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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx grabs rocks from asteroid in historic mission - Al Jazeera English
Scientists want at least 60 grams of Bennu’s carbon-rich material – thought to contain the building blocks of life.
A NASA spacecraft touched down on the rugged surface of the Bennu asteroid on Tuesday, grabbing a sample of rocks dating back to the birth of the solar system to bring home. It was a first for the United States only Japan has previously secured asteroid samples. The so-called Touch-And-Go manoeuvre was managed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, where at 6.12pm (22:12 GMT) on Tuesday an announcer said: Touchdown declared. Sampling is in progress, and scientists erupted in celebration. Seconds later, the Lockheed mission operator Estelle Church confirmed the spacecraft had eased away from the space rock after making contact, announcing: Sample collection is complete and the back-away burn has executed. The historic mission was 12 years in the making and rested on a critical 16-second period where the minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft extended its 11-foot (3.35-metre) robotic arm towards a flat patch of gravel near Bennus north pole and plucked the sample of rocks NASAs first handful of pristine asteroid rocks. The probe will send back images of the sample collection on Wednesday and throughout the week so scientists can examine how much material was retrieved and determine whether the probe will need to make another collection attempt. This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu was composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km) [NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Handout via Reuters] Scientists want at least 2 ounces (60 grams) and, ideally, closer to 4 pounds (2 kilogrammes) of Bennus black, crumbly, carbon-rich material thought to contain the building blocks of the solar system. The asteroid is located more than 200 million miles (321.9 million kms) from Earth. NASAs science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, likened Bennu to the Rosetta Stone: Something thats out there and tells the history of our entire Earth, of the solar system, during the last billions of years. If a successful collection is confirmed, the spacecraft will begin its journey back towards Earth, arriving in 2023. Everything went just exactly perfect, Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said on a NASA live feed from Lockheeds mission support building. We have overcome the amazing challenges that this asteroid has thrown at us, and the spacecraft appears to have operated flawlessly. The robotic arms collection device, shaped like an oversized shower head, is designed to release pressurised gas to kick up debris. The spacecraft launched in 2016 from Kennedy Space Center for the journey to Bennu. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for nearly two years preparing for the Touch and Go manoeuvre. Bennu, which is more than 4.5 billion years old, was selected as a target because scientists believe it is a small fragment of what was once a much larger space rock that broke off during a collision between two asteroids early on in the history of the solar system. Asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system, Lori Glaze, NASAs director of Planetary Science, told Al Jazeera. They can provide valuable information about how planets, like our own, came to be. Thanks to data collected from orbit, the NASA team has determined two key discoveries: first, that between 5 and 10 percent of Bennus mass is water, and second, that its surface is littered with carbon-rich molecules. Atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could help scientists better understand what role asteroids played in bringing water to the Earth and seeding it with the prebiotic material that provided the building blocks for life. Studying that material could also help scientists discover whether life exists elsewhere in the solar system, as well. If this kind of chemistry is happening in the early solar system, it probably happened in other solar systems as well, Lauretta, OSIRIS-Rexs principal investigator, told Al Jazeera in an interview ahead of Tuesdays breakthrough. It helps us assess the likelihood of the origin of life occurring throughout the galaxy and, ultimately, throughout the universe. Japan expects samples from its second asteroid mission in the milligramMEs at most to land in the Australian desert in December.
Global heating kills half the corals on the Great Barrier Reef - Al Jazeera English
New research finds corals on vast Australian reef increasingly unable to recover from heat-caused bleaching.
Half the corals on Australias Great Barrier Reef have died over the past 25 years, scientists said Wednesday, warning that climate change is irreversibly destroying the World Heritage-listed underwater ecosystem. A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal found an alarming rate of decline across all sizes of corals since the mid-1990s on the vast reef that lies off the countrys northeastern coast. Larger species, such as branching and table-shaped corals, have been worst affected almost disappearing from the far northern reaches of the reef, researchers found. Theyre typically depleted by (up to) 80 or 90 percent compared to 25 years ago, report co-author and James Cook University professor Terry Hughes told the AFP news agency. They make the nooks and crannies that fish and other creatures depend on, so losing big three-dimensional corals changes the broader ecosystem. Aside from its inestimable natural, scientific and environmental value, the 2,300-kilometre-long (1,400-mile-long) reef was worth an estimated $4bn a year in tourism revenue for the Australian economy before the coronavirus pandemic struck. An undated handout photo received from the ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies on October 14, 2020 shows a damaged part of the Great Barrier Reef the vast World Heritage-listed reef off Australias northeastern coast [File: Andreas Dietzel/ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies via AFP] The reef is at risk of losing its coveted World Heritage Status because of ocean warming, fuelled by climate change, which is damaging its health. Changes in ocean temperatures stress healthy corals, causing them to expel algae living in their tissues and draining them of their vibrant colours in a process known as bleaching. Back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 prompted the government to downgrade the long-term outlook for the worlds largest living organism to very poor. Mass bleaching was first seen on the reef in 1998 at the time, the hottest year on record but as temperatures continue to soar its frequency has increased, making it harder for the reef to recover from each incident. A vibrant coral population has millions of small, baby corals, as well as many large ones the big mamas who produce most of the larvae, the studys lead author Andy Dietzel, also of James Cook University, said. Its resilience is compromised compared to the past because there are fewer babies and fewer large breeding adults. On top of long-term ocean warming and associated bleaching, the reef has been battered by several cyclones and two outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, which eat the coral, since 1995. Our latest research published today shows drastic changes on the #GreatBarrierReef over the past 25 years almost every coral species has declined, the mix of species has changed, colony sizes are smaller, and there are fewer juvenile corals. https://t.co/[email protected]_ADietzelhttps://t.co/YKlx2lSAvc Terry Hughes (@ProfTerryHughes) October 14, 2020 When the starfish occur in small numbers, they are considered part of the natural ecosystem, but when a large outbreak happens, they can rapidly destroy parts of the reef. While four mass bleaching events up to 2017 were covered by the latest research, the damage to coral species from bleaching in early 2020 is yet to be assessed. It was the most widespread bleaching on record, impacting swathes of the southern reaches of the reef for the first time. Hughes said scientists expected corals to continue dying off unless nations met their Paris Agreement commitment to keep the increase in global average temperature less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. It takes about a decade for a half-decent recovery for the fastest-growing species, so the chances of us getting decades between the future sixth, seventh and eighth bleaching events is close to zero because temperatures are going up and up and up, he said. An undated handout photo received from the ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies on October 14, 2020 shows a damaged part of the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists say climate change is causing irreversible damage to the reef [Andreas Dietzel/ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies via AFP] If temperatures do stabilise later this century under the Paris target, it is hoped that corals will be able to reassemble and rebuild their numbers. Even then, Hughes said: We dont think theyll rebuild into the mix of species that weve known historically. If the rise is as much as three or four degrees Celsius, forget it, he said. The trajectory is changing very, very quickly were shocked and surprised by how quickly these changes are happening and theres further change ahead.
Coronavirus can survive for 28 days on some surfaces: Study - Aljazeera.com
Australian researchers findings on SARS-CoV-2 virus reinforce need for hand washing and effective cleaning.
The virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on banknotes, glass and stainless steel for up to 28 days, much longer than the flu virus, Australian researchers said on Monday, highlighting the need for effective cleaning and hand washing to help combat the disease. Findings from the study done by Australias national science agency, CSIRO, appear to show that in a tightly controlled environment the virus remained infectious for longer than other studies have found. CSIRO researchers said that at 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) the SARS-COV-2 virus was extremely robust and remained infectious for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as plastic banknotes and glass found on mobile phone screens. The study was published in Virology Journal. By comparison, Influenza A virus has been found to survive on surfaces for only 17 days. It really reinforces the importance of washing hands and sanitising where possible and certainly wiping down surfaces that may be in contact with the virus, said the studys lead researcher Shane Riddell. The study involved drying virus in an artificial mucus on a range of surfaces at concentrations similar to samples from COVID-19 patients and then recovering the virus over a month. Experiments done at 20, 30 and 40 degrees Celsius showed the virus survived longer at cooler temperatures, smooth surfaces, and on paper banknotes rather than plastic ones. The researchers said that on cloth at 20 degrees they were unable to detect any viable virus beyond 14 days. At 30 degrees, the virus viability fell to just three days on cotton, compared with seven days for steel and smoother surfaces. Viability dropped further at 40 degrees Celsius. All the experiments were done in the dark to remove the impact of ultraviolet light, as research has shown direct sunlight can kill the virus. So in the real world results would likely be shorter than what we were able to show, Riddell told Reuters news agency. A new study by Australias national science agency shows the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can survive longer on paper banknotes than plastic ones [William West/AFP] Julie Leask, a professor in the Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney said the findings were useful but needed to be put in perspective. The study usefully confirms that surfaces may be a way to pass on coronavirus, but we should look to the epidemiology for how it actually moves between people in everyday life, Leask wrote on Twitter. That data shows its still close contact with an infected person that is risky and not from touching their mobile phone 5 days later. The infectious dose of SARS-CoV-2 is not yet known, but based on related viruses is thought to be about 300 particles. Researchers said if the virus was placed on smooth surfaces at the standard mucus concentration of an infected person enough virus would easily survive for two weeks to be able to infect another person. CSIRO noted that infection would depend on a number of factors including the makeup of the virus itself, the type of surface, and whether the virus is liquid or dried. The study might also help explain the apparent persistence and spread of the virus in cool environments like meat-packing facilities, it said.
Turkey slams EU threat of sanctions over East Med dispute - Al Jazeera English
Turkish foreign ministry warns against threat of measures amid Eastern Mediterranean standoff with Greece and Cyprus.
Turkey has rejected the Europeans Unions threat of sanctions over its energy exploration activities in the contentious Eastern Mediterranean. EU leaders warned early on Friday they could sanction Turkey if it failed to stop what the bloc views as illegal drilling and research in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. The continued use of the language of sanctions is unconstructive, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday. The EU must now understand it will get nowhere with such discourse. Conflict over the resource-abundant seabed was averted after Ankara and Athens last month agreed to hold exploratory talks. The neighbours, both NATO-members, staged rival war games in the disputed waters and ramped up their rhetoric in August, prompting Greece and Cyprus to demand a robust EU response. The EU summit statement offered Turkey the prospect of closer ties and better trade if Ankara commits to pursuing dialogue in good faith and abstaining from unilateral actions. While the Turkish ministry welcomed these positive elements, it said some parts were disconnected from reality. The EU statement demonstrated how some countries wanted to develop relations with Turkey, but was also an example of how Greece and Cyprus had taken EU-Turkey relations hostage, the ministry said. Berkay Mandiraci, a Turkey analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the EU statement was the best Ankara could have hoped for. Turkey also called on the EU to encourage dialogue between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots in the islands northern third to set up a mechanism to coordinate hydrocarbon activities. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup in Nicosia seeking to unite the whole island with Greece.
Trump denounces ‘all white supremacists’ including Proud Boys - Al Jazeera English
US president says his words were misinterpreted after he failed to denounce the far-right group at presidential debate.
US President Donald Trump has condemned all white supremacist groups, including the far-right Proud Boys, an organisation identified as a hate group, following comments he made at the presidential debate earlier this week. I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I dont know much about the Proud Boys but I condemn that, Trump said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday. If I say it a hundred times it wont be enough because its fake news, he added. During Tuesdays presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump was asked if he was willing to denounce white supremacists and militia groups and tell them to stand down amid violence that has marred anti-racism protests in some US cities. Trump requested a specific name, and Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, an organisation that describes itself as a club of Western chauvinists but has been categorised as a hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center. Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, Trump said. The comment drew wide criticism and was viewed by many to be a sign of encouragement for the group. The White House on Thursday insisted that President Donald Trump denounced the far-right Proud Boys at the debate, saying that his comment that the groups members should stand back and stand by had been misinterpreted. During a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president had been trying to tell Proud Boys members to stand down, adding that he had explicitly condemned white supremacy in the wake of the debate. The president specifically, verbatim was asked yesterday white supremacy, do you denounce them? To which he responded, I have always denounced any form of that, McEnany said, quoting Trump. Republican US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black, said Trump misspoke and called on him to correct his words. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters at the White House: I dont know who the Proud Boys are, adding, They have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work. The president has a long history of making comments that his critics view as racist or as supportive of racist groups. In 2017, he said both sides were to blame for violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. He later sought to walk back the comments. Trump called on Biden to condemn antifa, a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.
EU breaks deadlock to impose Belarus sanctions, Turkey on notice - Al Jazeera English
Cyprus backed plan after EU leaders reassured island with compromise over Turkey’s Mediterranean gas exploration.
European Union leaders broke a diplomatic deadlock on Friday to impose sanctions on Belarus, after reassuring the Republic of Cyprus that the bloc would also punish Turkey if it continued to drill for oil and gas in disputed areas of the Mediterranean. The deal, hammered out after hours of negotiations, will impose sanctions on about 40 officials accused of rigging Augusts presidential election in Belarus although the countrys president, Alexander Lukashenko, is not among those singled out. No. Lukashenko is not on the current list, but of course we will follow the situation, we will follow developments, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said after meeting EU leaders. Still, the deal allows the EU to deliver on its promise to support pro-democracy protesters in Belarus capital Minsk and regain some credibility after weeks of delays. The European Union is taking action against those who stand in the way of democracy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after fraught discussions among the 27 EU member states that dragged past midnight. I think that is an important signal. While Britain and Canada have already announced sanctions, the impasse in the EU, where decisions require unanimity, has dented the credibility of the blocs foreign policy, diplomats say. Sanctions in support of Belarus protesters were delayed by Cyprus, which wanted action against Turkey over its exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean [File: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo] Cyprus, one of the EUs smallest countries, had blocked action against Belarus for a month, insisting that sanctions also be imposed on Turkey, which has stepped up oil and gas exploration in disputed areas of the Mediterranean. After a short war in 1974, the island was split between the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government an EU member in the south, and a self-declared Turkish Cypriot administration in the north, which is backed by Turkey. Germany has pushed back against a tough stand on Turkey, which is both a candidate to join the EU and a member of NATO. In a sign that the diplomatic standoff is easing at least between Greece and Turkey NATO announced on Thursday that the two countries had set up a military deconfliction mechanism to avoid accidental clashes at sea. The compromise struck at the summit that satisfied Cyprus was an agreement to review Turkeys behaviour in December and impose sanctions if its provocations have not stopped. In case of such renewed actions by Ankara the EU will use all its instruments and options available, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday after the summit concluded. We have a toolbox that we can apply immediately. The EU issues a clear threat of sanctions against Turkey should it continue to violate international law, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter after the meeting. The European Councils Michel described the approach as a double strategy towards Ankara, offering closer relations on trade and other fronts but holding out the threat of sanctions if it fails to de-escalate tensions in the Mediterranean. It was the most that Merkel would bear, said an EU diplomat after the talks. She felt the Union should give Turkey a chance for another few weeks. But Turkey has been put on notice and the ball is in its court.
Macron claims Syrian fighters operating in Nagorno-Karabakh - Al Jazeera English
French president says he has evidence proving claim, which he describes as ‘grave development’.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said he is sure Syrian fighters were operating in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenia and Azerbaijan are engaged in heavy fighting. Macron said he has evidence that fighters have travelled through the Turkish city of Gaziantep on their way to the conflict in the South Caucasus, where the fiercest clashes in years have killed nearly 130 people. We have information today that indicates with certainty that Syrian fighters from jihadist groups have transited through Gaziantep to reach the theatre of operations in Nagorno-Karabakh, Macron said as he arrived for a summit with the European Union leaders in Brussels. This is a very grave new development, Macron warned, saying he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump to exchange all the information [they] have about this situation and draw all necessary conclusions. Armenia has accused Turkey of sending mercenaries to back its ally, Azerbaijan, and on Monday the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Ankara had dispatched at least 300 proxies from northern Syria. Turkey has pledged to support Azerbaijan by all means but has so far denied direct involvement in the conflict. Macron this week condemned what he called Turkeys reckless and dangerous statements backing Azerbaijan. Claims of Turkish involvement in the conflict look set to colour Thursdays EU summit in Brussels, which is expected to cover the blocs relations with Ankara as Greece and Cyprus push for a tough line against their old enemy over disputed east Mediterranean waters. Russias Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement that it had been informed of claims that mercenaries, sent from Libya and Syria, were involved in the fighting over the disputed territory. The presence of such illegal armed units would pose a long-term security risk for all nearby countries, Russias Foreign Ministry added. France, Russia and the US are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europes (OSCE) Minsk Group, set up in 1992 to mediate in the decades-old conflict over the mountainous enclave. On Thursday, they appealed for peace as the death toll rose in the heaviest clashes since the 1990s around Nagorno-Karabakh part of Azerbaijan, but run by its mostly ethnic Armenian inhabitants. We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the relevant military forces, the joint French, Russian and US statement said. They urged the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan to commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations, in good faith and without preconditions under what is called the Minsk process. The recent fighting has raised concerns that the flare-up could escalate into an all-out war, as the combatants look to regional powers Turkey, which supports Baku, and Russia, which maintains a military base in Armenia, for support.
Nagorno-Karabakh: Deadly fighting spills into fifth day - Al Jazeera English
Azerbaijan and Armenia refuse international appeal to hold dialogue, deepening fears of an all-out war.
Heavy shelling between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces has been reported around the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region as fighting raged for a fifth day, with both sides refusing to back down and heed international calls for talks. The fiercest clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in years over the breakaway region were ignited on Sunday, leaving scores from both sides dead. Azerbaijans general prosecutors office said on Thursday that Armenian shelling killed a civilian in its city of Terter, about 90km from Nagorno-Karabakh, in the morning and badly damaged the train station there. Separately, the countrys defence ministry said its forces had carried out crushing artillery strikes against Armenian forces positions in the occupied territories, throughout the night. In the city of Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh, known also as Khankendi, two explosions were heard around midnight as sirens sounded, the AFP news agency reported, adding that residents claimed the city had been attacked by drones. Ethnic-Armenian officials in the region described the overnight situation along the front line as tense and said both sides exchanged artillery fire. The enemy attempted to regroup its troops, but Armenian forces suppressed all such attempts, they said. Armenian authorities also claimed that two French nationals working as journalists for Le Monde were injured on Thursday during shelling by Azeri forces in the Armenian town of Martuni, west of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The reporters were being taking to hospital, authorities said in a statement. Nagorno-Karabakhs declaration of independence from Azerbaijan sparked a war in the early 1990s that killed 30,000 people, but it is still not recognised as independent by any country, including Armenia. Armenia and the breakaway region declared martial law and military mobilisation last week, while Azerbaijan imposed military rule and a curfew in large cities. Talks to resolve the conflict have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement. France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the Minsk Group, but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010. The two sides claim to have inflicted heavy losses on opposing forces in the conflict that carries the threat of drawing in regional powers Turkey and Russia, which support opposing sides. Yerevan, which is in a military alliance of former Soviet countries led by Moscow, has accused Turkey of dispatching mercenaries from northern Syria to bolster Azerbaijans forces in the conflict, adding it was concerned that members of illegal armed groups, including from Syria and Libya, were being deployed to the fight. The claims were refuted by Azerbaijan. Yerevan also said earlier this week that a Turkish F-16 flying in support of Bakus forces had downed an Armenian SU-25 warplane, but Ankara and Baku denied the claim. Al Jazeeras Bernard Smith, reporting from the Armenian capital, said that there were fears that the clashes could lead to full-scale war. There have been already clashes beyond Nagorno-Karabakh, in the border areas between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Smith said. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the claims made by both sides. Despite mounting international pressure, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have both rejected the idea of holding talks, even as calls for a halt in the fighting mount. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, in a telephone conversation late on Wednesday, issued the most recent call for a complete halt to fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and said they were ready to intensify diplomatic efforts to help resolve the conflict.
China approves arrest of 12 Hong Kong speedboat fugitives - Al Jazeera English
The group was reportedly trying to reach Taiwan when mainland authorities picked them up on August 23.
Chinese authorities have formally approved the arrests of 12 Hong Kong activists caught last month while allegedly trying to flee the territory for Taiwan. The group was picked up some 70 kilometres (43 miles) southeast of the city on August 23 while trying to escape by boat, authorities said at the time, adding that they were handed to police in Shenzhen, the southern mainland city bordering Hong Kong. The 12 had since disappeared into Chinas opaque judicial system, with lawyers struggling to access them and family members expressing fear over their fate. On Wednesday the Peoples Procuratorate of Yantian District in Shenzhen said it had approved the arrests. Two of the detainees, referred to as Deng and Qiao respectively, were arrested on suspicion of helping the others escape Hong Kong. These names were likely to refer to the Chinese surnames of detainees Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon. The other 10 including suspects with the names Li and Huang were arrested for making illegal border crossings. The case remains under investigation, the statement added. People in Hong Kong have been calling for the release of the 12 and organising postcard campaigns for the 12 arrested in southern China [Isaac Lawrence/AFP] Families of the 12 said in a statement they were shocked and concerned by the approval. Hong Kongs Security Bureau confirmed that mainland authorities informed local police of Wednesdays approval, but declined to comment on families complaints of lawyers being barred from visiting the detainees. Some of those on board the boat were facing prosecution in Hong Kong for activities linked to last years enormous and often violent pro-democracy protests, according to authorities in the territory. Lu Siwei, one of the mainland lawyers working on the case, told AFP news agency the period of detention for investigation could last as long as seven months. Review of (the) detentions legality can be applied for any time, Lu added, but said that for now it remains most important to seek a meeting with the 12 in custody. At least 14 mainland lawyers hired by the detainees families have been pressured by authorities to drop their clients, according to activists. None of the lawyers has managed to see their clients in custody, while senior officials in Hong Kong said the 12 were assigned lawyers by mainland Chinese authorities. Hong Kong has its own internationally respected legal system where detainees are promptly produced after their arrest and tried in open court, but the system on the mainland is notoriously opaque and controlled by the Communist Party. Conviction is all but guaranteed. In June, Beijing imposed a new security law on Hong Kong, announcing it would have jurisdiction for some crimes and that mainland security agents could openly operate in the city. The prospect of people in Hong Kong getting entangled in Chinas judicial system triggered months of protests last year after the government moved to allow extraditions to the mainland. The demonstrations soon evolved into broader calls for democracy and greater police accountability, and sometimes descended into violence. As Beijing has cracked down on Hong Kongs democracy movement, self-ruled Taiwan, one of the regions most vibrant democracies, has emerged as a sanctuary, quietly turning a blind eye to residents turning up without proper visas or paperwork.
Azerbaijan, Armenia reject talks as Karabakh conflict widens - Al Jazeera English
UN Security Council expresses concern about the clashes, as Guterres calls for halt in fighting.
Armenia and Azerbaijan accused one another of firing directly into each others territory and rejected pressure to hold peace talks as their conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh threatened to descend into all-out war. Both countries reported on Tuesday firing from the other side across their shared border, well to the west of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region over which fierce fighting broke out between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces on Sunday. The incidents signalled a further escalation of the conflict despite urgent appeals from Russia, the United States and others to halt the fighting. The conflict has reignited concerns about stability in the South Caucasus region, and threatens to drag in Turkey and Russia. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, speaking to Russian state television, flatly ruled out any possibility of talks. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the same channel there could be no negotiations while fighting continued. Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region inside Azerbaijan that is controlled by ethnic Armenians and backed by Armenia. It broke away from Azerbaijan in a war during the 1990s but is not recognised by any country as an independent republic. Dozens of people have been reported killed and hundreds wounded since clashes between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces broke out on Sunday. UN concern After a closed-door discussion on Tuesday the 15-member United Nations Security Council expressed concern about the clashes, condemned the use of force and backed a call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an immediate halt to fighting. Further stoking tensions between the two former Soviet republics, Armenia said a Turkish F-16 fighter jet had shot down one of its warplanes over Armenian airspace, killing the pilot. It provided no evidence of the incident. Turkey has denied the claim. Armenia should withdraw from the territories under its occupation instead of resorting to cheap propaganda tricks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogans top press aide Fahrettin Altun said. Earlier this week, Armenia accused Turkey of sending mercenaries to back Azerbaijani forces in the ethnically Armenian region. Putin appeal Any descent into all-out war could threaten to drag in not only Turkey, but Russia. Moscow has a defence alliance with Armenia, but also enjoys close relations with Azerbaijan. The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone to Pashinyan for the second time since the start of the crisis and said all sides should take measures to de-escalate. It has not made public any contacts between Putin and Aliyev. Moscow was in constant contact with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and any talk of providing military support for the opposing sides would only add fuel to the fire, it said. Rising casualties Pashinyan told the BBC in an interview that Azeri forces had shelled villages and towns in Nagorno-Karabakh and inside Armenia itself on Tuesday. There are casualties among both military and civilians. Dozens are killed and hundreds are wounded, he said. Azerbaijans prosecutors office said 12 Azeri civilians had so far been killed and 35 wounded by Armenian fire. The Azeri side has not disclosed military casualties. Nagorno-Karabakh has reported the loss of at least 84 soldiers. What can I say? Its a war. We hear air raids several times a day and hide in bomb shelters, Albert Voskanyan, a resident of the enclaves capital Stepanakert, told Reuters. Armenian officials said earlier that a civilian was killed in an Azeri attack on the Armenian town of Vardenis, more than 20km (12 miles) from Nagorno-Karabakh. They said a bus caught fire in the town after being hit by an Azeri drone. Azerbaijans defence ministry said that from Vardenis the Armenian army had shelled the Dashkesan region inside Azerbaijan. Armenia denied those reports.