judge on June 8, after more than two years held in pretrial detention on accusations of publishing secessionist information. A guilty verdict could carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. National gendarmes in Nkambe, a city in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest region, arrested Nfor without a warrant in May 2018.

Arphine Helisoa
Courtesy of Nadia RaonimanalinaArphine Helisoa, the director of Madagascar’s Ny Valosoa (The Reward) newspaper.

7. Arphine Helisoa (Madagascar)

Trial threatens imprisonment and revocation of journalist’s rights.

The director of Madagascar’s Ny Valosoa (The Reward) newspaper, Arphine Helisoa, faces trial for allegations of “incitement” and spreading “false news” regarding President Andry Rajoelina. Though she has been released since April 4 arrest, a conviction could carry up to five years in prison and possible prohibition of additional rights, including voting, for up to 10 years. Helisoa was previously detained in 2019 for “defamation” for a report alleging improper use of military equipment.

8. Masrat Zahra (India)

Police investigate, harass and intimidate photojournalist for images posted to Facebook.

Masrat Zahra, a freelance photojournalist in Kashmir, could face a fine or up to seven years in prison under a law permitting India’s counterterrorism police to detain suspects for extended periods without a formal charge. Police summoned her for questioning in April, opening an investigation of photographs posted on social media “glorifying anti-national activities” without specifying which images were deemed an offense against the state.”

9. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia)

Calls persist for investigation into journalist’s high-profile, brazen murder.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are reportedly working on new legislation to push the Trump administration to release secret findings on the full extent of Saudi Arabia’s role in Jamal Khashoggi’s death. In the time since the Washington Post columnist was killed inside Istanbul’s Saudi consulate in 2018, there has been no independent criminal investigation, and the U.S. executive branch ignored a mandated release of an intelligence report due January, 19 2020.

10. Óscar Parra and the Rutas del Conflicto team (Colombia)

Government obtained personal information from dozens of national and international journalists.

Media outlet Rutas del Conflicto, which is dedicated to documenting Colombia’s armed conflict, and its director, Óscar Parra, have been targeted by military intelligence officials in an extensive monitoring operation. The information collected from more than 130 individuals, including 30-plus journalists included personal information such as professional contacts, family and friends, according to a May 1 report from Colombian newsweekly Semana, titled “The Secret Files” (Las carpetas secretas).

New world news from Time: Bodies Are Being Left in Hospital Beds in Mumbai as Coronavirus Overwhelms India’s Financial Capital

Hospital wards with corpses left unattended in hallways. Patients asked to sleep on the floor until beds open up. A woman with brain damage who died because she was refused medical help until her family could prove she was virus-free.

The public health-care system in Mumbai, epicenter of India’s worsening coronavirus outbreak, is overwhelmed as Covid-19 patients pour in and hospital staff work around the clock. Medical care for non-coronavirus patients has basically been shut off due to a lack of resources.

“We are opening new wards daily but they get filled by end of day with Covid-19 patients. It is pretty bad right now,” said Saad Ahmed, a resident doctor at state-run King Edward Memorial Hospital in central Mumbai. “All wards are now Covid-19 wards and they are full to the capacity.”

Despite a strict two-month-long lockdown, the outbreak in India’s financial capital has snowballed, with the city now accounting for more than a fifth of India’s over 5,400 deaths and 190,600 infections. The pandemic’s center is shifting away from New York and Europe to nations like Brazil and India, where under-funded health care infrastructure and poor living conditions provide fertile ground for the virus. India’s virus death toll overtook China’s on Thursday.

A Twitter video in early May showed corpses of virus victims left on beds next to patients in a hospital ward in Mumbai’s state-run Lokmanya Tilak Hospital. The hospital probed the incident and replaced its dean. Pictures recently emerged of bodies left unattended in the hallways of King Edward Memorial hospital.

New Untouchables

Bodies have piled up in hospitals in the last few weeks after family members refused to claim them out of a fear of infection, said Madhuri Ramdas Gaikar, a nurse at the King Edward Memorial hospital. The intense fear around the virus has created a new class of untouchables in India, with the infected and their families being shunned by their neighbors or shunted out of rented apartments.

“We used to keep the paperwork and everything else ready, still bodies were not being taken away,” said Gaikar.

Hospitals’ emergency wards are seeing twice the number of patients they have beds for, said a doctor in a state-run hospital who did not want to be named fearing repercussions from her employer. That meant one oxygen station had to service multiple patients and some were forced to share beds, she said.

The other bottleneck is in critical care facilities and health care staff — doctors, nurses, lab technicians and cleaning staff — as many are infected or quarantined.

“Critical patients are struggling hard to get beds everywhere in Mumbai,” said Vikas Oswal, a private sector chest physician who also sees patients in the state-run Shatabdi Hospital. “It takes 12-16 hours to find a single bed. Beds get filled up immediately with next patient in queue.”

Even as India started implementing a phased exit from the world’s biggest lockdown, Maharashtra — the state where Mumbai is located — on Sunday extended the stay-at-home measures in the metropolis to June 30. Some small relaxations will kick in from June 5 in Mumbai such as allowing shops and markets to open on alternate days.

Fear Of Infection

While other virus epicenters from Wuhan to New York and Bergamo in Italy have seen similarly overwhelmed hospitals, Mumbai’s situation is compounded — some say created — by the reluctance of its massive and better-equipped private health system to get involved in virus care out of a fear of infection.

There was a shortage of beds for Intensive Care Units, or ICUs, and critical care initially when the pandemic broke out but it has largely been mitigated now, according to Sanjay Oak, a physician heading Mumbai’s virus task force set up in April by the Maharashtra government.

The state government has taken over 80% of general category beds and all the ICU beds in the city’s private health care facilities, Oak said in an email. These beds “are displayed and alloted through a common dash board” at an affordable price, he said.

Despite these efforts, some patients are still getting crowded out.

Members of a family, who did not want to be identified for fear of being stigmatized, spent a night in an ambulance after three private hospitals refused to hospitalize their elderly diabetic mother who had a fever and bouts of shivering. The private facilities insisted on a certificate showing she was virus-free, and kept redirecting her to the public hospitals.

The woman was asked to spend the night on the floor at a state-run hospital as she waited for her test results, as there were no vacant beds, said one of her relatives. The family chose to take her away and keep trying other hospitals.

S Kumar, a social worker in Mumbai, struggled to secure medical help for a woman who had suffered brain damage after a fall at home. At least three leading private hospitals insisted on a certificate saying she didn’t have Covid-19 before starting treatment, according to Kumar. The woman died before her treatment could start.

“Treatment delayed is treatment denied,” Kumar said, adding that he had seen at least half a dozen deaths in the past six weeks due to lack of timely medical care.

Social Inequality

The chaotic situation has also exposed the consequences of the social inequality that divides and defines Mumbai, where globe-trotting executives live in condominiums next to slums where their drivers, cooks and house cleaners reside.

The city’s deep-seated issues make it the perfect breeding ground for the highly-contagious pathogen, blunting the government’s efforts. It also houses Dharavi, Asia’s most-crowded slum, where as many as eight people may be staying in a 100-square-feet tin hutment and 80 sharing a public toilet.

Stigma has complicated contact tracing and social distancing efforts especially in slum clusters with health care workers being obstructed and cops being pelted with stones.

Local authorities have been aggressively ramping up facilities, readying as many as 100,000 beds by creating quarantine facilities everywhere from a race course to a planetarium and a nature park. A new 1,000 bed Covid-19 hospital was built from scratch within two weeks and started last week.

The local public health officials also sent notices to 75,000 private sector doctors to be ready for a two-week mandatory virus duty to rest the extremely fatigued and overworked public sector health care workers.

Slowing The Virus

Aggressive disinfecting and contact tracing has helped slow the rate at which virus cases are doubling across Mumbai. In the slum cluster of Dharavi, the pace is now 20 days instead of three in April.

While there are enough beds for non-critical and asymptomatic patients, Shatabdi Hospital’s Oswal said the real crunch was in beds, ventilators and oxygen stations for critical patients.

Patients come gasping for breath and sometimes couldn’t be saved, said the government hospital doctor cited earlier.

“The health care system will soon be placed in a very difficult situation where they have to make a choice between who to provide care to and who to simply say, ‘sorry, we can’t do anything for you’,” said Vivekanand Jha, executive director of the George Institute of Global Health in India.

For doctors and nurses at the frontlines, challenges mount.

There have been instances where relatives have just left the patients in wards and taken off scared that they might catch the virus, according to Ahmed, the doctor at King Edward Memorial Hospital.

“Health care staff has taken round-the-clock care of such patients,” he said. “We don’t know their names or history but have to start their treatment anyway.”

Sword Over Your Head

Some medical workers said that media coverage of bad conditions in government hospitals was demoralizing as they have been working relentlessly for weeks.

Gaikar, the nurse at King Edward Memorial Hospital, hasn’t stayed with her nine-year-old daughter or husband for two months. Neither has she visited her elderly parents for fear of infecting them.

“It’s a very difficult fight, as your own life is at stake,” Gaikar said. “There is this sword always hanging over your head. Will I test positive when my swab is taken after the duty?”

–With assistance from P R Sanjai and Bijou George.

New world news from Time: Israeli Defense Minister Apologizes for Death of Unarmed Palestinian Man by Police

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s defense minister apologized on Sunday for the Israeli police’s deadly shooting of an unarmed Palestinian man who was autistic.

The shooting of Iyad Halak, 32, in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, drew broad condemnations and revived complaints alleging excessive force by Israeli security forces.

Benny Gantz, who is also Israel’s “alternate” prime minister under a power-sharing deal, made the remarks at the weekly meeting of the Israeli Cabinet. He was sat near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made no mention of the incident in his opening remarks.

“We are really sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halak was shot to death and we share in the family’s grief,” Gantz said. “I am sure this subject will be investigated swiftly and conclusions will be reached.”

Halak’s relatives said he had autism and was heading to a school for students with special needs where he studied each day when he was shot.

In a statement, Israeli police said they spotted a suspect “with a suspicious object that looked like a pistol.” When he failed to obey orders to stop, officers opened fire, the statement said. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld later said no weapon was found.

Israeli media reported the officers involved were questioned after the incident as per protocol and a lawyer representing one of them sent his condolences to the family in an interview with Israeli Army Radio.

Lone Palestinian attackers with no clear links to armed groups have carried out a series of stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks in recent years.

Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups have long accused Israeli security forces of using excessive force in some cases, either by killing individuals who could have been arrested or using lethal force when their lives were not in danger.

Some pro-Palestinian activists compared Saturday’s shooting to the recent cases of police violence in the U.S.

New world news from Time: Thousands in London Join Cities Across the U.S. in Protesting the Death of George Floyd

(LONDON) — Thousands gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square to express their outrage over the death of a black American while in police custody in Minnesota.

Demonstrators clapped and waved placards as they offered support to U.S. demonstrators.

The crowd gathered despite government rules barring crowds because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New world news from Time: China’s Communist Party Says U.S. Actions on Hong Kong Is ‘Doomed to Fail’

(BEIJING) — The mouthpiece newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party said Saturday that the U.S. decision to end some trading privileges for Hong Kong “grossly interferes” in China’s internal affairs and is “doomed to fail.”

The Hong Kong government called President Donald Trump’s announcement unjustified and said it is “not unduly worried by such threats,” despite concern that they could drive companies away from the Asian financial and trading center.

An editorial in China’s official People’s Daily newspaper said that attempts at “forcing China to make concessions on core interests including sovereignty and security through blackmailing or coercion … can only be wishful thinking and day-dreaming!”

Trump’s move came after China’s ceremonial parliament voted Thursday to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and develop and enact national security legislation on its own for the semi-autonomous territory. Democracy activists and many legal experts worry that the laws could curtail free speech and opposition political activities.

China had issued no official response as of late Saturday, but earlier said it would retaliate if the U.S. went ahead with its threat to revoke trading advantages granted to Hong Kong after its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

“This hegemonic act of attempting to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs will not frighten the Chinese people and is doomed to fail,” the People’s Daily said.

In Hong Kong, small groups of Beijing supporters marched to the U.S. Consulate on Saturday carrying Chinese flags and signs protesting “American interference in China’s internal affair” and calling Trump “shameless and useless.”

Elsewhere in the city, youthful activists including Joshua Wong held a news conference to welcome Trump’s announcement and try to downplay any economic fallout.

Tensions between the U.S. and China over Hong Kong have increased over the past year, with the U.S. defending pro-democracy protesters who clashed with police last year and China vilifying them as terrorists and separatists.

“It is now clear that Hong Kong is caught in the middle of major China-U.S. tensions,” said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. “That is a real shame for Hong Kong and it will be a challenge in the months ahead.”

Joseph said there were many unanswered questions about how the trading relationship will unravel and predicted that “it won’t be like flipping a switch.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set the stage for Trump’s announcement by notifying Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer has the high degree of autonomy that it is guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Trump said Friday that his administration would begin eliminating the “full range” of agreements that had given Hong Kong a relationship with the U.S. that mainland China lacked, including exemptions from controls on certain exports.

“China has replaced its promised formula of one country, two systems, with one country, one system,” he said, echoing statements by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

A Hong Kong government statement accused Trump and his administration of smearing and demonizing the government’s duty to safeguard national security and called allegations that the security law would undermine individual freedoms “simply fallacious.”

“President Trump’s claim that Hong Kong now operated under ‘one country, one system’ was completely false and ignored the facts on the ground,” the statement said.

Separately, Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng told reporters that it was “completely false and wrong” to say the territory was losing its autonomy.

She also criticized the U.S., saying “any other state that tries to use coercion or whatever means with a view to interfering with the sovereign right of a state to pass its own national security law is arguably infringing on the principle of non-intervention under public international law, and that is not acceptable.”

Washington’s response could include U.S. travel bans or other sanctions on officials connected with the crackdown on last year’s pro-democracy protests, including members of the Hong Kong police force.

“Whatever attempt at suppressing or intimidating Hong Kong officials there may be, I think it won’t succeed, because we believe what we are doing is right,” said John Lee, Hong Kong’s secretary for security.

China decided to impose a national security law on the city after successive Hong Kong governments were unable or unwilling to do so themselves because of stiff public opposition. The one attempt to do so in 2003 was abandoned in the face of major protests.

Beijing’s resolve to move forward appears to have been hardened by the months of anti-government protests last year and a determination to prevent them from coming back this summer.