staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.

In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.

“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”

The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.

Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.

unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.

Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.

Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.

The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.

Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.

ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.

military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.

“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.

accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.

fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.

The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.

only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.

If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.

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Cambodia’s Internet May Soon Be Like China’s: State-Controlled

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The day Kea Sokun was arrested in Cambodia, four men in plainclothes showed up at his photography shop near Angkor Wat and carted him off to the police station. Mr. Kea Sokun, who is also a popular rapper, had released two songs on YouTube, and the men said they needed to know why he’d written them.

“They kept asking me: ‘Who is behind you? What party do you vote for?’” Mr. Kea Sokun said. “I told them, ‘I have never even voted, and no one controls me.’”

The 23-year-old artist, who says his songs are about everyday struggles in Cambodia, was sentenced to 18 months in an overcrowded prison after a judge found him guilty of inciting social unrest with his lyrics. His case is part of a crackdown in which dozens have been sent to jail for posting jokes, poems, pictures, private messages and songs on the internet.

Vietnam to Turkey, and that it will deepen the clash over the future of the web.

National Internet Gateway, set to begin operating on Feb. 16, will send all internet traffic — including from abroad — through a government-run portal. The gateway, which is mandatory for all service providers, gives state regulators the means to “prevent and disconnect all network connections that affect national income, security, social order, morality, culture, traditions and customs.”

Government surveillance is already high in Cambodia. Each ministry has a team that monitors the internet. Offending content is reported to an internet crime unit in the Ministry of Interior, the center of the country’s robust security apparatus. Those responsible can be charged with incitement and sent to prison.

But rights groups say that the new law will make it even easier for the authorities to monitor and punish online content, and that the recent arrests are meant to further intimidate citizens into self-censorship in a country where free speech is enshrined in the Constitution.

“The authorities are emboldened by China as an example of an authoritarian state that gives Cambodia political cover, new technology and financial resources,” said Sophal Ear, a dean at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University whose family escaped the Khmer Rouge, the murderous regime that seized power in Cambodia in 1975.

arrested in October.

In August, a former agriculture professor was sentenced to 18 months in prison for making jokes on Facebook about requiring chickens to wear anti-Covid masks. He was charged with incitement and with defaming the prime minister, as well as the minister of agriculture.

Weeks later, a farmer, frustrated by the government’s failed promise to subsidize longan crops while the pandemic kept borders closed to exports, posted a video of tons of his annual harvest going to rot. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Of more than 30 arrests made over digital content since 2020, the most publicized one involved an autistic 16-year-old who was released in November. The teenager, Kak Sovann Chhay, had been jailed for comments he made in a chat group on Telegram, the private messaging app.

has more than 13 million followers.

Internet service providers have asked the authorities to provide more clarity about the gateway. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said in a statement that it had “joined with other stakeholders in sharing our feedback on this new law with the Cambodian government, and expressing our strong support for a free and open internet.”

prime minister “Zoom-bombed” an online meeting for members of the Cambodian National Rescue Party. He took to Facebook to explain the intrusion: “This entry was just to give a warning message to the rebel group to be aware that Mr. Hun Sen’s people are everywhere.”

San Mala, a senior advocacy officer with the Cambodian Youth Network, said activists and rights groups were already using coded language to communicate across online messaging platforms, knowing that the authorities had been emboldened by the decree.

“As a civil society organization, we are concerned about this internet gateway law because we fear that our work will be subjected to surveillance or our conversations will be eavesdropped on or they will be able to attend online meetings with us without invitation or permission,” said Mr. San Mala, 28.

Khmer Land,” one of the songs that got him arrested, now has more than 4.4 million views on YouTube, and Mr. Kea Sokun is already working on his next album.

“I’m not angry, but I know what happened to me is unfair,” he said. “The government made an example out of me to scare people who talk about social issues.” He said he could have had his sentence reduced if he had apologized, but he refused.

“I won’t say I’m sorry,” Mr. Kea Sokun said, “and I never will.”

Soth Ban and Meas Molika contributed reporting.

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Hayward Adding Derek Spearman in New Vice President of US Manufacturing Position

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Hayward Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: HAYW) (“Hayward”), global designer, manufacturer and marketer of a broad portfolio of pool equipment and technology, announces that Derek Spearman is joining the company as the Vice President of US Manufacturing. In this newly created role, Spearman will be responsible for all plant and planning operations for the company’s US-based plants.

I am honored to join the Hayward team, and I look forward to continuing to build upon its solid foundation,” Spearman said. “Hayward is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the rapidly changing manufacturing environment thanks to its great business model and talented management team. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I am looking forward to making an impact.”

Spearman is joining Hayward’s Global Operations Staff, which is led by Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer Donald Smith.

Derek Spearman is joining Hayward in a new and vitally-important role where he will add additional experience, capacity and quality to what is already a world-class Operations team. Hayward will benefit greatly from Derek’s expertise in domestic and international operations leadership, Lean Manufacturing deployment, and strategic capacity and operational footprint design. I am excited for him to get started,” Smith said.

Spearman is joining Hayward after spending four years at Timken Company where he was the Vice President of Lovejoy Incorporated. At Timken, Spearman directed operations at five domestic and international plants staffed by more than 400 people, and he managed budgets exceeding $100 million.

Spearman has also previously held roles as a Director of Operations, Plant Manager, Six Sigma Blackbelt Lean Leader, Quality Director, and Area Manager with organizations such as GKN Driveline, Matcor-Matsu Group, Ford Motor Company, Eli Lilly, and Whirlpool Corporation.

Spearman earned an MBA from Webster University and a Bachelor of Science from Purdue University.

About Hayward Holdings, Inc.

Hayward Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:HAYW) is a leading global designer and manufacturer of pool equipment and technology all key to the SmartPad™ conversion strategy designed to provide a superior outdoor living experience. Hayward offers a full line of innovative, energy-efficient and sustainable residential and commercial pool equipment, including a complete line of advanced pumps, filters, heaters, automatic pool cleaners, LED lighting, internet of things (IoT) enabled controls, alternate sanitizers and water features.

This release contains forward-looking statements and information relating to the Company that are based on the beliefs of management as well as assumptions made by, and information currently available to management. When used in this release, words such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “could,” “intend,” “potential,” “continue,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “expect,” “plan,” “target,” “predict,” “project,” “seek” and similar expressions as they relate to us are intended to identify forward-looking statements. These statements reflect management’s current views with respect to future events, are not guarantees of future performance and involve risks and uncertainties that are difficult to predict. Further, certain forward-looking statements are based upon assumptions as to future events that may not prove to be accurate. Actual results or events could differ materially from the plans, intentions and expectations disclosed in forward-looking statements. Hayward has based these forward-looking statements largely on management’s current expectations and projections about future events and financial trends that management believes may affect Hayward’s business, financial condition and results of operations. Important factors that could affect Hayward’s future results and could cause those results or other outcomes to differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements include the following: our ability to execute on our growth strategies and expansion opportunities; our ability to maintain favorable relationships with suppliers and manage disruptions to our global supply chain and the availability of raw materials; our relationships with and the performance of distributors, builders, buying groups, retailers and servicers who sell our products to pool owners; competition from national and global companies, as well as lower cost manufacturers; impacts on our business from the sensitivity of our business to seasonality and unfavorable economic and business conditions; our ability to identify emerging technological and other trends in our target end markets; our ability to develop, manufacture and effectively and profitably market and sell our new planned and future products; failure of markets to accept new product introductions and enhancements; the ability to successfully identify, finance, complete and integrate acquisitions; our ability to attract and retain senior management and other qualified personnel; regulatory changes and developments affecting our current and future products; volatility in currency exchange rates; our ability to service our existing indebtedness and obtain additional capital to finance operations and our growth opportunities; impacts on our business from political, regulatory, economic, trade, and other risks associated with operating foreign businesses; our ability to establish and maintain intellectual property protection for our products, as well as our ability to operate our business without infringing, misappropriating or otherwise violating the intellectual property rights of others; the impact of material cost and other inflation; the impact of changes in laws, regulations and administrative policy, including those that limit US tax benefits or impact trade agreements and tariffs; the outcome of litigation and governmental proceedings; impacts on our business from the COVID-19 pandemic; and other risks and uncertainties set forth under “Risk Factors” in the prospectus for Hayward’s initial public offering and in Hayward’s subsequent SEC filings.

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The Army of Millions Who Enforce China’s Zero-Covid Policy

China’s “zero Covid” policy has a dedicated following: the millions of people who work diligently toward that goal, no matter the human costs.

In the northwestern city of Xi’an, hospital employees refused to admit a man suffering from chest pains because he lived in a medium-risk district. He died of a heart attack.

They informed a woman who was eight months pregnant and bleeding that her Covid test wasn’t valid. She lost her baby.

Two community security guards told a young man they didn’t care that he had nothing to eat after catching him out during the lockdown. They beat him up.

a strict lockdown in late December when cases were on the rise. But it was not prepared to provide food, medical care and other necessities to the city’s 13 million residents, creating chaos and crises not seen since the country first locked down Wuhan in January 2020.

the weaknesses in China’s authoritarian system. Now, with patients dying of non-Covid diseases, residents going hungry and officials pointing fingers, the lockdown in Xi’an has shown how the country’s political apparatus has ossified, bringing a ruthlessness to its single-minded pursuit of a zero-Covid policy.

Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is in a much better position than Wuhan in early 2020, when thousands of people died of the virus, overwhelming the city’s medical system. Xi’an has reported only three Covid-related deaths, the last one in March 2020. The city said 95 percent of its adults were vaccinated by July. In the latest wave, it had reported 2,017 confirmed cases by Monday and no deaths.

read a self-criticism letter in front of a video camera. “I only cared about whether I had food to eat,” the young man read, according to a widely shared video. “I didn’t take into account the serious consequences my behavior could bring to the community.” The volunteers later apologized, according to The Beijing News, a state media outlet.

Three men were caught while escaping from Xi’an to the countryside, possibly to avoid the high costs of the lockdown. They hiked, biked and swam in wintry days and nights. Two of them were detained by the police, according to local police and media reports. Together they were called the “Xi’an ironmen” on the Chinese internet.

Then there were the hospitals that denied patients access to medical care and deprived their loved ones the chance to say goodbye.

The man who suffered chest pain as he was dying of a heart attack waited six hours before a hospital finally admitted him. After his condition worsened, his daughter begged hospital employees to let her in and see him for the last time.

A male employee refused, according to a video she posted on Weibo after her father’s death. “Don’t try to hijack me morally,” he said in the video. “I’m just carrying out my duty.”

commented that some local officials were simply blaming their underlings. It seemed, the broadcaster wrote, only low-level cadres have been punished for these problems.

There are reasons people in the system showed little compassion and few spoke up online.

An emergency room doctor in eastern Anhui Province was sentenced to 15 months in prison for failing to follow pandemic control protocols by treating a patient with a fever last year, according to CCTV.

A deputy director-level official at a government agency in Beijing lost his position last week after some social media users reported that an article he wrote about the lockdown in Xi’an contained untruthful information.

In the article, he called the lockdown measures “inhumane” and “cruel.” It bore the headline “The Sorrow of Xi’an Residents: Why They Ran Away from Xi’an at the Risk of Breaking the Law and Death.”

diary, no citizen journalists Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin or Zhang Zhan posting videos. The four of them have either been silenced, detained, disappeared or left dying in jail — sending a strong message to anyone who might dare to speak out about Xi’an.

The only widely circulated, in-depth article about the Xi’an lockdown was written by the former journalist Zhang Wenmin, a Xi’an resident known by her pen name, Jiang Xue. Her article has since been deleted and state security officers have warned her not to speak further on the matter, according to a person close to her. Some social media users called her garbage that should be taken out.

A few Chinese publications that had written excellent investigative articles out of Wuhan didn’t send reporters to Xi’an because they couldn’t secure passes to walk freely under lockdown, according to people familiar with the situation.

The Xi’an lockdown debacle hasn’t seemed to convince many people in China to abandon the country’s no-holds-barred approach to pandemic control.

told Xi’an officials on Monday that their future pandemic control efforts should remain “strict.”

“A needle-size loophole can funnel high wind,” he said.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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Kazakhstan Protests Lead President to Crack Down: ‘Fire Without Warning’

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan said Friday that he had authorized the nation’s security forces to “fire without warning” as the government moved to bring an end to two days of chaos and violence after peaceful protests descended into scenes of anarchy.

“We hear calls from abroad for the parties to negotiate to find a peaceful solution to the problems,” President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in an address to the nation. “This is just nonsense.”

“What negotiations can there be with criminals and murderers,” he said. “They need to be destroyed and this will be done.”

The government said that order had been “mainly restored” across the country as Russian troops joined with the country’s security forces to quell widespread unrest.

the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

This is the first time in the history of the alliance that its protection clause has been invoked.

Even as Russian paratroopers from the elite 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade landed in Almaty, gunbattles raged in the streets late into the night, according to video from a BBC correspondent on the scene.

lifted price caps for liquefied petroleum gas, a low-carbon fuel that many Kazakhs use to power their cars. But the frustration among the people runs deep in regards to social and economic disparities.

“The United States and, frankly, the world will be watching for any violations of human rights,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. “We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions.”

Meanwhile, China expressed full support for the Kazakh leader.

“You decisively took effective measures at critical moments to quickly calm the situation, which embodies your responsibility as a politician,” China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, said in a message to Mr. Tokayev, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

Kazakhstan has been expanding its ties with China in recent years. The country plays a central role in Mr. Xi’s signature infrastructure program, known as “One Belt, One Road,” which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road and build up other trading routes between Asia and Europe to pump Chinese products into foreign markets.

In his message, Mr. Xi condemned any efforts to undermine Kazakhstan’s stability and peace, as well as its relationship with China. He told Mr. Tokayev that Beijing “resolutely opposes external forces deliberately creating turmoil and instigating a ‘color revolution’ in Kazakhstan,” the news agency said.

The Xinhua report did not elaborate on what Mr. Xi was referring to, but the Chinese Communist Party has often invoked the theme of foreign meddling to explain unrest, including in Hong Kong.

The protests in Kazakhstan started on Sunday with what appeared to be a genuine outpouring of public anger over an increase in fuel prices and a broader frustration over a government widely viewed as corrupt — with vast oil riches benefiting an elite few at the expense of the masses.

In a concession, the government on Thursday announced a price cap on vehicle fuel and a halt to increases in utility bills.

However, as the protests swelled, both the government and even some supporters of the protests said they had been co-opted by criminal gangs looking to exploit the situation.

Over the past two days, oil prices have risen 4 percent, partly driven by worries over Kazakhstan, a major petroleum producer. Futures in Brent crude, the international benchmark, were trading at $82.95 a barrel on Friday, close to seven-year highs that were reached in October.

Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil company, said there has been some disruption to oil production at their key Tengiz field in Kazakhstan. The issue appears to be difficulty in loading some petroleum products from the field onto rail cars.

The market is also responding to geopolitical tensions, including over Ukraine, and to production problems in Nigeria, Angola, Libya and elsewhere.

The huge destruction of public property in Kazakhstan — including the torching of Almaty’s City Hall and the burning and looting of scores of other government buildings — has been met with a strong show of force by security personnel.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Friday that 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and 18 security officers killed in the unrest.

Ivan Nechepurenko reported from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Valerie Hopkins from Moscow, and Marc Santora from Chatel, France. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington, Stanley Reed from London, and Gillian Wong from Seoul.

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After dozens are reported dead in Kazakhstan, troops from a Russian alliance begin to deploy.

Credit…Abduaziz Madyarov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

All night and into the early hours on Thursday, young men roamed the streets of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, flanked by flames and buttressed by barricades. As stun grenades exploded and tear gas wafted in the air, demonstrators set fire to trucks, police cars and other vehicles, their smoldering hulks littering the streets.

As the first foreign soldiers from countries allied with Russia landed in the Central Asian nation, they found a country that had, for the moment, been plunged into anarchy.

Some protesters came with firearms and started looting shops and malls, according to video footage posted from the scene. They set government buildings on fire, including the City Hall and the former office of the country’s president. They also captured the airport.

The scale of the violence, which was evident in videos, postings on social media and official government statements, was still coming into focus on Thursday morning as new and unconfirmed reports of sporadic clashes circulated on social media.

With intermittent internet access and few independent witnesses, information coming out of the country was hard to verify.

Galym Ageleulov, who has witnessed the events of the past few days, said he believed that a protest movement that was calling for peaceful change had been co-opted by throngs of criminals. Overnight, the streets were filled with mostly young men, many posing on social media with riot shields and helmets captured from the police. They were highly organized and managed by gang leaders, he said.

“The police have disappeared from the city,” said Mr. Ageleulov, director of the human rights center Liberty in Almaty. “These gang members marched through the city looting stores and setting cars ablaze as they moved; they stormed the City Hall,” he said in a phone interview.

“It was a horrible scene,” he said.

By the morning, Almaty had been transformed: Commercial banks were ordered closed with many Kazakhs rushing to A.T.M.s desperate to withdraw cash; stores were closed, causing many residents line up for bread, a scene unseen in the country for decades; at times, the internet has been shut down, disrupting basic infrastructure work.

Almaty’s City Hall, an imposing white building that once served as the Communist Party headquarters, was charred black from the flames that burned through the night. Members of the special forces roamed the surrounding streets firing live ammunition trying to quell the uprising.

The revolt began on Sunday in western Kazakhstan as a protest against a surge in fuel prices. Even though the government said it would rescind the price increase, the protests widened, spreading across the country, with broader demands for increased political representation and improved social benefits.

The Kazakh president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, issued a statement late Wednesday night calling the protesters “a band of terrorists” who had been trained abroad. He declared Kazakhstan to be under attack and asked for intervention from Russia’s answer to NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to which his country belongs.

The group is effectively led by Russia and also includes former Soviet countries in the Kremlin sphere of influence: Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The protests have paralyzed a nation of 19 million. In addition to the bank closures and internet shutdowns, the telephone system has been shut off sporadically, schools have extended their winter break by a week and flights in and out of airports in the cities of Almaty, Aktau and Aktobe have been suspended.

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Kazakhstan Shuts Internet as Government Offices Burn in Protests

MOSCOW — Thousands of people returned to the streets across Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a fourth straight day of demonstrations driven by outrage over surging gas prices, in the biggest wave of protests to sweep the oil-rich country for decades.

Protesters stormed government buildings and captured police vehicles despite a strict state of emergency and government attempts to concede to their demands, including by dismissing the cabinet and announcing the possible dissolution of Parliament, which would result in new elections. Kazakhtelecom, the country’s largest telecommunications company, shut off internet access throughout the country on Wednesday afternoon.

Anger has been building since Sunday, when Kazakhs began protesting after the government lifted price caps for liquefied petroleum gas — frequently referred to by its initials, L.P.G. — and the cost of the fuel doubled.

Many people in the country of 19 million found the price increase particularly infuriating because Kazakhstan is an exporter of oil and gas. It added to the economic misery in a country where the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated severe income inequality.

according to the local statistics authority. Most people earn only a fraction of that amount, according to Mr. Umbetov, with the average skewed in favor of oil industry workers.

As the protests have unfolded, the demands of the demonstrators have expanded to include a broader political liberalization. Among the changes they seek is the direct election of Kazakhstan’s regional leaders by voters; in the current system, they are directly appointed by the president.

For almost 30 years, Kazakhstan was ruled by Mr. Nazarbayev, a former Communist Party boss, who is now 81.

The ascension of Mr. Tokayev created two centers of power. Mr. Nazarbayev and his family enjoy wide authority, while the new president, even though he is loyal to his predecessor, is trying to carve out a stronger role for himself, disorienting Kazakhstan’s bureaucracy and elites. This divide has contributed to the government’s slow reaction to the protesters’ demands, according to Arkady Dubnov, a Central Asia expert in Moscow.

“The government has been slow because it is divided and has no idea what young people in Kazakhstan really want,” Mr. Dubnov said. “On the other hand, the protesters don’t have a leader who would articulate it clearly.”

The countries of the former Soviet Union are watching the protests closely. For Russia, the events represent another possible challenge to autocratic power in a neighboring country.

Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in 2014 after pro-democracy protests erupted there, and the Kremlin offered support to the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr G. Lukashenko as he violently crushed peaceful protests against his autocratic rule in 2020.

The protests in Kazakhstan represent a warning signal for the Kremlin, Mr. Dubnov said, describing the government in Kazakhstan as “a reduced replica of the Russian one.”

“There is no doubt that the Kremlin would not want to see an example of such a regime beginning to talk to the opposition and conceding to their demands,” he added.

Mr. Putin has been in power for 20 years, and though a 2020 referendum gave him the right to rule until 2036, observers are watching for signs of a managed transition out of power.

Pro-Kremlin media have portrayed the events in Kazakhstan as an organized plot against Russia. Komsomolskaya Pravda, a pro-government tabloid, referred to the protests as a “dirty trick played on Moscow” ahead of “crucial talks between Russia and the U.S. and NATO” next week. Those discussions will be focused on the crisis in Ukraine, where there are fears of a renewed Russian invasion.

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Riot Games to Pay $100 Million in Gender Discrimination Case

Riot Games, the video game maker behind popular titles like League of Legends and Valorant, said on Monday evening that it had agreed to pay $100 million to settle a gender discrimination suit with more than 2,000 current and former female employees.

The class-action lawsuit, which was filed in 2018, was originally on track for a $10 million settlement, but in early 2020 two California employment agencies took the unusual step of intervening to block the settlement, arguing that the women could be entitled to over $400 million. Separate of the lawsuit, the state had been investigating the company after claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, unequal pay and retaliation against women.

If the settlement is approved by the Los Angeles Superior Court, it will “send the message that all industries in California, including the gaming industry, must provide equal pay and workplaces free from discrimination and harassment,” Kevin Kish, the director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said in a statement.

Under the terms of the agreement, more than 1,000 full-time employees and 1,300 contractors dating back to November 2014 would split $80 million, with another $20 million going to lawyers’ fees and other costs. Riot also agreed to fund a diversity and inclusion program and consented to a three-year, third-party analysis of gender equity in employee pay and job assignments, as well as to an audit of workplace investigations.

Activision Blizzard — Riot has also contended with frequent accusations of harassment and a work environment that women described as sexist and toxic.

sued over claims he sexually harassed his former executive assistant. That case is still pending. A committee formed by the company’s board of directors later said it found no evidence of the claims against Mr. Laurent.

In an email to the company’s employees viewed by The New York Times, sent minutes before the settlement announcement, Mr. Laurent wrote that the timing “isn’t ideal” but the “final details of the agreement came together quickly.” He said he hoped the settlement “symbolizes a moment where we move forward as a united company.”

The proposed settlement on Monday was hailed as a win for women at Riot.

“I hope this case serves as an example for other studios and an inspiration for women in the industry at large,” one plaintiff, Jes Negron, said in a statement issued through a lawyer. “Women in gaming do not have to suffer inequity and harassment in silence — change is possible.”

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Tencent hands shareholders $16.4 bln windfall in the form of JD.com stake

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  • Move comes as Beijing cracks down on technology firms
  • JD.com shares plunge as much as 11.2%, Tencent up 4%
  • Tencent has no plans to sell stakes in other firms-source

BEIJING/HONG KONG, Dec 23 (Reuters) – Chinese gaming and social media company Tencent (0700.HK) will pay out a $16.4 billion dividend by distributing most of its JD.com (9618.HK) stake, weakening its ties to the e-commerce firm and raising questions about its plans for other holdings.

The move comes as Beijing leads a broad regulatory crackdown on technology firms, taking aim at their overseas growth ambitions and domestic concentration of market power.

Tencent said on Thursday it will transfer HK$127.69 billion ($16.37 billion) worth of its JD.com stake to shareholders, slashing its holding in China’s second-biggest e-commerce company to 2.3% from around 17% now and losing its spot as JD.com’s biggest shareholder to Walmart (WMT.N).

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The owner of WeChat, which first invested in JD.com in 2014, said it was the right time for the divestment, given the e-commerce firm had reached a stage where it can self-finance its growth.

Chinese regulators have this year blocked Tencent’s proposed $5.3 billion merger of the country’s top two videogame streaming sites, ordered it to end exclusive music copyright agreements and found WeChat illegally transferred user data.

The company is one of a handful of technology giants that dominate China’s internet space and which have historically prevented rivals’ links and services from being shared on their platforms.

“This seems to be a continuation of the concept of bringing down the walled gardens and increasing competition among the tech giants by weakening partnerships, exclusivity and other arrangements which weaken competitive pressures,” Mio Kato, a LightStream Research analyst who publishes on Smartkarma said of the JD.com stake transfer.

“It could have implications for things like the payments market where Tencent’s relationships with Pinduoduo and JD have helped it maintain some competitiveness with Alipay,” he said.

JD.com shares plunged 11.2% at one point in Hong Kong trade on Thursday, the biggest daily percentage decline since its debut in the city in June 2020, before closing with a 7.0.% decline. Shares of Tencent, Asia’s most valuable listed company, rose 4.2%.

Shares of Tencent and JD on Dec 23

The companies said they would continue to have a business relationship, including an ongoing strategic partnership agreement, though Tencent Executive Director and President Martin Lau will step down from JD.com’s board immediately.

Eligible Tencent shareholders will be entitled to one share of JD.com for every 21 shares they hold.

A Tencent logo is seen in Beijing, China September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

PORTFOLIO DIVESTMENTS?

The JD.com stake is part of Tencent’s portfolio of listed investments valued at $185 billion as of Sept. 30, including stakes in e-commerce company Pinduoduo (PDD.O), food delivery firm Meituan (3690.HK), video platform Kuaishou (1024.HK), automaker Tesla (TSLA.O) and streaming service Spotify (SPOT.N).

Alex Au, managing director at Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager Alphalex Capital Management, said the JD.com sale made both business and political sense.

“There might be other divestments on their way as Tencent heeds the antitrust call while shareholders ask to own those interests in minority stakes themselves,” he said.

A person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters Tencent has no plans to exit its other investments. When asked about Pinduoduo and Meituan, the person said they are not as well-developed as JD.com.

The Chinese internet giant has also invested in overseas companies such as Tesla (TSLA.O), Netamble, Snapchat, Spotify (SPOT.N) and Sea (SE.N). “Going abroad is one of Tencent’s most important strategies in the future,” a CITIC Securities research note said on Thursday. “The possibility of selling overseas high-quality technology and internet assets is small.”

Tencent chose to distribute the JD shares as a dividend rather than sell them on the market in an attempt to avoid a steep fall in JD.com’s share price as well as a high tax bill, the person added.

Kenny Ng, an analyst at Everbright Sun Hung Kai, said the decision was “definitely negative” for JD.com.

“Although Tencent’s reduction of JD’s holdings may not have much impact on JD’s actual business, when the shares are transferred from Tencent to Tencent’s shareholders, the chances of Tencent’s shareholders selling JD’s shares as dividends will increase,” he said.

Technology investor Prosus (PRX.AS), which is Tencent’s largest shareholder with a 29% stake and is controlled by Naspers of South Africa, will receive the biggest portion of JD.com shares.

Walmart owns a 9.3% stake in JD.com, according to the Chinese company. Payments processor Alipay is part of Tencent rival Alibaba Group .

($1 = 7.7996 Hong Kong dollars)

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Reporting by Sophie Yu in Beijing and Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Xie Yu, Selena Li, Donny Kwok and Eduardo Baptista in Hong Kong and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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China tightens scrutiny of offshore listings in certain sectors

A China yuan note is seen in this illustration photo May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

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SHANGHAI, Dec 27 (Reuters) – The Chinese government will require that domestic firms in sectors off-limits to foreign direct investment, such as Internet news and publishing, receive clearances from regulators before they can list their shares outside the mainland.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced the new rules on the clearances on Monday in a statement that also included an updated annual “Foreign Investment Negative List” that outlines business sectors where foreign direct investment is banned or restricted.

The new rules now apply that list to companies issuing shares overseas for the first time, and come as China is tightening scrutiny over offshore share sales.

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Chinese companies in sectors prohibited for foreign investment “should get clearance from relevant Chinese regulatory bodies, if they seek share sales and list in overseas markets,” the NDRC said, plugging a regulatory loophole.

In addition, “foreign investors must not participate in the operation and management of the companies” and their holdings are to be capped at 30%, in line with the rules regulating locally-listed companies.

The latest Negative List includes prohibited sectors such as compulsory education institutions, news organizations and rare earth minerals.

Additionally, overseas investment in industries ranging from publishing, nuclear power stations and telecom is restricted.

Many Chinese companies use a so-called variable interest entity (VIE) structure to float overseas, skirting the foreign investment restrictions in areas such as media and education. read more

The NDRC statement comes just days after China’s securities regulator published draft rules requiring filings by companies seeking offshore listings to ensure they comply with Chinese laws and regulations. read more

Under the new filing system, VIE-structured companies will still be allowed to list as long as they are compliant.

“The NDRC statement goes hand in hand with the filing system,” and will likely restrict the use of VIEs, said Zhan Kai, a lawyer at East & Concord Partners.

However, China’s Ministry of Commerce framed the new rules as a gesture of policy relaxation.

“China is exploring ways to allow companies in sectors off-limits to foreign investment to list overseas under certain conditions, expanding investment channels for foreign investors,” the ministry said in a separate statement.

China’s new rules to manage offshore listings will likely ease the regulatory uncertainty that roiled financial markets this year and stalled offshore listings. read more

Investors had previously feared that Beijing could ban all overseas listings using the VIE structure, after Didi Global Inc’s (DIDI.N) U.S. floatation in July sparked a major regulatory backlash from Chinese officials that were concerned over national security.

The NDRC statement also formally scrapped foreign ownership restrictions in carmakers and removed a previous cap limiting the number of vehicle joint ventures a foreign investor can set up in China.

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Reporting by Beijing and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Edwina Gibbs and Christian Schmollinger

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