Anxiety Rises Over Attacks On Media Covering US Protests

Protesters demonstrate on June 1, 2020 in Amsterdam, to protest against the police killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in the USA. Sem VAN DER WAL / AFP / ANP
Protesters demonstrate on June 1, 2020 in Amsterdam, to protest against the police killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in the USA. Sem VAN DER WAL / AFP / ANP

 

A wave of attacks on journalists covering US protests is driving growing anxiety in the media, with some blaming President Donald Trump for creating an atmosphere that encourages violence.

Over the past week media watchdogs have logged scores of incidents of police violence against journalists — with crews shot at, beaten, kicked, pepper-sprayed or arrested — with many incidents captured on camera.

An open letter to law enforcement endorsed by 18 press freedom organizations including the National Press Club and Committee to Protect Journalists called for a halt to “the deliberate and devastating targeting of journalists in the field.”

A tally by media watchdog groups cited 192 press freedom violations during the latest wave of protests including 131 assaults, of which 108 were by police.

The tally included 31 arrests, 46 firings of rubber bullets, 30 cases of damage to equipment, 30 incidents of tear gas and 17 pepper sprayings.

Some media advocates say Trump’s persistent bashing of the mainstream press has opened the door to attacks by undermining the credibility of journalists covering the protests following the police killing of a black man in Minnesota last week.

“This definitely creates an atmosphere where you are likely to see attacks on reporters,” said Len Downie, a former Washington Post executive editor who is a professor at Arizona State University and authored a study earlier this year on the Trump administration and the media.

Downie said that while Trump may not explicitly encourage violence against the press, his harsh rhetoric “deepens the divide” over credibility.

“The country is split between those who believe the president and those who believe the press,” he said.

– ‘I’m with the press! –

Some stunned journalists took to Twitter recounting mistreatment, while others posted videos.

“After showing my badge and yelling ‘I am with the press’ a @RichmondPolice officer sprayed pepper spray in my face and shoved me to the ground. Had 3397 on his helmet,” tweeted radio reporter Roberto Roldan of Richmond, Virginia.

One video showed an Australian TV crew being pushed to the ground by police near the White House in Washington

“This is alarming,” said National Press Club president Michael Freedman.

“The instances I’ve seen have all included journalists playing by the rules, and we hope officials on the other side play by the same standards.”

Patricia Gallagher Newberry, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said Trump’s attacks have had a “harmful effect.”

Instead of attacking the media, elected officials “should speak out in defense of journalists and call on the community to protect journalists,” Newberry said.

“This is not supposed to happen in the United Stated of America. We have press freedom built into our Constitution. So to see police and protesters attacking the storytellers is shocking, is disheartening, is illegal and it is really disturbing.”

– Making things worse –

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, also highlighted the importance of the Trump attacks on media.

“While Trump didn’t make covering US protests dangerous, he has made the situation worse,” Simon wrote in a column for the Columbia Journalism Review.

“It is certainly possible that the president’s anti-media rhetoric has emboldened local police, who are attacking and arresting journalists at a pace not seen in recent history. And it is also possible that some protesters who have attacked journalists are Trump supporters motivated by his denunciations of fake news.”

The latest incidents come with many media outlets taking an economic hit from the virus pandemic while struggling to keep readers informed on critical issues.

Media advocates say the shocking incidents underscore an erosion of respect for the constitutional guarantees of free press in recent years.

“The scenes that played out across the country over the last week cannot be covered from a ‘safe’ distance,” said Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, the union representing thousands of journalists.

“Reporters and photographers understand the risks and don’t expect special treatment. But attacking them for newsgathering is an unconstitutional attack on all Americans.”

New Zealand PM Criticises Protesters For Flouting COVID-19 Rules

New Zealand protesters hold a vigil against the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd in a Black Lives Matter protest outside Parliament in Wellington on June 1, 2020. David Lintott / AFP

 

 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday criticised Black Lives Matter protesters for flouting social distancing rules when the country is on the verge of eliminating the coronavirus, with just one active case remaining.

The centre-left leader said she sympathised with people who marched in New Zealand cities on Monday to protest the death of US man George Floyd, an African-American, at the hands of a white police officer.

But she was concerned that large crowds — estimated at about 2,000 in Auckland — could undermine New Zealand’s success in fighting the virus as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with US protesters.

“We are in a global pandemic and I would hate for there to be an outbreak caused by someone who felt really moved to go and share their view to then become ill,” she told TVNZ.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to prevent… if we had one person, in that crowd (with coronavirus) just think what could happen.”

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has recorded just 1,154 cases of COVID-19 with 22 deaths, after imposing a strict seven-week lockdown that ended last month.

The most recent new infection was recorded on May 22 and only one person is regarded as an active case, a woman in her 50s linked to a cluster at an Auckland nursing home.

However, social distancing rules remain in place, and gatherings are limited to 100 people as a precaution in case there are undetected infections in the community.

Ardern’s deputy Winston Peters — a coalition partner from the populist New Zealand First Party — called for the organisers of Monday’s protests to be prosecuted.

“The fact that some people think they’re above the law is not an acceptable circumstance, that’s what’s at issue here,” he told Radio New Zealand.

Ardern said prosecutions were an operational matter for the police, pointing out that the force generally tried to educate virus rule-breakers rather than immediately pressing charges.

New Zealand is currently on level two of its four-tier virus alert system and Ardern said that could change as early as next week, essentially removing domestic restrictions while maintaining strict border controls.

“If and when we move to alert level one we’d be on our own almost in terms of the restrictions that would then be gone,” she said.

AFP

Police Fire Tear Gas At Hong Kong Protesters

Police special tactical squad detain a protester (C) in Wanchai, Hong Kong on May 24, 2020, as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against a national security law. Yan ZHAO / AFP

 

 

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters who gathered Sunday against a controversial security law proposed by China, in the most intense clashes in months.

As the demonstrators and police were facing off in the semi-autonomous financial hub, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi insisted in Beijing that the proposed law must be imposed “without the slightest delay”.

The planned legislation is expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition, and comes after Hong Kong was shaken last year by months of massive, often-violent protests, and repeated warnings from Beijing that it would not tolerate dissent.

With campaigners warning the proposal could spell the end of the city’s treasured freedoms, thousands gathered in the busy Causeway Bay and Wan Chai districts, chanting slogans, as some masked protesters set up makeshift barricades to stop police vehicles.

“People may be criminalised only for words they say or publish opposing the government,” 25-year-old protester Vincent told AFP.

“I think Hong Kongers are very frustrated because we didn’t expect this to come so fast and so rough. But… we won’t be as naive as to believe that Beijing will simply sit back and do nothing. Things will only get worse here.”

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Riot police were deployed after earlier warnings from authorities against unauthorised assembly and the city’s current coronavirus-linked law banning public gatherings of more than eight people.

As the number of protesters swelled, police fired tear gas and pepper spray to try and disperse the crowd, and later deployed water cannon and armoured vehicles.

The protest followed a similar pattern to many of last year’s rallies, with police firing tear gas and pepper spray, and demonstrators pushing back. Some threw objects such as umbrellas at the police.

Police said they had arrested 40 people.

The scenes on Sunday were the most intense in months. The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement had previously fizzled at the beginning of 2020 as arrests mounted and, later, large gatherings were banned to stop the coronavirus.

More than 8,300 people have been arrested since the protests erupted last year. Around 200 were detained during small rallies at malls on Mother’s Day earlier this month.

Hong Kong residents enjoy rights — including freedom of speech — unseen on the Chinese mainland, as well as its own legal system and trade status.

Fears had been growing for years that Beijing was chipping away at those freedoms and tightening its control on the city, and campaigners have described the new proposal as the most brazen move yet.

– ‘I’m very scared’ –

Of particular concern is a provision allowing Chinese security agents to operate in Hong Kong, and that they could launch a crackdown against those dissenting the mainland’s Communist rulers.

“I’m very scared, but I still have to come out,” said protester Christy Chan, 23.

“Aside from being peaceful, rational, and non-violent, I don’t see many ways to send out our messages.”

Despite the alarm in Hong Kong and in some Western capitals, Chinese and city officials have insisted the proposed law is needed to prevent unrest and protect national security.

A top pro-Beijing official claimed Saturday that mainland Chinese law enforcement would not operate in the city without “approval” from local authorities.

But there is deep mistrust of China’s opaque legal system in Hong Kong and of how Beijing might use the proposed regulations in the city.

The massive protests last year were sparked by a now-scrapped bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, and there are fears the new motion would be even more wide-ranging.

China’s legislature is expected to rubber-stamp the draft resolution on Thursday before the details are fleshed out at another meeting at a later date.

Officials have said the law would then be implemented locally.

AFP

Six Dead In Afghanistan After Food Donation Turns Violent

Women wait to receive free bread from the municipality outside a bakery during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as government-imposed a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kabul on April 29, 2020. WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP
Women wait to receive free bread from the municipality outside a bakery during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as government-imposed a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kabul on April 29, 2020. WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

 

Two policemen and four other people were killed in Afghanistan on Saturday after a deadly clash at a public food donation in central Ghor province, officials said.

Hundreds of people had gathered outside the governor’s office in the provincial capital Firozkoh, where a Qatari group was distributing aid.

It was not immediately clear why the gathering turned violent, but officials blamed armed men in the crowd.

“The protesters opened fire on the police,” the provincial governor’s spokesman Aref Haber said.

“Four civilians, including an employee of a local radio and two policemen were killed,” he said, adding that 19 people were also wounded.

He said the protesters also beat security personnel and an investigation into the incident was underway.

The interior ministry confirmed the death toll in a statement, saying “some illegal armed men in the mob attacked the government building”, which prompted police to fire into the air to disperse the crowd.

Abdul Rahman Akshan, the deputy head of Ghor’s provincial council, also confirmed the incident and the death toll.

Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the attack was “shocking” and announced that the “government was seriously investigating the incident” in a Facebook post.

The aid group was distributing food to about 1,000 local families. Food drives are a common practice in the country during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Afghanistan is battling a growing coronavirus outbreak that has exacerbated problems with food access in the impoverished country.

 

AFP

Lebanese Protesters Back On The Streets As Economy Crumbles

Lebanese protesters attack a bank at Al-Nour square following the funeral of a fellow protester in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli, on April 28, 2020. Ibrahim CHALHOUB / AFP.

 

Lebanese protesters angered by a spiralling economic crisis clashed with security forces in the country’s north overnight as a months-old anti-government movement gained new momentum despite a coronavirus lockdown.

A 26-year-old protester died on Tuesday from a bullet wound he had sustained during the confrontations between the army and hundreds of demonstrators that rocked Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli.

Sixty people were injured, including some 40 soldiers, during the exchange which saw protesters throw stones at troops who fired live rounds into the air to try to disperse the angry crowds under clouds of tear gas.

The overnight violence was the latest in a string of anti-government protests and social unrest fuelled by unprecedented inflation that this week saw a free-falling Lebanese pound reach record lows against the dollar.

Angered by the financial collapse, demonstrators across Lebanon have rallied, blocked roads and vandalised banks for two days, re-energising a protest movement launched in October against a political class the activists deem inept and corrupt.

“I came down to raise my voice against hunger, poverty and rising prices,” Khaled, a 41-year-old protester, told AFP from Tripoli, adding that he could no longer support his three children since he lost his job selling motorcycle spare parts.

– ‘Social explosion’ –

Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus which has killed 24 people and infected almost 700 more.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than half of its value on the black market, where it traded at a record low of around 4,000 pounds to the dollar this week.

Economy Minister Raoul Nehme on Tuesday said that prices have risen by 55 per cent, while the government estimates that 45 per cent of the population now lives below the poverty line.

This has unleashed a public outcry against a government that has yet to deliver a long awaited rescue plan to shore up the country’s finances more than three months since it was nominated to address the crisis.

“No reform measures have been taken,” Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told AFP.

The only major step taken has been the suspension of Eurobond debt payments, he said, referring to a March announcement by the government that it would default on its sovereign debt for the first time due to dwindling foreign currency reserves.

With no clear government plan to exit the crisis, Nader said, Lebanon is heading “towards an inevitable social explosion”.

– Bank attacks –

Public anger has been increasingly directed at banks which are accused by protesters of helping a corrupt political class drive the country towards bankruptcy.

Lebanese banks, many of which are owned by prominent politicians, have since September imposed restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers, forcing the public to deal in the nose-diving Lebanese pound.

Since March, banks have stopped dollar withdrawals altogether, further fuelling public anger.

In Tripoli, the army accused demonstrators overnight of torching three banks, destroying several ATM machines and attacking an army patrol and military vehicle.

It said 40 soldiers were wounded and nine people were arrested.

In a later statement, it expressed “regret” at the death of Fawaz al-Samman who died after being hit in the thigh with a bullet.

His sister Fatima told AFP that she blames the army, which said it would open an investigation into the death.

The Association of Lebanese Banks said that commercial banks would be closed in Tripoli on Tuesday because of “attacks and acts of vandalism”.

In Beirut, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a bank before dawn, according to the official National News Agency.

In the southern city of Sidon, protesters threw stones and fire crackers at the central bank headquarters late Monday, the NNA said.

Late Saturday, assailants lobbed an explosive device at a bank in Sidon.

The attack came a day after Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Lebanese bank deposits had plunged $5.7 billion in the first two months of the year, despite curbs on withdrawals and a ban on transfers abroad.

AFP

Okada Ban: People Living With Disabilities Protest In Lagos

The protesters occupy a section of Mobolaji Johnson Avenue, Alausa in Ikeja.

 

Some residents of Lagos State who are physically challenged have occupied a section of Mobolaji Johnson Avenue, Alausa in Ikeja, the state capital in protest.

The protesters who are majorly commercial tricycle riders are protesting over the restriction of motorcycles and tricycles in some local government areas and expressways in the state by the Lagos State government.

READ ALSO: Okada Ban: Gokada, Max.ng Riders, Others Protest In Lagos

Carrying various placards, the protesters lamented that the restriction will force them to return to the street as beggars and destitute.

Some of them who spoke with Channels Television lamented that driving motorcycle and tricycle has been their source of livelihood since they abandoned begging.

See photos from the protest below…

Hong Kong Protesters Beat Police Officers For Disbanding Democracy Rally

People take part in the ‘universal siege on communists’ rally at Chater Garden in Hong Kong on January 19, 2020.  Philip FONG / AFP

 

Two police officers were beaten bloody by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong Sunday as violence erupted at a rally calling for greater democratic freedoms in the heart of the city.

Trouble flared when police ordered the authorised gathering to disperse after officers conducting stop and searches on nearby streets had water bottles and paint thrown at them by angry crowds.

A group of plainclothes officers who were speaking with organisers were then set upon by masked protesters, who beat them with umbrellas and sticks, an AFP reporter on the scene said.

Two officers were seen with bloody head wounds as colleagues shielded them from further attacks.

“We strongly condemn all the rioters and violent acts,” police spokesman Ng Lok-chun told reporters.

Video posted online showed an organiser with a microphone asking the officers to show their warrant cards which they did not do, a frequent gripe among protesters.

Rally organiser Ventus Lau said he believed police should “shoulder the greatest responsibility for the clashes” because they took too long to show their warrant cards.

Lau was later arrested for obstructing officers, police and rally organisers confirmed.

Soon after the officers were attacked, riot police swept into the area and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Brief cat and mouse clashes ensued with police making multiple arrests, including one protester who had blood streaming from the back of his head.

‘Stand with Hong Kong’ 

Hong Kong’s protests have raged for seven months after being sparked by a now-abandoned proposal to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, where the opaque legal system answers to the Communist Party.

They soon morphed into a wider movement calling for greater freedoms in what is the most concerted challenge to Beijing’s rule since the former British colony’s 1997 handover.

At Sunday’s rally, thousands gathered in the heart of the Central commercial district, chanting slogans such as “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom”.

Some waved American, British and Hong Kong independence flags. There were many families and children present with a peaceful atmosphere until the police ordered the crowds to leave.

The frequency and ferocity of Hong Kong’s protests have died down over the last month, but signs of the political unrest are everywhere, from graffiti daubed on walls to huge fences surrounding government buildings.

The city’s police force is now loathed by large swathes of the city, heckled by crowds both at protest sites and in their local neighbourhoods.

Critics accuse police of using excessive force, with no police officer disciplined or punished in the last seven months of protests.

Police say they have used force commensurate with the levels of violence they face from hardcore protesters who routinely throw bricks and petrol bombs.

The force has blamed viral social media videos of officers making hard arrests and media coverage for their plummeting reputation among the city’s inhabitants.

Among key demands of the protest movement are an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for 7,000 people arrested and fully free elections.

Beijing and local leader Carrie Lam have refused further concessions and defended police tactics.

AFP

France President, Wife Escape Frustrated Protesters

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife were rushed from a Paris theatre late Friday after protesters tried to burst in and disrupt the performance.

Riot police were out in force as dozens of people staged a demonstration outside the theatre where Macron and Brigitte were watching “The Fly”.

About 30 protesters tried to enter the building housing the renowned Bouffes du Nord theatre after some people in the audience tweeted the presence of France’s first couple, presidential staff said.

The pair “were secured” for several minutes and later returned to their seats to finish watching the play, they said.

Police said they prevented the protesters from getting into the theatre in the 10th district of Paris, which lies several kilometres from the president’s Elysee Palace’s residence.

The Macrons, who occasionally slip out to enjoy a dinner or play in the French capital, finally left the theatre under police escort.

“All together, general strike,” protesters shouted during the stand-off with riot police that lasted around an hour.

The demonstration took place on the 44th day of a crippling strike against the Macron government’s proposed pension reforms.

Though it is now easing, the strike has snarled train and metro traffic and caused misery for millions of commuters in Paris especially.

Macron’s staff were defiant after Friday’s events.

“The president will continue to attend plays as he is used to doing. He will watch out to defend creative freedom to ensure it is not undermined by violent political acts,” a Macron aide said.

Making few public appearances for weeks, Macron last mixed with the crowds when he visited the northern city of Amiens in November before his retirement reforms were announced.

The overhaul aims to forge a single pensions system from the country’s 42 separate regimes, which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector workers as well as lawyers, physical therapists and even Paris Opera employees.

Critics say it will effectively force millions of people to work longer for a smaller pension.

 

AFP

Police Arrest 15 In Fresh Hong Kong Protests

Riot police detain a man (C) after a pro-democracy protest inside a shopping mall in Sheung Shui in Hong Kong on December 28, 2019. DALE DE LA REY / AFP

 

Hong Kong riot police arrested at least 15 people in clashes Saturday with dozens of pro-democracy protestors who targeted a mall near the border with China to demonstrate against mainland tourists and shoppers.

The fresh unrest ended a brief calm after protestors had battled riot police in shopping malls and streets of commercial districts across the city for three days over the Christmas period.

On Saturday afternoon, masked plain-clothed officers wielding batons arrested 14 people, including a 14-year-old girl, who were protesting inside the mall in Sheung Shui district, forcing shops to shut and harassing shoppers, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Riot police charged into the mall to reinforce the officers and used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of residents who gathered to protest against the arrests.

After the police left, some protesters stayed on a footbridge linking the mall to an MTR metro station and harassed passers-by they thought were mainland Chinese tourists.

Another man was arrested by riot police in a later incident inside the mall, his head covered in blood.

Similar protests and clashes also took place in a mall in Kowloon Bay district, where a number of people were arrested Saturday evening.

Blood and a black mask were seen by an AFP reporter on the floor where plain-clothed police subdued protesters in the mall.

In recent years Sheung Shui has been swamped by a huge influx of mainlanders and parallel traders seeking to circumvent Chinese taxes, angering many residents who have seen their local shops transformed to cater to the visitors.

Hong Kong’s many malls have become regular protest venues as protesters try to cause economic disruption in their push for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The last month had seen a relative drop-off in violence and protests after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide at local elections.

But with Beijing and city leaders refusing further concessions, rallies and clashes reignited over the Christmas period.

The protests were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland.

They have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule, with spiralling fears that the city is losing some of its unique liberties.

Among the demands being made by protesters is an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 6,000 people arrested and the right to elect Hong Kong’s leader.

AFP

Thousands Of Protesters Storm Iraq’s Street As Deadline For New PM Looms

Protesters gather during an anti-government sit-in outside the gate of Kufa University in the central Iraqi city of Kufa, adjacent to the holy shrine city of Najaf, on December 22, 2019.
Haidar HAMDANI / AFP

 

Thousands took to the streets in Iraq’s capital and across the south Sunday to protest against Iran’s king-making influence as the latest deadline for choosing a new prime minister loomed.

Anti-government rallies have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of a regime they deem corrupt, inefficient and overly beholden to Tehran.

“The revolution continues!” shouted one demonstrator at a protest encampment in central Diwaniyah.

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Protesters blocked off public buildings one by one in the southern Iraqi city, and put up banners reading “The country is under construction — please excuse the disruption”.

Sunday marks the latest deadline — already pushed back twice by President Barham Saleh — for parliament to choose a new premier to replace Adel Abdel Mahdi, who tendered his administration’s resignation last month.

Officials say Iran wants to install Qusay al-Suhail, who served as a higher education minister in the government of Abdel Mahdi.

“But this is exactly what we oppose — Iranian control over our country,” said 24-year-old student Houeida, speaking to AFP in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests which was once again abuzz with the youthful energy of thousands.

The protesters categorically reject Suhail’s candidacy, along with anyone from the wider political establishment that has been in place since dictator Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003.

“Hundreds of martyrs have fallen and they are still not listening to our claims”, said 21-year-old student Mouataz, in Tahrir Square.

“We want a prime minister with integrity, but they bring back a corrupt man in their image who they will allow continuing robbing us,” he added.

‘Iraq Must Be Iraqi Again’

In a bid to secure the necessary parliamentary majority for a new premier, Shiite powerhouse Iran enlisted the services of a Lebanese Hezbollah official to negotiate with Sunni and Kurdish parties.

The post of prime minister is by a convention held by a Shiite in Iraq’s post-2003 political system.

In a Twitter plea to Saleh, one opposition Sunni lawmaker called Sunday for the president to “violate the constitution rather than plunge the country into bloody chaos by choosing a figure people have already rejected”.

Some in parliament — the most fragmented in Iraq’s history — argue that Saleh should use Article 81 of the Constitution, which authorises the president to step in as prime minister himself if there is no agreement among lawmakers on a candidate.

In a sign of the protesters’ unprecedented influence, top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is said to have made and unmade every premier in the post-Saddam era, has been notably absent from the maneuverings this time around.

The protest movement has been hit by intimidation, including assassinations perpetrated by militias, according to the UN.

Around 460 people have been killed since October 1, and some 25,000 have been wounded.

Yet the protesters appeared to regain some confidence on Sunday.

Overnight, demonstrators in Diwaniyah and Basra, another southern city, had declared a “general strike”.

They burnt tyres to block roads linking southern cities to Baghdad, an AFP correspondent said.

The road to Umm Qasr port — vital for imports — near Basra was among those blocked.

In Karbala and Najaf, two Shiite holy cities, striking students closed schools and gathered in their thousands, AFP correspondents said.

In Nasiriyah, protesters blocked bridges and several roads while all public buildings remained closed.

Protesters are demanding the fall of Saleh and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi, accusing them of procrastinating.

“Iraq must become Iraqi again, and if the president does not help us, we will force him out too,” asserted student Houeida, buoyed by the renewed momentum in Tahrir Square.

AFP

Death Toll Rises In Indian Citizenship Law Protests

Indian soldiers look on as they patrol near the burnt wreckage of a vehicle during a curfew in Guwahati on December 12, 2019, following protests over the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).  Biju BORO / AFP

 

Six more protesters died in India Friday in fresh clashes between police and demonstrators, taking the death toll to 15 in more than a week of unrest triggered by a citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim.

The law — which makes it easier for persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries to gain citizenship, but not if they are Muslim — has stoked fears Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to remould the world’s biggest democracy India as a Hindu nation, which he denies.

The latest deaths, in northern Uttar Pradesh where almost 20 percent of the state’s 200-million population are Muslim, followed the loss of three lives on Thursday when police opened fire on protesters in the northern city of Lucknow and the southern city of Mangalore.

Four of the demonstrators — two from Meerut and two from neighbouring Muzaffarnagar, both in Uttar Pradesh — died Friday from “gunshot wounds”, Meerut chief medical officer Rajkumar told AFP.

Rajkumar, who goes by one name, added that five police officers, including three with bullet wounds, were being treated in hospital.

Another demonstrator died of a gunshot wound in Bijnor district while the cause of the sixth death in Firozabad city was not yet known, local police spokesmen told AFP.

In the heart of India’s capital demonstrators held a sit-in protest at the Delhi Gate in the Old Delhi district, then marched to the country’s biggest mosque Jama Masjid in the afternoon.

The protesters later returned to Delhi Gate, where they clashed with baton-wielding police who deployed a water cannon to disperse the crowd.

The marchers, many chanting anti-Modi slogans, threw rocks at police in the street battle. At least one car was set on fire, and an AFP reporter saw demonstrators bleeding from their heads and mouths during the clashes.

“All the people here, be it those who are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian — they are all out on the streets,” Tanvi Gudiya told AFP at another Delhi rally in a Muslim neighbourhood after Friday prayers.

“So doesn’t it affect Modi at all? Does Modi not like anyone? Why is he becoming like Hitler?”

In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, there were new clashes between security forces and protesters in Vadodara city, a day after battles in the largest city Ahmedabad left 20 policemen and 10 locals injured.

On Thursday, two people were killed in Mangalore when police opened fire on a crowd of around 200 people after they ignored orders to disperse, an official told AFP.

A protester also succumbed to gunshot injuries in Lucknow, said a doctor who declined to be named. Officers denied opening fire in the city.

Authorities have scrambled to contain the situation, imposing emergency laws, blocking internet access, and shutting down shops and restaurants in sensitive pockets across the country.

‘Unacceptable in a democracy’ 

Opposition parties in India, as well as international rights groups, have raised concerns about the law and the growing protests.

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi on Friday slammed Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, saying it showed “utter disregard for people’s voices and chosen to use brute force to suppress dissent”.

“This is unacceptable in a democracy,” she added in a video posted on Twitter.

West Bengal state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, addressing a rally of more than 20,000 people in the state capital Kolkata Friday, said she “will not allow the federal government to implement” the law.

“India is burning. This is time for waking up,” she said, urging people to unite behind her movement.

More than 200 Christian leaders in India issued a joint statement Friday saying the laws passed since the BJP was re-elected in May have led “to the collapse of the democratic institutions of India… carefully and painstakingly built by enlightened leaders over the last seven decades”.

In a strongly worded editorial, the Indian Express said the government must do all it can “to keep the peace” in the country, home to 200 million Muslims.

“But in doing so the world’s largest democracy cannot look like it cannot accommodate its young who disagree, it cannot afford to signal that it is so ill at ease with itself.

“India risks a lot if it begins to be seen as a place where the dissenter’s mind is not without fear.”

AFP

Two Killed As Indian Police Fire At Protesters

Protesters from northeast India residing in the capital city shout slogans against the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 (CAB), during a protest in New Delhi on December 11, 2019. 
Money SHARMA / AFP

 

Two people were killed and several wounded Thursday when police in northeast India opened fire on a large crowd demonstrating against the country’s new citizenship bill.

Federal authorities deployed thousands of paramilitaries and blocked mobile internet access in the region, while local police who joined them in opposing protesters defying a curfew in Guwahati, in Assam state, opened fire both blank and live rounds.

India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), passed by the upper house of parliament on Wednesday, allows for the fast-tracking of citizenship applications from religious minorities from three neighbouring countries, but not Muslims.

The two demonstrators killed were among a large group being treated for various wounds at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, told AFP.

“A few of those people were brought in with bullet injuries. Two of those 21 people have died,” said Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at the hospital.

For Islamic groups, the opposition, rights groups and others in India, the new law is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims, something he denies.

But many in India’s far-flung northeast object because they fear the legislation, which prompted angry exchanges in parliament this week, will give citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh.

Five thousand paramilitary troops were deployed in Guwahati, while many roads and highways were blocked to prevent the spread of protests.

Officials said 20 to 30 people have been hurt in the demonstrations in recent days, with vehicles torched and police firing tear gas and charging the crowds with wooded staffs.

Guwahati’s top police officer Deepak Kumar was removed from his post and replaced over the outbreak of violence, authorities said.

All train services to Tripura and Assam were suspended and some flights were cancelled. Several cricket and football matches scheduled to take place in Assam were also called off amid the curfew.

Without citing the unrest, Bangladesh home minister Asaduzzaman Khan postponed his Friday visit to northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, his spokesman Sharif Mahmud Apu told AFP.

“He will visit Meghalaya at a later time,” Apu said, without giving a reason.

Modi sought to calm the situation in a series of tweets that many in the region could not read because mobile internet was mostly blocked.

“I appeal to the northeast, to Assam and every other state — every community there — to assure that their culture, traditions and language will keep getting the respect and support,” he said at a rally at eastern Jharkhand state.

‘Fear-mongering and bigotry’ 

“Assam is not a dustbin so that central government will keep on dumping whoever they want in Assam,” Assamese film actress Barsha Rani Bishaya said in Guwahati at a meeting of film and student bodies.

“People of Assam have woke up… this time and they will not accept the CAB.”

Several leaders from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam have also resigned in opposition to the legislation.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen cancelled a trip to New Delhi hours before he was due to arrive Thursday, citing domestic engagements.

He had on Wednesday pushed back against the Indian government’s claims the legislation was meant to help those persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, telling local media his country did not oppress minorities.

It is not yet clear if the legislation, after being signed off by the president, would survive a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court.

The Indian Union Muslim League filed a petition in the top court, with the political party’s leader saying it was against the basic principles of the country’s constitution.

“The constitution says there will be no differentiation based on caste, religion or anything. Here, the citizenship is being given on the basis of religion,” P.K. Kunhalikutty told AFP.

“The CAB… won’t stand in front of the law.”

The petition states that they “do not have any grievances in granting citizenship to migrants but the petitioners grievances is directed against discrimination and unreasonable classification based on religion.”

Amnesty International said the law was “bigoted” and called for it to be immediately repealed.

“In a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear mongering and bigotry,” the global rights groups said in a statement Wednesday.

“They also run absolutely foul of India’s international obligations.”