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Hong Kong residents deface Chinese emblem in latest protest

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Protester marching in the streets in Hong Kong, on July 21, 2019.

NurPhoto | Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, with some of the marchers defacing a national Chinese emblem in their latest expression of protest against mainland authorities.

After the march reached its designated end point in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district, thousands continued onward, at various points occupying key government and business districts before departing for the Liaison Office, which represents China’s Communist Party-led central government within the city.

Protesters threw eggs at the building and spray-painted its surrounding surveillance cameras. China’s national emblem, which adorns the front of the Liaison Office, was splattered with black ink.

Organizers said 430,000 people participated in the march. Police had yet to release their estimate, which is generally lower.

Large protests began early last month in the Chinese territory in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the legislation. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in the city.

An egg thrown by a protester hits the National Emblem of the People’s Republic of China at the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019.

Bobby Yip | AP Photo

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of “one country, two systems.” Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the current demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march at a public park, carrying a large banner that read “Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.”

“Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!” the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since they started. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers.

Protesters repeated the five points of their “manifesto,” which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month. Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a “riot” and dissolving the Legislative Council.

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday.

“We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows. Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.

On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building. Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.

The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, condemned “radical extremists” who attacked the legislature and “trampled” on Hong Kong’s rule of law in a front-page column Sunday. The paper said a counter-rally Saturday intended to show support for the police reflected “mainstream public opinion” in Hong Kong.

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Santander Q4 2019 earnings

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Spanish Santander Bank executive chairperson Ana Botin.

JAVIER SORIANO | AFP | Getty Images

Santander posted a 35% year-on-year increase in net income for the fourth quarter of 2019, beating market expectations, supported by a rise in its customer base and capital gains.

The Spanish bank posted a net profit of 2.78 billion euros ($3.06 billion) in the last quarter of the year. For the whole of 2019, the bank’s net income dropped by around 16%.

Here are some of the highlights for the fourth quarter:

  • Total income hit 12.5 billion euros — slightly lower than the fourth quarter of 2018.
  • CET 1 capital ratio stood at 11.65%, compared to 11.30% at the end of 2018.
  • The total dividend proposal is 0.23 euros per share.

Santander also reported a 9% increase in the number of its “loyal” customers over the last year — meaning those that use the Spanish lender as their primary bank. “Our focus on customer loyalty, geographic diversification and scale drove strong operating performance across all regions,” Ana Botin, the chair of Banco Santander, said in a statement.

Speaking to CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore, Botin said she felt “very good” about the latest results. “We have delivered on all our strategic priorities,” she said, “We have created a lot of capital this year.”

The Spanish bank also recorded some charges in 2019 as well as restructuring costs in several markets. These amounted to about 1.7 million euros. Nonetheless, their impact was somewhat offset by a 693 million euro business transaction.

“Our South American business continued to generate healthy growth; we maintained strong momentum in North America, with the U.S. delivering among the fastest growing underlying profit of all markets; and in Europe we achieved a 10% return on tangible equity, despite a challenging interest rate environment,” Botin added in her statement.

Santander’s stock rose 4% in early deals on Wednesday.

UK market still under pressure

In the U.K., Santander reported a lower underlying profit due to “ongoing competitive pressures,” Botin told CNBC that the U.K. has experienced a “very important transformation program.”

“You’re only just beginning to see the results, so U.K. costs actually came down and costs will come down more next year but not at expense of service,” she said.

Costs dropped by 3% in real terms for its U.K. business. The total number of branches has fallen by more than 18% in annual terms to 616, and the number of employees has also dropped by about 4% in the same period.

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Pru, Acqua, Suay, Wagyu, Anise

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The image of Phuket as a cut-price destination for backpackers and budget-conscious retirees is long out of date.

Phuket has now become a favorite vacation destination for the world’s wealthiest individuals, many of them arriving on super-yachts.

Yachts are becoming a common sight in Phuket.

Asiandelight

It started when the Amanpuri resort opened and spearheaded the island’s upmarket transformation. Anthony Lark was the founding general manager at Amanpuri, before setting off in 2004 to create Trisara, one of the poshest resorts on the island.

Over the past 16 years at Trisara, Lark has taken care of a host of bold-faced names — Kate Moss, Roger Federer, Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue, members of U2 and Maroon 5. And he has watched Phuket evolve to cater to a choosier clientele.

“The changing culinary scene has been driven by supply and demand,” Lark said. “When I first got here, it was all pad Thai noodles, green curry and grilled fish on the beach. There were a few good Italian restaurants but absolutely no demand for fine dining, so that category simply didn’t exist.”

Pru’s jampa salad, which includes 15 different ingredients grown on the restaurant’s farm, is topped with a passion fruit vinaigrette.

Courtesy of Pru

Phuket wasn’t on super-yacht owners’ radar 20 years ago, said Lark, whereas today, five marinas have been built to cater to them.

“There were maybe a dozen million dollar holiday homes on Phuket,” said Lark of the 1980s. “Now, there are 150 villas worth in excess of that sum.”

“That’s brought a customer with higher, more exacting demands.”

Phuket earns its first Michelin star

In 2016, Trisara opened Pru — a restaurant specifically aimed at catering to the tastes of nomadic foodies and wealthy travelers.

An acronym for “plant, raise, understand,” Pru is a creative farm-to-table establishment that sources many ingredients from its own 96-hectare organic farm.

Black kingfish, sourced from the Andaman Sea, is paired with organic beetroot sorbet and house-made mulberry vinegar.

Courtesy of Pru

Young chef Jimmy Ophorst, who came to Phuket from the Netherlands nearly eight years ago, was rewarded for his efforts when Pru won a Michelin star — the first to be awarded to a restaurant on Phuket — on the inaugural 2019 Thailand list. Retaining the accolade in 2020, Pru remains the only Michelin-starred restaurant on the island.

“It’s unbelievable the impact winning a Michelin star has had on me as a chef, and on this restaurant,” Ophorst said.

Duck egg, charred eggplant, locally-sourced abalone and wild herbs.

Courtesy of Pru

“I’ve never worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant before in my life,” he said. “From the moment we won it, the restaurant has been full — many people tell me they’ve come to the island just to dine with us.”

Ophorst said when Pru was opened, a key goal was to make Phuket the second-best dining destination in Thailand, after Bangkok. He said the level of cuisine has grown a lot since Michelin started looking at restaurants on Phuket.

“There are so many good chefs here, I’m sure we can get plenty more stars on the island.”

A decade of decadence

Ten years ago, there was little in the way of upscale dining outside the big hotels. Now, there are many independent restaurants doing brisk business.

Sardinian chef Alessandro Frau’s modern-Mediterranean Acqua Restaurant is the bookmakers’ favorite to be the next Phuket spot to secure a star.

Acqua’s smoked Sardinian eel and pickled vegetables in a white balsamic vinegar sauce.

Courtesy of Acqua.

But an array of others is quietly vying for the attention of Phuket’s discerning gourmands. For example, Suay Restaurant in the upscale northwest neighborhood of Cherngtalay serves creative, modern Thai.

Suay Restaurant earned a spot in the Michelin Guide 2020.

Courtesy of Suay Restaurant

British-run Bampot specializes in contemporary European cuisine, alongside excellent cocktails. Exquisite Italian is served at the lilliputian (just six tables) La Gaetana. Carnivores are catered for at Twin Palms’ new Wagyu Steakhouse — unimaginative name, but unbelievable meat.

High-end southern Thai food at Anise.

Courtesy of Anise

Despite Phuket’s increasingly upmarket positioning, it’s still possible to enjoy an incredible meal here for a humble sum. Even Lark has deviated from his traditional high-luxury lane to launch a new value-focused restaurant, Anise. Its proposition: simple, beautiful, authentic Thai food served in an elegant space at affordable prices.

“Phuket’s culinary scene has now done what Bali did in the 1990s,” said Lark. “It’s grown up.”

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Bollywood’s Deepika Padukone’s battle with mental illness, depression

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Bollywood star Deepika Padukone has spoken out about her battle with depression, calling for greater public discussion to help tackle the mental health crisis.

Padukone, who is one of India’s highest-paid actresses, said her experience during a seeming “professional high” revealed the illness’ indiscriminatory nature and inspired her to campaign for other sufferers.

“Mental illness crept up on me when I least expected it,” Padukone said last week.

“The perception and the general understanding was that I was at a professional high,” she said last Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “But what I was also experiencing was this hollow, empty, pittish feeling … I would just cry out of nowhere.”

Padukone was diagnosed with depression in 2014.

The 34-year-old celebrity, who has over 30 movies to her name, said she considered herself lucky that her mother had spotted her symptoms and urged her to seek medical help.

Indian actress Deepika Padukone delivers her acceptance speech during the “Crystal Award” ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 20, 2020.

Fabrice Coffrini

However, she noted that stigma and lack of awareness surrounding mental illness can make it difficult for sufferers to reach out. In India alone, an estimated 7.5% of the population suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the World Health Organization, yet provisions remain scarce.

That inspired Padukone to set up the Live, Love, Laugh Foundation in 2015 to support other sufferers. The charity aims to spread awareness of mental health issues, having launched India’s first national campaign, as well as working to help people reach diagnoses.

Learning to understand what she was experiencing was the first step to recovery, Padukone said. She encouraged potential sufferers and the people around them to look out for telltale signs of depression, such as prolonged feelings of sadness, sleeping and eating irregularities, as well as suicidal thoughts.

“The toughest part in the journey for me was not understanding what I was feeling,” said Padukone. “Just having the diagnoses in itself felt like a massive relief.”

Padukone was speaking at the WEF meeting — a gathering of global business leaders and policymakers — where she was honored with the 2020 Crystal Award for her contributions to mental health awareness.

In 2018, she was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year.

Don’t miss: A psychologist says doing these 5 things helped her cope with grief during the holidays

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