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Tight security and tears as Manchester benefit concert kicks off

By Mark Hanrahan1 | MANCHESTER, England

MANCHESTER, England U.S . pop singer Ariana Grande headlined a star-studded benefit concert in Manchester on Sunday that was both joyful and mournful, in aid of victims of the bombing that rocked the city last month, as security fears ran high after attackers in London killed seven people.

Around 50,000 fans crammed into Old Trafford cricket ground under the watchful eye of hundreds of police, including a significant number of armed officers, a sight that would be unusual under normal circumstances.

The show saw performances from big pop acts from both sides of the Atlantic, including local heroes Take That and Liam Gallagher, along with Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Little Mix, Coldplay, the Black Eyed Peas, and Grande.

The show was a mix of gaiety and somber reflection – fans could at times be seen jumping for joy, while others, holding banners saying “for our angels”, could be seen wiping away tears . The event began with a moment of silence for the victims of the bombing less than two weeks ago.

“I don t want to feel or hear or see any fear in this building,” U.S . singer Pharrell Williams told the crowd as he led them in a rendition of his hit single “Happy”. “The only thing we ll feel here tonight is love, and positivity.”

Fellow singer Miley Cyrus joined the rendition and said: “I d like to wrap my arms around each and every one of you and thank you .. . The most important responsibility we have in this time is to take care of one another.”

During her set, “Part of Me”, singer Katy Perry told the crowd: “love conquers fear and love conquers hate, and this love you choose will give you strength and it s our greatest power,” before asking the crowd to turn and hug the person next to them.

The somber cause that the concert was being held to benefit was never far from the crowd’s mind . Grande told the audience that her song selection was influenced by the mother of 15-year-old Olivia Campbell, who died in last month’s bombing.

“Sorry” singer Justin Bieber also paid tribute, saying: “I just want to take this moment to honor the people that were lost . We love you so much .

To the families, we love you so much.”

Up to 14,000 of those who attended Grande’s May 22 concert, at which a suicide bomber killed 22 children and adults, were given free tickets to attend Sunday’s show, with some persuaded to attend by their affection for the pop star, and despite their very real concerns about security.

“I m real excited, but real scared,” Shannon Beetham, 14, who was injured in last month’s bombing, told Reuters. “We were there in Manchester (arena) as well, I was hit.”

There were also plenty of upbeat moments, such as when a uniformed police officer was seen holding hands and dancing hand-in-hand with young fans, or when former Oasis front man Liam Gallagher belted out a swaggering version of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”.

Grande closed the show by inviting all the other performers on stage to help her sing her 2014 hit “One Last Time”, before she closed with a moving solo version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

Fans seemed to have forgotten any lingering fears about security towards the end of the evening, with a lively crowd of middle-aged fans singing “Tonight, I’m a rock and roll star” as they made their way out of the stadium.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan and James Dalgleish)


References

  1. ^ Mark Hanrahan (uk.reuters.com)

China activists fear increased surveillance with new security law

BEIJING Chinese activists say they fear intensified state surveillance after a draft law seeking to legitimise monitoring of suspects and raid premises was announced last week, the latest step to strengthen Beijing’s security apparatus.

Half a dozen activists contacted by Reuters say they already face extensive surveillance by security agents and cameras outside their homes . Messages they post on social media, including instant messaging applications like WeChat are monitored and censored, they said.

The draft of a new law to formally underpin and possibly expand China’s intelligence gathering operations at home and abroad was released on May 16.

However, the law was vaguely worded and contained no details on the specific powers being granted to various state agencies.

“State intelligence work should…provide support to guard against and dispel state security threats (and) protect major national interests,” the document said.

The law will give authorities new legal grounds to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and bodies in order to protect national security, it said.

Public consultation for the draft ends on June 4 . It is unclear when the final version may be passed.

Hu Jia, a well-known dissident, said the release was met with fear and despair in his circle of reform-minded activists, where it was seen as a sign of strengthening resolve in the ruling Communist Party to crush dissent.

“Before, the party acted in secret, but now they have confidence to openly say: ‘We are watching you’,” Hu told Reuters.

“The law is also partly to frighten people ahead of the 19th Party Congress; to tell them to be careful, to be quiet,” he added . Hu was referring to the once in five years congress of the Communist Party likely to be held in October or November in which President Xi Jinping is likely to further cement his hold on power by appointing allies into the party’s inner core.

Xi became head of a newly established national security commission in 2013 and has since overseen a raft of legislation to expand legal rights and obligations for the security apparatus in the name of safeguarding China.

Western governments and rights activists say these measures shrink the space for independent civil society in China . Beijing says that the measures are warranted given its security concerns.

The draft proposes to give state security agencies “broad authority to question anyone, read or collect any material, and install surveillance devices or set up on-site posts inside any office or commercial building,” Hong Kong-based advocacy group the Network of Human Rights Defenders said in a statement.

VENEER OF LEGALITY

The Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency, could not be reached for comment as it does not have a publicly available telephone number or website.

“The (intelligence law) draft, like the National Security Law (passed in 2014), seems set to give the veneer of legality to intrusive and repressive surveillance activities,” said Eva Pils, an expert on Chinese criminal law at King’s College London.

The draft gives “very broad definitions of the remit of the law, including everything from threats to national security to promoting the welfare of the people, meaning that essentially anything could be considered to require intelligence-gathering,” she said.

Wang Qiaoling, the wife of prominent rights lawyer Li Heping who was handed a three year suspended sentence in April for subversion, told Reuters she has been constantly monitored since Li was detained two years ago.

“At the time, I arranged by phone calls and on WeChat to meet with two lawyers who would represent my husband, but on the day we arranged to meet, they were both blocked at home by public security agents,” she said.

“This was when I realised all my communication was being monitored,” she added.

Almost all families of the dozens of lawyers and activists who were detained in a 2015 crackdown faced similarly pervasive surveillance measures, she said.

“Once, last year, when they tried to stop me leaving my home, I told them: ‘You know that this is illegal ?

There is no legal procedure for what you are doing.’,” Wang said. “State security wilfully interpreting the law, this is a very scary thing.”

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Massive security as France goes to the polls

French voters have started casting ballots for the presidential election in a tense first-round poll that is seen as a test for the spread of populism around the world. More than 60,000 polling stations opened on Sunday for voters who will choose between 11 candidates in the most unpredictable election in generations. Massive Security As France Goes To The PollsPolling stations open in Paris. (AP/Bertrand Combaldieu)

Opinion polls point to a tight race among the four top contenders vying to get into the May 7 presidential run-off that will decide who becomes France s next head of state. Polls suggest far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, were in the lead. However, conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Massive Security As France Goes To The PollsA voting machine displays the names of the 11 candidates. (AP/Bertrand Combaldieu) France s 10% unemployment rate, its struggling economy and security issues topped concerns for the 47 million eligible voters. If Ms Le Pen or Mr Melenchon win a spot in the run-off, it will be seen as a victory for the rising wave of populism reflected by the votes for Donald Trump and Brexit.

Massive Security As France Goes To The PollsPeople line up before casting their vote. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

Mr Macron and Mr Fillon are committed to European unity and would reform employment rules.

Early voting began on Saturday in France s overseas territories.