One Dead As Petrol Protests Spread In Iran

Iranian protesters block a road during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the central city of Shiraz on November 16, 2019.
AFP

 

One person was killed and others injured in protests that spread Saturday across Iran after a surprise decision to impose petrol price hikes and rationing in the sanctions-hit country.

The death occurred Friday in the central city of Sirjan, where protesters had tried to set a fuel depot ablaze but were thwarted by security forces, semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

Protests erupted hours after it was announced the price of petrol would be increased by 50 percent for the first 60 litres and 300 percent for anything above that each month.

Sirjan’s acting governor Mohammad Mahmoudabadi said a civilian was killed but it was unclear if he had been “shot or not”.

“Security forces did not have permission to shoot and were only allowed to fire warning shots… which they did,” ISNA quoted him as saying.

He said some people “destroyed public property, damaged fuel stations and also wanted to access the oil company’s main fuel depots and set fire to them”.

Protests were also held Friday in other cities including Abadan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Birjand, Gachsaran, Khoramshahr, Mahshahr, Mashhad and Shiraz, state news agency IRNA said.

In Ahvaz “rioters” torched a bank and in Khoramshahr “suspicious and unknown armed individuals” opened fire and injured a number of people, state television’s website said.

In other cities, protests were mostly limited to blocking traffic and were over by midnight, it added.

Police fired tear gas at protesters in some cities, state television said.

It accused “hostile media” of trying to use fake news and videos on social media to exaggerate protests as “large and extensive”.

Prosecutor general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri laid the blame for incidents on a “few disruptors” whose actions showed they opposed the system.

‘Near-total’ net shutdown 

Netblocks, an internet monitoring website, said late Saturday the country was in the grip of an internet shutdown.

“Confirmed: Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown; realtime network data show connectivity at 7% of ordinary levels after twelve hours of progressive network disconnections,” it said on Twitter.

Fresh demonstrations were held Saturday in the cities of Doroud, Garmsar, Gorgan, Ilam, Karaj, Khoramabad, Mehdishahr, Qazvin, Qom, Sanandaj, Shahroud and Shiraz, IRNA said.

“Some drivers have protested the new petrol price by turning off their cars and creating traffic jams.”

In Tehran protesters were seen blocking a road while elsewhere in the capital demonstrators gathered around a burning vehicle.

Similar scenes were witnessed in the central cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.

The pump price hike is expected to generate 300 trillion rials ($2.55 billion) per annum and help needy citizens, authorities said.

About 60 million Iranians would receive payments ranging from 550,000 rials ($4.68) for couples to slightly more than two million rials ($17.46) for families of five or more.

Under the scheme, drivers with fuel cards would pay 15,000 rials (13 US cents) a litre for the first 60 litres of petrol bought each month, with each additional litre costing 30,000 rials.

Fuel cards were first introduced in 2007 with a view to reforming the subsidies system and curbing large-scale smuggling.

Iran’s economy has been battered since May last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The rial has plummeted, inflation is running at more than 40 percent and the International Monetary Fund expects Iran’s economy to contract by nine percent this year and stagnate in 2020.

‘Under Pressure’

President Hassan Rouhani said 75 percent of Iranians were “under pressure” and the extra petrol revenues would go to them.

Rouhani had tried to hike fuel prices in December but was blocked by parliament after protests that rocked Iran for days.

The scheme comes at a sensitive time as Iran prepares for a February parliamentary election.

The head of Iran’s Planning and Budget Organisation, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, said the price hike was agreed by the High Council of Economic Coordination made up of the president, parliament speaker and judiciary chief, implying it had across-the-board approval.

The council met again Saturday and, according to the government’s official website, urged the “cooperation of all branches to successfully implement the plan”.

Lawmakers were unhappy to have been circumvented, with Tehran MP Parvaneh Salahshouri tweeting that parliament had “lost its authority”.

In 2015, during his first term, Rouhani had voiced opposition to a dual-price petrol regime adopted by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying “it caused corruption”.

His administration also scrapped Ahmadinejad’s fuel card scheme, only to revive it this year while still denying it was a precursor to rationing and price hikes.

Hong Kong Student’s Death Triggers Fresh Outrage

Students of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) participate in a march towards HKUST president Wei Shyy’s lodge in Hong Kong on November 8, 2019, following the death earlier in the day of student Alex Chow, 22, who was taken unconscious to hospital early on November 4 following late-night clashes between police and protesters.
Philip FONG / AFP

 

A Hong Kong student who sustained head injuries when he fell during clashes with police died on Friday, triggering a fresh wave of outrage from the pro-democracy movement and fears of more violent unrest.

Although the precise chain of events leading to 22-year-old Alex Chow’s fall are unclear and disputed, his death is the first student fatality during five months of demonstrations.

Protesters, who allege police tactics contributed to Chow dying, responded to his death with calls for Friday night vigils across the city as well as further rallies over the weekend.

“Today we mourn the loss of a freedom fighter in Hong Kong,” Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy campaigner, said on Twitter.

“We will not leave anyone behind – what we start together, we finish together. Given the losses suffered by Hong Kong society in the past month, the government must pay the price.”

Online forums used by the largely anonymous and leaderless protest movement also quickly filled up with the calls for vigils to mourn Chow’s death.

Chow was taken to hospital early on Monday morning following clashes between police and protesters in the middle-class district of Tseung Kwan O.

He was certified dead by the hospital on Friday morning after failing to emerge from a coma.

He had been found lying unconscious in a pool of blood inside a multi-storey car park that police had fired tear gas towards.

Protesters had been hurling objects from the building, in the type of confrontation that has become routine in late-night rallies over recent months.

Police acknowledged that tear gas had been used to disperse protesters near the car park where Chow fell on Sunday night.

But they denied any wrongdoing, saying their use of tear gas was justified and rejecting other allegations of hindering Chow’s rescue.

“The police did not hinder any fire services officers, ambulance responders or ambulance at all from taking the injured to leave the scene,” a police spokeswoman said this week.

In a short statement, the Hong Kong government expressed “great sorrow and regret” on Friday over Chow’s death.

It did not comment on the specific circumstances that led to him dying, other than to say police were investigating.

‘Eliminate Disorder’

In Beijing, foreign affairs ministry Geng Shuang declined to comment directly when asked about Chow’s death.

“This isn’t a diplomatic question so I suggest you ask the relevant government department. I will just say this: stopping the violence, eliminating disorder, and restoring order is Hong Kong’s most urgent task,” Geng told reporters.

Chow was a student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The college held its graduation ceremony Friday morning, and university head Wei Shyy paused the proceedings to announce Chow’s death.

After the ceremony was cut short, hundreds of students gathered to mourn Chow’s passing and condemn what they described as police brutality.

“Hindering rescuers is attempted murder!” Student chanted as they marched in the campus.

Millions of people have taken to Hong Kong’s streets since June in the greatest challenge to China’s rule of the city since its handover from the British in 1997.

China governs Hong Kong under a special “one country, two systems” framework that is meant to give the city more freedoms and liberties than on the mainland.

But public anger has been building for years over a belief that Beijing is eroding those freedoms, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power.

The protests were triggered by a government effort to introduce a law allowing extraditions of criminal suspects to mainland China.

Hong Kong’s government belatedly withdrew the plans but not before the protest movement escalated into wider calls for democracy.

Protesters are demanding fully free elections to choose the city’s leader, as well as an investigation into alleged abuses by police.

Iraq Protests: 100 Dead, 5,500 Wounded

Iraqis mourn a demonstrator reportedly killed the day before during anti-government protests in the eastern city of Diwaniya, during his funeral in the central holy shrine city of Najaf on October 26, 2019.  AFP

 

At least 100 people have died and more than 5,000 injured since anti-government demonstrations resumed in Iraq on October 24, a national rights commission said Wednesday. 

The Iraqi Human Rights Commission said a majority of the dead were civilians suffocated by tear gas, or who sustained trauma wounds from tear gas canisters or were shot dead.

It could not immediately provide a breakdown of where and when the victims had died.

AFP

Lebanon: Two Weeks Of Protests Force PM To Resign

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri walks to the podium to announce the resignation of his government in the capital Beirut on October 29, 2019. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP

 

Lebanon has been gripped by unprecedented anti-government and anti-austerity protests for nearly two weeks, pushing Prime Minister Saad Hariri to announce sweeping economic reforms then offer to resign on Tuesday.

Here is a recap:

 Apps tax anger 

Demonstrations erupt on October 17, just hours after the government announces a tax on calls made via messaging services like WhatsApp.

Thousands take to the streets in the capital Beirut and the cities of Sidon and Tripoli, some chanting “the people demand the fall of the regime”.

There are clashes near government headquarters in Beirut, as demonstrators try to storm the building.

Security forces say around 40 of their members are wounded. They fire tear gas to try to disperse crowds.

Hundreds of protestors also block major highways and set refuse bins and tyres alight.

The government scraps the messaging app tax later the same day.

 Demos grow 

On October 18, thousands of demonstrators from a broad spectrum of sects and political affiliations bring the capital to standstill.

They demand an overhaul of the political system, citing grievances from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.

Hariri gives his coalition government partners three days to support a reform drive.

The army reopens some highways and fires tear gas and water cannons to disperse a huge crowd in Beirut’s central Riad al-Solh Square, a main rallying point.

Security forces say 70 protesters are arrested.

The demonstrations swell over the following days, with major gatherings also in second city Tripoli and other locations across the country.

 Reforms announced 

On October 19, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces party pull its four ministers from the cabinet.

On October 21, Hariri announces his government has approved a raft of economic reforms, including halving salaries of lawmakers and ministers.

But the protests continue, with demonstrators dismissing the new measures as insufficient and a desperate move by the political class to save their jobs.

Hezbollah calls in supporters 

On October 25, the head of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, which with its allies holds the majority in parliament, tells his supporters to not take part in the protests.

“We do not support the resignation of the government,” Hassan Nasrallah says.

On October 26, loyalists of Hezbollah mobilise counter-demonstrations across the country, sparking scuffles with demonstrators.

Its ally the Free Patriotic Movement also stages separate smaller rallies supporting its founder, President Michel Aoun.

But Hezbollah faces pressure, with protests breaking out in some of its strongholds, an unprecedented development in the politically fractured country.

Also on October 26, at least six civilians are reportedly wounded when soldiers confront protestors trying to block a road near Tripoli.

The following day, tens of thousands of protesters form a 170-kilometre (105-mile) chain across the country to symbolise national unity.

Resignation 

On October 29, dozens of counter-demonstrators descend on Riad al-Solh Square and attack anti-government protesters, torching tents and tearing down banners that call for “revolution”.

Less than an hour later, Hariri announces in a televised address that he will submit his and his cabinet’s resignation to Aoun later in the evening.

Lebanese PM’s Resignation Makes Crisis ‘Even More Serious’ – France

Lebanese security forces keep watch following confrontations between demonstrators and counter-protesters in the centre of the capital Beirut during the 13th day of anti-government protests on October 29, 2019.  Anwar AMRO / AFP

 

The resignation of Lebanon’s government in response to nearly two weeks of countrywide protests has made the crisis there “even more serious,” France’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

“Prime Minister (Saad) Hariri has just resigned, which makes the crisis even more serious,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament in Paris, and urged the authorities in Lebanon “to do everything they can to guarantee the stability of the institutions and the unity of Lebanon.”

Hariri earlier announced he was submitting the resignation of his government, bowing to rising public pressure. His televised statement was met with cheers from crowds of protesters demanding change.

Le Drian said a condition for stability in any country “is a willingness to listen to the voice and demands of the population”.

“Lebanon needs a commitment from all political leaders to look within themselves and make sure there is a strong response to the population,” said the minister, offering France’s help.

A nationwide protest movement has gripped Lebanon for almost two weeks, calling for an overhaul of a political class viewed as incompetent and corrupt.

AFP

Lebanon PM Hariri To Resign Over Protests

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives an address at the government headquarters in the centre of the capital Beirut.  Marwan TAHTAH / AFP

 

Lebanon’s embattled prime minister Tuesday said he would submit his resignation to the president, bowing to pressure from a mass protest movement that has crippled the country for nearly two weeks.

“It has become necessary for us to make a great shock to fix the crisis. I am going to the Baabda Palace to give my resignation,” Saad Hariri said in a televised speech.

Hariri said his decision was “in response to the will of many Lebanese who have taken to the streets to demand change” in what he called “historic” protests.

“Posts come and go, what matters is the safety and dignity of the people,” Hariri said.

It is unusual for a prime minister to announce his cabinet’s resignation before holding talks at the presidential palace in Baabda.

The sudden resignation — the third by Hariri in his career — will restart the complicated task of parliament forming a new government if it is accepted by the president.

It would also mark the most significant win by demonstrators who have thronged the streets of the country since October 17 demanding political change.

After the announcement, the main protest square in central Beirut erupted into applause, less than a hour after counter-demonstrators ravaged the site and attacked protesters.

“Saad Hariri is only the beginning,” said one protester shown on local television.

“We will continue” until others resign, he added.

The nationwide cross-sectarian protest movement is calling for an overhaul of a political class viewed as incompetent and corrupt.

Lebanon’s political leaders have appeared shell-shocked, trying simultaneously to express sympathy for the largely peaceful protests while warning of chaos in case of a power vacuum.

In a bid to appease the protests, Hariri had announced a package of economic reforms aimed at reviving an economy that has been on the brink of collapse for months.

But the protesters have accused the political elite of desperately attempting to save their jobs and have stuck to their demands for deep, systemic change.

AFP

Chile President To Lift State Of Emergency Amid Protests

Demonstrators clash with security forces during a demonstration in Valparaiso, Chile on October 27, 2019.  Raúl Goycoolea / AFP

 

Embattled Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced on Sunday that a state of emergency that has lasted more than a week amid mass protests would be lifted at midnight.

The decision, just two days after more than a million people took to the country’s streets demanding economic and political change, comes after the equally unpopular week-long nighttime curfews ended on Saturday.

Authorities imposed both the state of emergency and curfews last weekend after Chile was rocked by its worst civil unrest in decades.

What originated as a student protest against a modest hike in metro fares quickly got out of control as demonstrations turned deadly.

A message on the presidency’s official Twitter account said the state of emergency, which had seen 20,000 soldiers and police deployed on the streets, would end “in all the regions and towns where it was established.”

This measure comes a day after Pinera said he’d “asked all ministers to resign in order to form a new government.”

“We are in a new reality,” Pinera said on Saturday. “Chile is different from what it was a week ago.”

The government has been struggling to craft an effective response to the protests and a growing list of economic and political demands that include Pinera’s resignation.

The breadth and ferocity of the demonstrations appeared to have caught the government of Chile — long one of Latin America’s richest and most stable countries — off guard.

By Saturday afternoon, the military presence in the capital Santiago had been already visibly reduced.

The week of unrest began with an initial burst of violence as protesters and looters destroyed metro stations, torched supermarkets, smashed traffic lights and bus stops, and erected burning street barricades.

At least 19 people died in the worst political violence since Chile returned to democracy after the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-90.

AFP

Students Flood Iraq Streets, Defying Government And Parents

Iraqi protestors wave Iraq’s national flags on motorbikes as they take part in anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on October 24, 2019.  AFP

 

Students and schoolchildren hit the streets of Baghdad and southern Iraq on Monday to join escalating calls for the government to quit, defying the education minister, legal threats and even their parents.

Swathes of the country have been engulfed by protests this month, with anger over unemployment and accusations of graft evolving into demands for a total political overhaul.

More than 200 people have been killed and 8,000 wounded, the majority protestors, since the movement erupted on October 1.

This week, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi found himself under pressure from a new source: Iraqi students.

“No school, no classes, until the regime collapses!” boycotting students shouted on Monday in Diwaniyah, 180 kilometres (120 miles) south of the capital.

Diwaniyah’s union of universities and schools announced a ten-day strike on Monday “until the regime falls”, with thousands of uniformed pupils and even professors flooding the streets.

They came out despite Higher Education Minister Qusay al-Suhail’s warning on Sunday that academic life should “stay away” from protests, after around a dozen schools and universities in Baghdad had joined sweeping rallies.

A spokesman for Abdel Mahdi even threatened that any further disruption to schools would be met with “severe punishment”.

But young protesters still gathered on Monday morning in the southern cities of Nasiriyah, Hillah and Basra.

In Kut, most government offices were shut for lack of staff.

 ‘No nation, no class!’ 

In Baghdad, demonstrators gathered on campuses and in Tahrir Square.

“Qusay al-Suhail said not to come down into the streets. But we say: no nation, no class!” one student protester said.

“All we want is for the government to immediately submit its resignation. Either it resigns, or it gets ousted.”

About 60 percent of Iraq’s 40-million-strong population is under the age of 25.

But youth unemployment stands at 25 percent and one in five people live below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.

Anger at inequality and accusations that government corruption was fuelling it sparked protests in Baghdad on October 1 that have since attracted growing numbers of young people.

On Monday, a group of three students drove up close to Tahrir Square, unloading kits and cans of Pepsi to help treat those affected by tear gas.

“It’s my first day at the protests. I told my mom I’m going to class, but I came here instead!” a girl with curly hair told AFP.

In the province of Diyala, which had so far been calm, two members of the provincial council resigned in solidarity with the rallies.

Even in the holy city of Najaf, dozens of young clerics-to-be took to the streets.

The protests are unprecedented in recent Iraqi history for their ire at the entire political class, with some even criticising traditionally revered religious leaders.

“We want the parliament to be dissolved, a temporary government, an amended constitution and early elections under United Nations supervision,” a demonstrator in Baghdad told AFP on Monday.

“That’s what the people want. We don’t want another solution.”

Parliamentary paralysis 

Abdel Mahdi has proposed a laundry list of reforms, including hiring drives, increased pensions and promises to root out corruption.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh has also held discussions with the UN on electoral reform and amendments to the 2005 constitution.

Parliament has tried to meet to discuss the protests but failed several times to reach a quorum.

Lawmakers were set to meet on Monday, but the sitting had not begun at the scheduled time of 1:00 pm (1000 GMT).

Four lawmakers resigned late on Sunday in solidarity with demonstrators, and the largest bloc has been holding an open-ended sit-in since Saturday night.

Saeroon, the bloc tied to firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, said it was dropping its support for Abdel Mahdi.

The move has left the premier more squeezed than ever, as Saeroon was one of the two main sponsors of his government.

The other was Fatah, the political arm of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force, which has said it would continue to back the central government.

Several Hashed offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraq, prompting vows of “revenge” from its leaders.

Sadr responded Sunday, warning them: “Do not champion the corrupt. Do not repress the people.”

AFP

Pope Calls For Dialogue In Lebanon Following Protests

 

Pope Francis urged dialogue in Lebanon Sunday after days of sweeping protests against the political class, urging the country to respect “dignity and freedom”.

Tension has mounted in recent days between security forces and protesters, who are blocking roads and bringing Lebanon to a standstill to press their demands for a complete overhaul of the political system.

“I would like to address a special thought to the dear Lebanese people, in particular to the young who… have made their cries heard in the face of the social and economic challenges and problems of the country,” Pope Francis said.

“I urge everyone to seek the right solutions in the way of dialogue,” he said after the Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square.

He said he hoped that “with the support of the international community, that country may continue to be a space for peaceful coexistence and respect for the dignity and freedom of every person, to benefit of the entire Middle East”.

The protesters — who have thronged Lebanese towns and cities since October 17 — are demanding the removal of the entire political class, accusing politicians of all stripes of systematic corruption.

Iraq Students Join Protests As Pressure On Government Swells

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi speaks during a symbolic funeral ceremony in Baghdad on October 23, 2019 for Major General Ali al-Lami, a commander of the Iraqi Federal Police’s Fourth Division, who was killed the previous day in Samarra in the province of Salahuddin, north of the Iraqi capital. The police commander was killed in an ambush on October 22 which Iraqi security forces blamed on dormant cells of the Islamic State (IS) group.

 

Iraqi students joined anti-government protests in Baghdad on Sunday, ramping up the street pressure on Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi who also faced a surprise sit-in from parliament’s largest bloc.

The capital and country’s south have been rocked by a second wave of demonstrations since Thursday, with protesters digging in despite tear gas, curfews and violence that has left over 60 dead.

On Sunday morning, students could be seen joining demonstrations in the capital, with activists saying about a dozen schools and universities had decided to shut their doors and take part in protests en masse.

In the emblematic Tahrir Square, young girls in school uniforms with rucksacks were seen trekking through streets littered with tear gas canisters.

Hundreds of protesters had hunkered down in the square, defying heavy tear gas use overnight and pledging to “weed out” the political class.

“We’re here to bring down the whole government — to weed them all out!” one protester said, the Iraqi tricolour wrapped around his head.

The protests are unprecedented in recent Iraqi history for their ire at the entire political class, including Abdel Mahdi, parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbussi and even traditionally revered religious leaders.

They have also been exceptionally violent, with 157 dead in the first set of rallies and 63 dead in the latest round.

“We don’t want a single one of them. Not Halbussi, not Abdel Mahdi. We want to bring down the regime,” the protester said.

Women were also seen in larger numbers, including a young nurse who said she was protesting “for the generation that’s coming”.

“Our generation is psychologically tired, but it’s alright as long as this is for the next one,” she said.

– Sadr’s Sit-In

This week’s protests are the sequel to six days of anti-government rallies that erupted on October 1 in outrage at corruption, unemployment and poor services.

Oil-rich Iraq is the OPEC oil cartel’s second biggest producer, but one in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 per cent, according to the World Bank.

In response to the rallies, Abdel Mahdi proposed a laundry list of reforms including hiring drives, increased pensions and promises to root out corruption.

But Iraqis hit the streets once again this week, and Abdel Mahdi now faces escalated pressure from parliament.

The body failed to reach quorum for a scheduled session on Saturday to discuss protester demands.

Later on that evening, its largest bloc announced it would hold an open-ended sit-in to back the rallies.

Saeroon — an alliance between populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraq’s Communist Party — said it now considered itself part of the political opposition.

“The sit-in is ongoing and open until protester demands are met and the reforms promised by the PM are enacted,” Saeroon MP Salam al-Hadi told AFP from within parliament.

The move has put Abdel Mahdi under more pressure than ever, as Saeroon was one of the two main sponsors of his government.

The other was Fatah, the political arm of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force which said it would continue to back the central government.

The one-time allies now find themselves on opposite sides of the protest movement.

Elite Troops Deploy

The Hashed was founded in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group but its factions have since been ordered to incorporate into the state security services.

Several of their offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraqi cities, hinting at a new violent phase.

Several dozen protesters have died while storming or setting fire to the offices of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organisation and others, according to medics and police.

Top Hashed commanders have threatened revenge, denouncing the attacks as sowing “discord and chaos” in the country.

The United Nations has said it fears “armed spoilers” could derail efforts at peaceful protests in Iraq and said it was “tragic” to see renewed violence in the country.

Since October 1, at least 220 people have died in the capital and the south, according to official sources.

A government probe found “excessive force” was used to quell the first week of protests, and in a noticeable change, there have been no reports of live ammunition in Baghdad in recent days.

Most of those killed since Thursday have been in the Shiite-majority south, but medics and protesters have reported trauma wounds from tear gas canisters unleashed into crowds in the capital.

On Sunday, security forces were positioned on the edges of Tahrir, while elite Counter-Terrorism Service troops and armoured vehicles were seen in surrounding districts.

The CTS said it had deployed its units to “protect vital infrastructure,” and its forces were not seen in Tahrir.

350,000 Protesters Flood Barcelona For Separatist ‘Freedom’ Rally

A Basque “ikurrina” flag flies among Catalan pro-independence “Estelada” flags during a pro-independence demonstration called by Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural organisations, against the conviction of Catalan separatist leaders for the 2017 attempted secession, in Barcelona, on October 26, 2019. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Around 350,000 people rallied in downtown Barcelona on Saturday, turning the streets into a sea of independence flags in the latest mass protest against Spain’s jailing of nine separatist leaders.

The turnout figure was given by the local police as vast crowds packed into a wide avenue running between the waterfront and the city’s towering Sagrada Familia basilica, which was once again closed to visitors.

Catalonia has been gripped by unrest since the October 14 Supreme Court verdict which unleashed a wave of huge demonstrations that quickly turned violent, with angry protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police, who hit back with tear gas, foam rounds and rubber bullets.

The crisis began two years ago when the region staged a banned referendum on October 1 that was marred by police violence, then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, trigging Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Saturday’s rally was called by the ANC and Omnium Cultural, the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups that have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years.

Marching down the spacious boulevard, demonstrators held up banners reading “We won’t give in” and chanting “October 1, we won’t forgive, we won’t forget”.

As a police helicopter flew overhead, they broke into loud boos and whistling, an AFP correspondent said.

“I feel really angry,” said a 26-year-old computer technician from Tarragona called Marc, who did not give his surname and described the heavy prison sentences handed to nine separatist leaders as “totally over the top, inhuman, and shameful”.

“The violence doesn’t sit well with me but it’s normal to have a bit of upheaval like we’ve seen in Chile and Ecuador,” he said of a wave of mass protests in Latin America.

“There are different ways of protesting but we have one objective: independence.”

A second demonstration called by the radical CDR will being at 7:30 pm (1730 GMT), raising fears there could be fresh clashes with police.

Counter demonstration on Sunday 

Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with a September poll showing 44 percent in favour but 48.3 percent against. The violent protests over the verdict have only deepened that division.

The violence eased off last week although the protests continued, with thousands of flag-waving students marching peacefully through the city on Friday evening.

More than 600 people have been injured so far in the protests, among them 367 civilians, four of whom lost an eye, Catalan health officials say, with government figures showing 289 police were also hurt.

Earlier on Saturday, thousands rallied in Madrid in defence of Spain’s unity at a demonstration called by the far-right Vox party, which has taken a very tough line on Catalan separatism and wants all regional pro-independence parties banned.

Although the faction only entered parliament in April, polls indicate it might become the third-largest party following the November 10 election.

On Sunday, activists from Catalan Civil Society (SCC) will hold a counter demonstration by those who want the region to remain part of Spain and who want the protest violence to end.

“Those who oppose independence are a majority, and that is an important message for Catalonia, for Spain and the world, where often separatism is associated with Catalonia,” SCC head Fernando Sanchez Costa told AFP.

“It’s important to go back out and say: that’s enough violence and confrontation,” he said, warning that the unrest was causing a lot of damage to Catalan society.

 Separation ‘not an option’ 

Until now, the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez has turned a deaf ear to repeated calls for dialogue from regional president Quim Torra, who wants to secure Madrid’s agreement for a referendum on independence.

“What we will not talk about is the right to self-determination,” Carmen Calvo, Sanchez’s deputy, told journalists on Saturday.

“If, as president Torra has said every day, the aim is to break up Spain’s territorial unity and separate Catalonia from Spain, we simply cannot talk,” she said.

“Unilaterally breaking the rules of the game is not an option.”

AFP

Protesters Ask Roman Mayor Raggi To Resign

People take part in a peaceful protest march of members of Roman citizens committees, groups and associations that say care about the future of Rome and want to take charge themselves of the Italian capital, on October 26, 2019. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

Hundreds of people marched along the Tiber River on Saturday to demand Rome mayor Virginia Raggi resign over the state of the Italian capital.

“Raggi is turning the city into somewhere to run away from, instead of a city where people can live with dignity, work and build their future,” the Tutti per Rome (Everyone for Rome) organisation said ahead of the rally.

“The whole world pities us,” it said.

The march came a day after trade unions in Rome staged a general strike, with workers including bus drivers and garbage collectors taking a stand against the mayor and her ruling Five Star Movement administration.

The Eternal City’s streets are riddled with potholes, buses regularly catch fire and officials have warned the perennial garbage crisis constitutes a health risk, with rat control services working overtime as bins overflow near tourist sites, homes and schools.

Raggi became the capital’s first female mayor in 2016 by tapping into anger over corruption scandals — in particular the infiltration of crime families in the city’s waste management system.

In April this year she defended herself against accusations she had failed to turn the situation around, saying Rome was “under attack” from mobsters determined not to release their grip on a lucrative sector.

AFP