Hong Kong, Syria, Italy: Your Wednesday Briefing

Hong Kong, Syria, Italy: Your Wednesday Briefing


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Good morning.

We’re covering increased scrutiny of police behavior in Hong Kong, a rare look at life today inside war-torn Syria and the deepening mystery of the Himalayas’ skeleton lake.

Two Hong Kong police officers were arrested on Tuesday after a video appeared to show them hitting a 62-year-old man in the genitals, stomach and face while he was strapped to a hospital gurney in June.

The man was not a participant in the anti-government protests that have taken over the city this summer and often ended in violent clashes with the police.

But it underscored one of the movement’s central grievances over police brutality and bolstered demands for an independent investigation into their use of force.

Related: Beijing’s attempt to manipulate the narrative about the protesters in Hong Kong as violent, foreign-backed ruffians is a failure of Chinese “soft power,” writes our New New World columnist, Li Yuan.

Another angle: An employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong vanished after crossing into mainland China this month, raising fears that the authorities might be targeting travelers they suspect of supporting the protesters.

The country’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, resigned on Tuesday, bringing down the most nationalist and dysfunctional Italian government in decades.

The decision, announced in an extraordinary session of Parliament, came after the hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, had called for a no-confidence vote in the coalition government.

Context: During Mr. Conte’s 16-month tenure, the government’s increasingly anti-migrant and anti-establishment policies have isolated it inside Europe, while economic growth has slowed.

What’s next: Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, will consult with party leaders to see if a new majority can form another government. If not, he will have to call for early elections, possibly as soon as October.

If elections are called, Mr. Salvini — one of Europe’s most nationalist leaders whose popularity has surged over the last year — might find an opportunity to consolidate his power.

Related: Spain said it would send a ship to rescue dozens of migrants stranded in Italian waters for more than two weeks on a humanitarian group’s boat that Mr. Salvini had refused port access.

After eight years of civil war, the Syrian government now controls much of the country, and President Bashar al-Assad looks likely to win.

Our reporters, who were given rare access to the country, went to see what “victory” looks like. They found ruin and recovery, people grieving and people getting by, running water and electricity that remain capricious. They also discovered that the war had diminished Syria’s middle class and population of young men.

Quotable: “Sometimes I sit and think, how did this happen?” said one 59-year-old grandmother. “I had sons working. Everything was normal, and suddenly I lost them.”

Related: Five months after U.S.-backed forces ousted the Islamic State from Syria, the terrorist group is gathering strength, retooling financial networks and seeking recruits, American and Iraqi military and intelligence officers said.

In Afghanistan: The Islamic State has positioned itself to take the role of violent spoiler if a peace agreement is reached between the Taliban and the U.S., our correspondent writes.

Roopkund Lake, nestled in the mountain range some 16,500 feet above sea level, is frozen for much of the year. But in warmer months, it reveals hundreds of human skeletons, some with flesh still attached. What happened to these individuals?

Until recently, the prevailing theory was that they died simultaneously in a catastrophic event more than a thousand years ago. But new research by Indian, American and German scientists has upended that theory.

Chandrayaan-2: The unmanned Indian spacecraft launched last month is now orbiting the moon. Its touchdown on the lunar south pole is planned for Sept. 7, in what could be the country’s first moon landing.

President Trump: Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, the president confirmed that he is considering “various tax reductions,” including a payroll tax cut, to stimulate a weakening American economy.

Facebook: The company, in an effort to increase transparency over its data practices, introduced a tool to let users see and control the information that Facebook has gathered about their browsing habits. The social media platform also said that a news section in its mobile app would be guided by journalists and not just algorithms.

Spain: A wildfire on one of the Canary Islands forced the evacuation of 9,000 people as hundreds of firefighters struggled to contain the blaze.

Snapshot: Above, stone heads found near the Danube River in modern Serbia that are believed to have been carved about 8,000 years ago. It was at that time and place that researchers believe two cultures — farmers from the Near East and hunters and gatherers from Southeastern Europe — converged.

Jamie Oliver: After years of fame, the British chef hit a wall and his restaurant empire collapsed. But his work ethic didn’t and his other ventures are still, as he might say, pukka (excellent). “I have probably been pushed to the edge of my capacity over the last four years,” he told The Times.

What we’re reading: This article in Foreign Policy, which argues that British colonialism paved the way for the political crises in Kashmir and Hong Kong — an interesting take that provides historical context and perspective.

Cook: Don’t throw away that pickle juice. Use it to brine chicken for a fried chicken sandwich.

(Re)watch: As a child, our writer didn’t understand the appeal of “Murder, She Wrote,” the TV series starring Angela Lansbury. As an adult, she’s a die-hard fan.

Read: Four debut novels reveal the range and universality of loss.

Listen: Almost no young musician working in pop music has more promise than Rosalía, the Spanish flamenco-trained singer, our critic writes.


Smarter Living: Thinking about home-sharing? We collected some helpful strategies for those new to renting out their living spaces. One priority: Move valuable items to a safe space, like a locked closet. Sentimental items can go there, too, or you can leave a note explaining their importance.

And we know the keto diet is popular. But is it good for you?

Concerns have been building that the U.S. economy might be nearing a recession.

And a downturn would certainly seem due for the stock market, which has been on a bull run for an extraordinary length of time: more than 10 years.

How did the bull become associated with rising stock prices? Some say because the bull attacks by swinging its horns upward. But richer accounts delve into some peculiar areas of history.

The association of bears with falling prices came first, thanks to a practice in 17th-century fur trading. Middlemen sometimes sold bearskins they had not yet bought from hunters, betting that the hunters’ price would drop. It seems to be an early form of what is now known as naked short selling.

And the bull was an obvious partner to the bear in the British mind, because of the enormous popularity of the bloody sport of “baiting” them with trained dogs or beatings.

Britain’s Parliament banned the practice in 1835, but the bull and bear are still battling it out on the stock market.


That’s it for this briefing. Have a pukka day.

— Alisha


Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, the briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Al Franken’s Senate resignation.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Outer covering of an ear of corn (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Sebastian Modak is visiting each destination on our Travel section’s 52 Places to Go list. Midway through his trip, he answered readers’ questions.



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