News Brief: Puerto Rico's Governor, Hong Kong Protests, Tensions In Iran Puerto Rico's embattled governor says he won't seek reelection. In Hong Kong, an unidentified masked group attacked pro-democracy activists. Tensions are raised when Iran seizes a British oil tanker.
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News Brief: Puerto Rico's Governor, Hong Kong Protests, Tensions In Iran

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News Brief: Puerto Rico's Governor, Hong Kong Protests, Tensions In Iran

News Brief: Puerto Rico's Governor, Hong Kong Protests, Tensions In Iran

News Brief: Puerto Rico's Governor, Hong Kong Protests, Tensions In Iran

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/744023588/744023589" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Puerto Rico's embattled governor says he won't seek reelection. In Hong Kong, an unidentified masked group attacked pro-democracy activists. Tensions are raised when Iran seizes a British oil tanker.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, says he will not seek reelection in 2020.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He said that after a week of protests in San Juan. Demonstrators want him to quit. He was under pressure even before the media published hundreds of pages of text messages between the governor and his main advisers. Here's what we do not know - is the announcement that he won't seek reelection but will stay in the job for now enough for Puerto Ricans who planned another demonstration today?

MARTIN: We are joined by NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan covering this. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So tell us more about what Governor Rossello said about his political future.

FLORIDO: Well, yesterday evening without any advanced notice, the governor went onto Facebook Live and said that he would not be running for governor next year as he'd originally planned. He also said he would be resigning the presidency of his party - that's Puerto Rico's pro-statehood party. Let's listen to what he said on Facebook Live.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICARDO ROSSELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Importantly, the governor also said that he would not resign the governorship as protesters have been demanding for more than a week, that he would finish his current term, and also that he would welcome defending himself in an impeachment process that the island's legislature appears to be preparing to begin to initiate against him.

MARTIN: So he was just saying that, again, that he wasn't going to run for reelection. Is that going to be enough to satisfy all those critics?

FLORIDO: No. And the governor's announcement seemed to only anger protesters out on the streets even more. Right after he made his announcement, I actually went out to the protest that was happening outside of the governor's mansion and spoke with people who said that his decision not to seek reelection wasn't enough. They said he had to resign now. They seemed even more motivated to continue protesting because this was no longer just about the governor, they told me, that the governor had become sort of a symbol of decades of corruption and bad decisions by leaders that have gotten Puerto Rico into all kinds of crises - fiscal crises, post-hurricane crises - and that they want something new.

It's an interesting - really interesting thing that's been happening over the last week which is that each time the governor said he's not going to step down, the crowds and the demonstrations against him only seem to get more energized. And, you know, really, these protests happening across the island are remarkable and unlike anything that Puerto Rico has ever seen.

MARTIN: I mean, we should just remind people this was about allegations of corruption within his own administration, his general handling of the aftermath of the hurricane and these specific text messages that were, to many, seem to be misogynist and offensive, right?

FLORIDO: Misogynist and offensive and sort of reflective of a governor and more broadly, the sort of a political system that is sort of out of touch with the real struggles that Puerto Ricans have been facing for more than a decade because of all those crises I was just talking about.

Tomorrow there is a massive protest - I'm sorry. This morning, in fact, there's a massive protest planned here in San Juan. It's going to take over San Juan's biggest highway. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to show up. It's - everyone's talking about this being one of the most important days in Puerto Rico's history in terms of it being a political awakening for people.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, thank you so much.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the choice for Puerto Rican protesters is whether the governor's concession is enough. In Hong Kong, though, protesters have already shown the government's concessions are clearly not.

INSKEEP: For seven weeks, demonstrators have been protesting Hong Kong's government and the control that mainland China has increased over the territory. It all started as a protest against an extradition bill that critics feared would open the door to China prosecuting political opponents in Hong Kong. The bill was suspended. Hong Kong's leader said it was dead, but that was not enough. And over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets again.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Julie McCarthy on the line who's been on the ground in Hong Kong. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: So Steve noted there were these huge protests over the weekend, as we have seen for so many weekends. And there was some violence - in particular, this incident where an unidentified group attacked pro-democracy activists. Is that right? What can you tell us?

MCCARTHY: Well, it was a really vicious attack. And it put 45 people in the hospitals - in the hospital. Protesters had just stepped from the train on their way home late last night when a group of men dressed in white T-shirts - opposite of the protesters signature black T-shirts - attacked them. Here's what it sounded like as they were pummeling and kicking these pro-democracy protesters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Yelling in foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF BATON SMACKING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Yelling).

(SOUNDBITE OF BATON SMACKING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Yelling).

MCCARTHY: There's a theory circulating that the assailants were supporters of mainland China. This happened in the New Territories that abuts the Chinese mainland. It took the police over an hour to respond. One pro-democracy lawmaker who got bloodied in the assault said he suspected it was intentionally delayed. You know, mysterious men attacking citizens deepens Hong Kong's anxieties now.

MARTIN: Right.

MCCARTHY: And here's what Carrie Lam, the chief executive, had to say today as she condemned this attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARRIE LAM: Violence is not a solution to any problem. Violence will only breed more violence. And at the end of the day, the whole of Hong Kong and the people will suffer.

MARTIN: So, Julie, though, what is this about in this moment? I mean, Carrie Lam declared that this extradition bill was over. It was dead. So what do protesters specifically want?

MCCARTHY: Well, they still want the extradition bill totally withdrawn. It's only been suspended. And, you know, that bill has come to symbolize for the protesters Beijing's strengthening grip over Hong Kong in defiance of the one country, two systems formula it had promised Hong Kong. Hong Kong's freedoms were supposed to be honored in that bargain, and instead, protesters say China is eroding them. And that has expanded into a demand for political reform.

They want to elect their own government. If they're going to preserve their liberties, they say, we better start selecting our own leaders. But they have to wrest control from Beijing because they basically approve Hong Kong's officials.

MARTIN: And I understand there are - some divisions have emerged among the protesters.

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, it was another day of defiance. But, you know, I didn't see those cracks in the movements, in this unity, which is really rather remarkable. You know, even when protesters managed to spray paint the Chinese liaison office, Beijing's most important body here, the local administrator - when they did that, people weren't too put off by it. It was the local administration that fumed they were challenging Beijing's sovereignty, which is what the demonstrators said they had intended. And if there are cracks in that goals, you don't see them - quite the opposite.

MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy reporting for us this morning. Thanks, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: OK, so why did Iranian forces seize a British-flagged oil tanker? Iran has given several conflicting reasons.

INSKEEP: We do know a bit more about how Iran seized the ship. Newly released audio captures the moment when Iranian forces approached the giant tanker called the Stena Impero.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Stena Impero, this is (unintelligible). Boat in the vicinity. If you obey, you will be safe.

INSKEEP: If you obey, you will be safe is the warning there by radio. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter over the weekend that Iran did this to, quote, "uphold international maritime rules." The U.K. sees things differently, and Prime Minister Theresa May chairs an emergency security session today to discuss a response.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Greg Myre with us in studio. Greg, tell us more about this oil tanker. Where was it going? What was it doing?

GREG MYRE, HOST:

Right, so this was a British-flagged tanker. It was in the Gulf, and it was seized by Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Friday. In addition to the audio we just played, there was some dramatic video of this that came out over the weekend. It shows an Iranian helicopter, and the - the Revolutionary Guard troops rappelling down a rope onto this vessel which it has seized and taken to an Iranian port.

There's a crew of 23. Eighteen of them are citizens of India. No citizens of Britain, but it's created this real standoff with Britain. And as we mentioned, Prime Minister Theresa May is having a meeting today with her Security Council. We'll likely to see what Britain intends to do. I think the thing to be looking for is not necessarily a military response right now, but Britain may be willing to join this sort of maritime escort that the U.S. is trying to organize to have military ships escort oil tankers in the Gulf to prevent this kind of thing.

MARTIN: So explain the justification that Iran has given us. Steve noted they've been kind of back-and-forth with conflicting messages. Where did they land?

MYRE: Well, I think it's really that it's a tit for tat operation here. On July 4, Britain seized an Iranian tanker off the waters of Gibraltar. This was apparently an Iranian tanker filled with oil headed to Syria according to Britain. And Britain said this is in violation of European Union sanctions, and then that's why they've seized it and are still holding that ship.

MARTIN: Except Iran isn't subject to those sanctions.

MYRE: That's Iran's argument. They're saying, you know, that's European Union business. And their sanctions with Syria, that's - that doesn't involve us. You should not be taking our tanker. And in a very similar commando style, the - Iran responded on Friday. So now we had this standoff, and we'll see how that plays out.

MARTIN: And so you mentioned Britain's response in part has been to create some kind of escort system. What's been the broader international response to this?

MYRE: So what it has - there's been a lot of criticism of Iran. And there wasn't great enthusiasm for this sort of U.S. - the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal, of imposing sanctions on Iran. But we've seen France and Germany and even Britain was supportive of keeping the nuclear deal in place. But Iran's action is having the effect of encouraging countries to criticize Iran. It may increase the desire of other countries to join this sort of escort to help protect the safety of tankers in the Gulf.

INSKEEP: This would be like warships and warplanes just watching after tankers as we saw they go.

MYRE: We saw this back in the 1980s, where the U.S. would escort with naval craft and helicopters, making sure that oil tankers were not attacked as they headed in and out of the Gulf.

MARTIN: So much more to cover in coming days I am sure. NPR's Greg Myre on this. Thank you, Greg. We appreciate it.

MYRE: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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