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Morning Brief

In Hong Kong, Students and Police Are at a Standoff

A battle between protesters and police rages at a Hong Kong university campus after a weekend of violence and dozens of arrests.

Anti-government protesters throw gasoline bombs after clashes with police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18 in Hong Kong Kong.
Anti-government protesters throw gasoline bombs after clashes with police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18 in Hong Kong Kong. Laurel Chor/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Tensions are still running high after campus violence in Hong Kong over the weekend, Lebanon’s political crisis spirals, and what to watch in the world this week.

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After Weekend Battle, Uncertainty Reigns in Hong Kong

Riot police in Hong Kong breached barricades around a university on Monday, after a two-day standoff with the police firing tear gas and water cannons and student activists responding with arrows, gasoline bombs, and fire. Police reportedly laid siege to Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s campus, sealing exits and arresting students that tried to escape.

The standoff follows nearly a week of campus clashes between students and police, with escalating violence forcing universities across Hong Kong to close. Late on Sunday, police threatened to use live rounds against student activists using handmade weapons. Dozens of protesters outside the university—not students—were arrested as they demanded that police end the siege.

Fears of a crackdown. The violence at Polytechnic University is the worst in five months of unrest in Hong Kong, and tensions between the protesters and police are still running high. Those still trapped inside the campus say they are running low on food and water and need medical attention for injured protesters. The university standoff reached a peak just as Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that a government ban on face masks—announced last month as a way to contain the protesters—is incompatible with the city’s mini-constitution.

What will Beijing do? China has urged an end to the violence and the pro-democracy protests in the city, with state media on Monday calling the student protesters “terrorists” and the university campus a “war zone.” But it has not yet deployed force of its own. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam—who still retains Beijing’s support—has so far remained silent over the university clashes.

What We’re Following Today

Lebanon’s political crisis grows. Mohammed Safadi, the top candidate to be Lebanon’s next prime minister, withdrew his name from consideration over the weekend after struggling to form a government with broad support. Sunday marked one month of protests, and thousands of demonstrators across the country took to the streets against the ruling elite. Prime Minister Saad Hariri stepped down on Oct. 29, and a new government would need to enact urgent reforms amid economic crisis. With Safadi out, the chances of forming a government able to do so seemed to grow slimmer.

Internet blocked in Iran amid fuel hike protests. Iran’s government shut down the internet across most of the country amid growing protests against a move to raise the price of gasoline. Security forces and protesters clashed over the weekend, with at least 12 people dead. On Sunday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei backed the price increase and blamed the protests on “sabotage.” While gas remains cheaper in Iran than in much of the world, Iran is struggling with an economic crisis amid harsh U.S. sanctions.

Boris Johnson campaigns on tax cuts. Today, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to offer tax cuts to business leaders wary of the potential disruption caused by Brexit. The speech at a conference of Britain’s main business lobby group could be tense: Many business leaders opposed the vote to leave the European Union in 2016. Now, Johnson is trying to pitch his deal to them as campaigning for the Dec. 12 parliamentary elections gets into full swing. Johnson’s Conservative party is still polling ahead of the opposition Labour party.

The World This Week

Public impeachment hearings in the U.S. Congress continue this week, with eight current and former administration officials to testify, including special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker (Tuesday), Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland (Wednesday), and former Russia advisor Fiona Hill (Thursday). Thursday is also the deadline for Congress to avoid a government shutdown, with lawmakers seeking a delay for a few weeks.

Britain’s ITV holds a live TV election debate on Tuesday with Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn facing off. Johnson’s Conservatives currently lead Labour by as much as 16 points in one poll. The Liberal Democrats, polling third, are pursuing legal action against ITV for excluding party leader Jo Swinson from the debate.

Israeli politician Benny Gantz faces a deadline to form a government on Wednesday, a month after being handed a mandate by President Reuven Rivlin. Gantz’s Blue and White party has not ruled out forming a minority government supported by the Arab Joint List, despite protest from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. If Gantz fails, Israel will see its third general election within a year.

Keep an Eye On

Sri Lanka’s next president. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was declared the winner of Sri Lanka’s presidential election by a larger margin than expected on Sunday. The former defense minister campaigned on a promise to root out terrorism following the deadly bombings that rocked the country in April. He is expected to hand key positions to his brothers: One, Mahinda Rajapaksa, previously served as president.

Dollarization in Venezuela. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro welcomed the use of the U.S. dollar on Sunday, after years of forbidding the currency. Dollar transactions have increased in this year as the official currency, the bolivar, lost more than 90 percent of its value. Facing U.S. sanctions, Venezuela’s central bank has been injecting euros into the economy.

Protests in Georgia. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on Sunday to call for snap elections. The rally came days after the parliament rejected a planned electoral reform. Opposition activists, who began calling for change in June, say the current arrangement favors the ruling party.

World on Fire. Youth protests are flaring across the world, from Hong Kong to the Middle East to the Americas. But what links these movements, and what kind of impact will they have?

Join FP’s editor in chief Jonathan Tepperman and a panel of notable specialists on Tuesday, Nov. 19, for a live discussion of the motivations and implications of the rising wave of street demonstrations. Register here to participate.

Odds and Ends

Bangladesh has been forced to fly in onions as the price of the vegetable soars, triggering political discontent: The opposition party called a nationwide protest today. Restaurants across the country—as well as the prime minister’s residence—have cut onions from their menus amid the shortage, which began when India banned onion exports due to a poor harvest.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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