Tag Archives: protest

Commemorating Tiananmen Square

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square. Many people remember the dramatic footage of “tank man,” the lone protestor who stood in front of a column of tanks in an attempt to prevent their movement against other protestors. The crackdown marked a dramatic shift in Chinese politics. In 1989, broad shifts were taking place across the Communist world. Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, was attempting to introduce sweeping reforms in the country. Those reforms quickly spiraled beyond his control, and eventually the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union broke apart, and Eastern Europe moved to democracy.

Similar protests erupted in 1989 in China, culminating in a massive, student-led movement occupying Tiananmen Square and demanding democratization in China. The Chinese government cracked down, condemning the protests as a “counter-revolutionary riot.”

In this video, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviews one of the student leaders in the protest, Wu’er Kaixi, who was forced to flee China after the crackdown and now resides in Tiawan. In this interview, he offers his thoughts on the protest and the future direction of China in a post-Tiananmen Square era.

 

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The Rise (and Fall) of Viktor Yanukovych

Events in Ukraine have unfolded quickly over the past week, as the country’s President, Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by the Parliament and forced to flee to an undisclosed location in the country’s east by protesters in the capital.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26307745 Clashes between anti-government protesters and police forces in the capital of Kiev last week left more than 100 dead. The clashes marked the culmination of months of growing tensions in the country, which pitted pro-European protestors against a government increasingly aligned with Russia.

Yanukovych’s rise to power reflected a sharp division within Ukraine. Drawing most of his support from the eastern portions of the country, Yanukovych narrowly defeated his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, in 2010 in an election widely decried as being marred by voting fraud. Yanukovych’s presidency was widely criticized for corruption and cronyism. Now his presidency appears to be over, but the future of Ukraine remains uncertain.

Demanding the Right to Drive in Saudi Arabia

A woman violates informal Saudi laws prohibiting female driving.

A woman violates informal Saudi laws prohibiting female driving.

Women in Saudi Arabia have been engaged in an ongoing protest demanding the right to drive be granted. While technically not illegal, women in Saudi Arabia have been subject to arrest and prosecution for attempting to drive. While declining to cite what laws were being violated or what punishments might be doled out, the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry spokesperson, Major General Mansour Al-Turki warned women that “All violations will be dealt with—whether demonstrations or women driving. No just on the 26th [a day scheduled for demonstrations]. At all times” At the same time, conservative Saudi religious leaders warned women that driving could damage their ovaries and create health risks and cause children to be born with “clinical problems.” Saudi Arabia maintains very conservative traditions, particularly in the area of women’s rights. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries in gender equality. Saudi Arabia was the only country to earn a score of zero in the area of political empowerment.  Saudi law requires all women have a male guardian—usually a father, brother, or husband—who has rights over women’s marriage, travel, education, employment, and other decisions. Women in Saudi Arabia comprise just 17 percent of the country’s workforce, one of the lowest female labor market participation rates in the world. However, some progress is being made in securing equal rights for Saudi women. In 2011, King Abdullah issued a declaration granting women the right to vote and run for local elected office beginning in the 2015 election. But in the economic and social spheres, much work remains to be done.

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The political situation in Iran continued to evolve over the past week. Last week, a standoff between President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, culminated in the dismissal of two conservatives from the cabinet and the firing of Vice President (and close ally of Ahmadi-Nejad), Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The deteriorating relationship between Ahmadi-Nejad and Khamenei further undermines the political stability of Iran, already weakened by June’s disputed presidential elections and the subsequent protests which have rocked the country. Protests have been a regular feature of the Iranian political scene for the past month, including clashes between police and opposition supporters like those that occurred on Thursday.  Although the Iranian government last week released hundreds of people arrested for participating in the post-election protests, the trial of 100 of the most prominent detainees is moving forward. Critics of the regime have condemned the trial as a spectacle.

Meanwhile, three Americans were arrested on Saturday by Iranian security forces for allegedly entering the country illegally.  The three were camping in Kurdistan (near the Iraqi-Iranian border) when they crossed over into Iran. They have been transferred to the capital, Tehran, where they are currently being held.

In news from outside Iran in the last week:

1. Two statements by the Indian government last week dashed hopes of progress in multilateral negotiations. On Wednesday, India’s commerce secretary, Rahul Khullar, dismissed hopes of rekindling World Trade Organization talks as unrealistic in the current global political and economic climate. The current round of talks, referred to as the Doha agenda, has been under negotiation for nine years. The talks have been suspended numerous times, largely as a result of the inability of WTO member states to agree on binding cuts to agricultural subsidies. According to Khullar, progress is unlikely because, in the context of the global economic crisis, political leaders are focused on job losses and the lack of domestic economic growth, a focus which makes it difficult to move forward on a new global trade deal.

In another development, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said on Friday that India would not agree to binding emission cuts for at least ten years, potentially throwing climate talks scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December into disarray. India and China are both dismissive of western pressure to agree to greenhouse gas reductions, believing that such reductions would undermine future economic growth and development in their countries. But without the participation of China and India in climate change negotiations, progress will be far more difficult, particularly given the historical U.S. negotiating position that it will not be bound by any climate change agreement that does not also include reductions for China and India.

2. Over the weekend, Russia concluded negotiations to expand the Russian troop presence in Kyrgyzstan. The expanded Russian presence is part of Russia’s broader effort to reassert itself in its traditional sphere of influence, an effort which included the development of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a counterpart to NATO which includes Russia and six other former Soviet Republics, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Belarus. The United States and Russia have been competing for influence in Kyrgyzstan, which occupies an important geo-strategic position, and Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has skillfully negotiated between competing Russian and American interests. In February, after receiving $2 billion in aid from the Russian government, Bakiyev ordered the United States to leave Kyrgyzstani bases by June. The bases are part of the U.S. air transit route to supply forces in Afghanistan. After the United States agreed to triple rent payments for use of the base and to offer additional financial assistance to the Kyrgyzstani government, Bakiyev rescinded his request that the U.S. withdraw.

3. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has once again sparked widespread criticism, this time among human rights groups. At issue is the latest development in the president’s campaign against “media terrorism”—a new law which would punish journalists and their sources with up to four years in jail for “causing panic,” “disturbing social peace” or compromising national security.

In an unrelated development, the government of Venezuela has “frozen” diplomatic and economic relations with its neighbor, Colombia. Relations between the two countries have been poor since March 2008, when Colombia launched a raid into Ecuador, a close ally of Venezuela. The decision to suspend relations came after Colombia accused Venezuela of supplying rocket launchers to Marxist rebels in Colombia.

4. Clashes between security forces and an Islamist sect in three states in Nigeria continued last week despite the death of Islamist leader Mohammed Yusuf in police custody. More than 150 people have died in five days of fighting in Nigeria, where a sharp economic and political divide between the largely Muslim north and the predominately Christian south has been exacerbated by the country’s declining economic situation. The fighting in the northern part of the country complicates efforts to address the longstanding crisis in the southern, oil producing region of the country, where conflicts between militant separatist groups and the government have continued off-and-on for the better part of a decade. Taken together, these conflicts represent the most significant challenge to the Nigerian government since independence.

5. The International Monetary Fund on Friday issued a statement intended to play down the standoff between the Fund and the government of Iceland. At issue are the conditionalities imposed on the government of Iceland as a requirement for the dispersal of $2.1 billion in IMF loans. The government of Iceland has been under immense political pressure regarding the status of foreign savings deposits in Icelandic banks, which collapsed last year as part of the global economic crisis. The IMF is requiring that the government guarantee all foreign savings deposits, but the government of Iceland has so far refused, bowing to domestic political pressure not to compensate account holders.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been an interesting week in the news. While the domestic political scene has been dominated by President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, the real issues of health care reform and reforming the U.S. financial regulatory system appear to have fallen by the wayside, at least temporarily.

In news from outside the United States in the last week:

1. George Mitchell, President Barak Obama’s special Middle East envoy, met with Syrian officials on Sunday. Although no specifics of the meeting were reported, it is believed that Mitchell’s visit is part of Obama’s strategy of improving relations with Syria as part of the broader goal of achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. The visit was Mitchell’s second trip to Syria in two months.

2. The political situation in Iran appears ready to destabilize, as the government faces both opposition from opposition political parties as well as a standoff between fundamentalist elements within President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s cabinet. On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned opposition leaders that they faced “collapse” if they continued protests over last month’s disputed presidential elections. Last week, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president, lent support to the opposition, speaking at a protest against Ahmadi-Nejad’s re-election. Rafsanjani’s position was closely watched, particularly given his position as head of two powerful conservative bodies in Iran, the expediency council and the experts assembly.

In other developments, over the weekend, President Ahmadi-Nejad fired two cabinet ministers, Hossein Saffar-Harandi, culture minister, and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, intelligence minister. The firings, which are rare in Iranian politics, represent the latest developments in a political standoff between Ahmadi-Nejad and conservative forces in his government. It was reported on Wednesday that four ministers, including the two fired over the weekend, debated the president’s decision to name Esfandir Rahim Mashaei as first vice president. Mashaei is a close ally of the president, but managed to draw the criticism of conservatives when he argued last week that the position of the Iranian government should maintain a friendly disposition towards the Israeli people. After the appointment was made public, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as the country’s supreme leader has the final word in governmental affairs, wrote to Ahmadi-Nejad, urging him to fire Mashaei. Ahmadi-Nejad initially refused, but Mashaei nevertheless stepped down over the weekend.  

3. The International Monetary Fund approved a new $2.6 billion loan for Sri Lanka on Friday. The loan is intended to help Sri Lanka rebuild after its 25 year civil war, which ended several months ago after the government launched a series of attacks which incapacitated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group. Despite the end of the fighting, however, the government continues to hold thousands of ethnic Tamils displaced by the fighting in detention camps. The detention of so many people led some human rights groups to condemn the IMF’s decision, arguing, as Human Rights Watch did, that the loan “is a reward for bad behavior, not an incentive to improve.” The United States and the United Kingdom both abstained from the decision, an unusual move for the two countries which collectively control almost 22 percent of the voting shares in the organization.

4. Government services in townships across South Africa have been disrupted by a strike by municipal workers demanding higher pay. The strike follows weeks of protest by residents of poor black urban areas in South Africa, who are demanding improvement of water and electricity delivery, better government housing, and reductions in corruption. The protests represent the most significant political challenge to President Jacob Zuma’s government, which came to power on the platform of reducing poverty and addressing corruption. Zuma promised last week to crack down on protestors, but such a strategy appears likely to exacerbate the political crisis facing the government.

5. The standoff in Honduras continued to develop last week, as ousted President Manuel Zelaya visited the Honduran border on Friday. Zelaya vowed to return to power and symbolically crossed the border, briefly stepping in to Honduras before quickly stepping back into Nicaragua to avoid arrest. Talks between Zelaya and the interim government of Honduras appeared to break down this week, as both sides have refused to cede any ground on the most fundamental question: who should be president. Meanwhile, western governments have stepped up pressure on the interim government of Honduras. On Monday, the European Union announced it was suspending all aid to Honduras while the United States has suspending military aid to the country and has threatened to suspend economic aid if progress is not made. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, heavily reliant on coffee for export earnings.

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President Barack Obama is in Moscow today, meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to lay the foundation for a new nuclear arms control agreement to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December. In an interesting twist to the meeting, Obama appears to be attempting to improve relations with Medvedev, leaving some to speculate that he is signaling the interest of the United States to work with Medvedev rather than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who most observers believe holds the real political power in Russia.

In news from outside the Moscow meetings:

1. Rioting by ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, China, has left 140 people dead. Protests broke out in the isolated region in western China over the weekend after police broke up an anti-discrimination protest in the capital, Urumqi. Tensions between Han Chinese and Uighurs had been increasing over the past year, as an oil boom in the Muslim-dominated region led to a massive increase in Han immigration. Security was increased in the region in the run up to the Olympic Games in Beijing last summer, but tensions continued to mount, culminating in this weekend’s violence.

2. Two protestors were killed and several were wounded in Honduras over the weekend. The protestors were awaiting the return of deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled by the country’s military last week. On Sunday, he attempted to return to Honduras from Costa Rica by plane, but his plane was unable to land. As a result of the coup, Honduras has been suspended from the Organization of American States, and the country faces the risk of future formal and informal sanctions, including risking sharp declines in foreign direct investment and reduced access to international credit flows.

3. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has stepped up attacks on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure, following an offer of amnesty from the government. Nigeria’s President, Umaru Yar,Adua, had offered a 60-day amnesty to militants in the region, hoping the offer would bring to a close attacks in the oil-rich Niger delta. But militants appear to have rejected the offer, instead launching a new round of attacks. At issue is the distribution of benefits from the oil industry. The Niger River delta region is one of Nigeria’s poorest regions, despite being home to the vast majority of the country’s oil wealth. Groups living in the delta region are seeking a larger share of the oil revenues and greater autonomy from the Lagos-based government. The conflict has a long history, predating Nigerian independence in 1960. But the most recent phase of the conflict dates to 2006, when MEND launched its attacks.

4. The G8 is preparing to launch a new food security initiative this week, pledging more than U.S. $12 billion over the next three years to support the program. The plan marks a dramatic shift in U.S. policy, which historically has emphasized the provision of emergency food aid sourced from American farmers rather than efforts to expand production of foodstuffs in the developing world. However, the recent global food crisis underscored the vulnerability of global food stocks. With an estimated 1 billion hungry people worldwide and the continuing global financial crisis, observers fear that the global food crisis may yet re-emerge.

5. Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee delivered the country’s new budget on Monday. The budget, which includes sharp increases in infrastructure spending and new protections for Indian farmers, immediately proved unpopular with investors. India has suffered from a slowdown in economic growth resulting from the global economic crisis, and the new budget would expand the country’s fiscal deficit to as much as six percent of gross domestic product. Nevertheless, the new government appears to be committed to is program of “inclusive growth,” moving forward with privatization and liberalization but maintaining protections for the country’s most vulnerable populations.

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The turmoil over last week’s Iranian elections continued into this week, with thousands of people defying a statement  by the country’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and orders by President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and the country’s Revolutionary Guard banning such protests. Over the weekend, hundreds of supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi were arrested during protests. Moussavi’s supporters believe the election was rigged, but international observers and foreign governments have so far refused to comment.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The World Bank issued a statement urging the developed world to focus on the global economy in their recovery efforts. The collapse of global credit markets over the last year, the Bank noted, had led to a dramatic decline in private capital flows, with investment in developing countries declining from $1,200 billion in 2007 to an estimated $363 billion this year. Meanwhile, announcement of the new stimulus package by the Chinese government led the World Bank to increase its forecasts for the Chinese economy this year. But the decision of the Chinese government to include a ‘Buy China’ policy in its stimulus package has led to increasing tensions over the specter of protectionism in the global recovery effort.

2. French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a rare address to the country’s parliament at the Palace of Versailles this week. For more than 130 years, the French President had been constitutionally prohibited from entering parliament—an attempt to ensure legislative independence. But after the constitution was amended last year—in the name of increasingly parliamentary oversight—the restriction was removed. French Green and Communist parties boycotted the speech in protest of what they see as an attempt to increase the power of the French presidency. Sarkozy used the opportunity to outline measures intended to address the problem of rapidly detiorating public finances, sparked by the global economic crisis. In the speech, Sarkozy rejected the introduction of austerity measures, instead focusing on the need to protect jobs.

3. The situation in Iraq deteriorated over the past week, as the number of bombings as increased. On Saturday, a large truck bomb exploded outside a Shi’ite mosque in the Kurdish town of Kirkuk. The attack, the deadliest single attack in more than a year, killed 73 people. Meanwhile, a series of smaller attacks in Baghdad killed 15 people on Monday. The declining security situation comes as the United States prepares to begin its withdrawal from Iraqi towns, handing responsibility for day-to-day security over to Iraqi police by the end of June.

4. The speaker of the parliament in Somalia has issued a call for neighboring countries to send in troops to help prop up the country’s fragile government. The security situation in Somalia remains grim. On Thursday, the government’s security minister, Omar Hashi Aden, and more than 20 others were killed in a suicide attack by Islamic militants known as al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab seeks to overthrow the country’s western-backed government and impose its vision of strict sharia law in Somalia. So far, international assistance has been limited, and al-Shabaab has confined the influence of the government to the country’s capital, Mogadishu. Meanwhile, according to United Nations estimates, some 122,000 civilians have been forced to flee as a result of fighting which began in early May.

5. Tensions between the government of Hugo Chávez and the anti-government television station Globovisión have increased in Venezuela in recent days. Chávez accuses the station of “media terrorism” as a result of its critical coverage of his government, particularly following a minor earthquake which hit the capital, Caracdas, in early May. According to observers, the station makes an easy target for Chávez, who has stepped up his efforts to transform Venezuelan society and economy in recent months.