Angry protesters march for ‘a better future’
PARIS: Protests have flared around the world, with citizens rallying for the last few weeks demanding change in their countries. Here are the reasons seven of them from Catalonia to Chile are taking to the streets.
“Why do Hong Kongers have to suffer so much white terror? It’s because the government refuses to face our demands and reach a compromise with us. It should back down and listen to the people’s demands,” said “Mr A”, a man in his thirties who wanted to remain anonymous. Hong Kong has been upended by nearly five months of huge, often violent, pro-democracy protests in which participants routinely wear masks to hide their identities and protect themselves from teargas and pepper spray.
The protests were initially sparked by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, but snowballed into a wider democracy and police accountability movement. “We must have our five demands,” said Mr A. He was referring to the demands of the Hong Kong protest movement including an independent inquiry into police action, amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage.
Wearing trainers, a polo shirt and a Che Guevara hat, Abdenour Ait Said whips up the crowd every Tuesday during student protests in Algiers. The 22-year-old biology student – known by his friends as Abdou – has emerged as one of the leaders of the eight-month-old rallies. Always at the front of the march, he keeps up a stream of slogans against the regime, repeated in chorus by the crowd. In February he was among the first demonstrators to take to the streets to demand the fall of the “system”.
“I protest so my country is freed from this power in place for more than 50 years, who plundered its riches, and I oppose the elections planned for December 12 which we know in advance will be rigged,” he says. “I denounce the arbitrary arrests of protesters, and the siege of the capital every Friday and Tuesday to prevent demonstrators from other cities joining us.” He dreams of “a new Algeria where the rule of law reigns”.
The face of the Joker has become a symbol of protest movements around the world, and a picture by AFP photographer Patrick Baz of a demonstrator in Beirut on October 19 looking like the comic book villain quickly went viral. Underneath the make-up was Cynthia Albert Aboujaoude, 28, who works in graphic design.
“We’re protesting for a better future. We’re all here for many problems, the roads, the trash, the economy … the water.” If she could change one thing about the country it would be education, she says. “I would take public schooling a little bit more seriously and make it 100 percent free. “I found out about the protests by accident. I was leaving a friend’s place when I came across a blocked road with burning tyres.
That’s when I checked the news and couldn’t help but join the revolt.” She says she has long felt a connection with the Joker. “So I wore his make-up comfortably and peacefully using the colors of our Lebanese flag with no intentions to start riots or wreak havoc, it was purely to make a statement.” She says it feels “surreal and overwhelming” to know that so many people have seen her face. “It almost feels insane that a picture in a certain place, time or situation can have such a huge impact.”
His face partly covered by a surgical mask, Haydar Sabri holds a picture of his brother as tear gas canisters and stun grenades rain down on Baghdad’s emblematic Tahrir Square. Underneath he has written: “I am here to find justice for my brother”. “My brother was protesting peacefully and he was killed by a sniper on October 4” in the same square, says Sabri, who is in his 20s and earns a living from odd jobs.
At the time Iraq was gripped by a first wave of protests, the deadliest since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Five days of anti-government rallies brought chaos to Baghdad and southern Iraq despite the authorities’ attempts to quell them with internet blackouts and curfews. More than 150 people were killed, mostly protesters in the capital, according to official figures, in a country flush with oil wealth but where one-fifth of the population lives in poverty.
Now that the rallies-and deaths-have resumed after a nearly three-week lull, Sabri has joined the demonstrators after keeping up to date with calls to mobilize on Facebook. He wants “the fall of the government because it’s the only way to find justice for my brother. “I want to be able to visit his grave and tell him that he died for a good cause,” Sabri tells AFP. “I want a better country and that will never happen unless the government falls.”
“I protest because the circumstances in recent years have incarcerated Catalonia’s political leaders we elected. They were allowed to propose an electoral program (for independence in Catalonia) and when they wanted to put their plan into action they were detained and sent to prison,” said Gisela Navales Morera, a 39-year-old teacher. “It seems very unjust,” the Catalan separatist added. 44 percent of people in the region are in favor of forming an independent state in northeast Spain.
“I protest for them to be released and for those ‘exiled’ to return to their country,” she said, referring to former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and other politicians in the region, who have fled abroad to avoid prosecution. Navales Morera said she wants “a country where everyone can express what they think, where they feel they can demonstrate.” She keeps up to date on events on Instagram and uses the social media network Telegram. She said on social media “we have the chance to see thing the media does not show us”.
“This is the first time that Chileans are united and we must not miss this opportunity,” said 21-year-old student Carlos Morales. “It is a way of putting pressure on the government to listen to us and that all Chileans can live in peace, and not in poverty.” The protests were triggered by a hike in the price of underground train tickets. “I hope that (President Sebastian Pinera) will resign, as well as all those damn thieves. I hope that these damn parliamentarians will lower their salary. “There are people who earn nine million pesos (11,200 euros over $12,000) per month while the minimum wage is 300,000 pesos (373 euros or $415). “It causes a lot of anger among people. With the 9.2 percent increase of electricity and the increase in the price of metro tickets, Pinera keeps us in poverty and controls us,” he said.
La Paz, Bolivia
With a national flag tied to her t-shirt imprinted with the word ‘No’, 15-year-old schoolgirl Natalia Vasquez marches with her friends, covered in the national colors of red, yellow, green. “There has been electoral fraud, and that has been proven, it’s been 14 years since President Morales was here, now we want to fight to develop the country,” she said following Evo Morales’s re-election on Sunday. “We are the young people who are looking for a better future, to have a better Bolivia, if we do not fight, who will guarantee that it will be better after?” While her family encourage her, they also warn her to be careful when she takes to the streets.
But the teenager, who lives in the upmarket neighborhood of Cota Cota, said she was ready to go to prison “if necessary”. With her teachers on strike and her school closed, Vasquez and her friends communicate with protest groups via messaging service WhatsApp. She says the messaging groups are at full capacity with 250 people. “There are also Facebook groups with thousands of members,” she says. Instagram has also been a tool to send videos of speeches made by the president, fights and how to organize protests.- AFP