Politics

Anti-government protests spread to nearly every continent

By Hallum Cowell

Protests are currently taking place all over the world. While some are violent and others peaceful, we seem to be experiencing a wave of unrest this winter. Below are some explanations of the unrest seen in a variety of countries. We will look at some of the causes, impacts and effects of certain movements adn outline the protesters’ and how the government of that country has responded.

Chile

Protests in Chile began over three weeks ago on October 14 and have escalated dramatically. The unrest began after the Government announced plans to raise the price of metro tickets by 30 pesos (around four pence in Great British Pounds) which led to student protests and riots. 

These initial pockets of protests have now grown into country wide anti-government and anti-inequality protests and riots. The capital city, Santiago has been placed under curfew and the army has been deployed to curb the protesters. So far over 17 people have been killed and hundreds have been injured. The country branded itself as an “oasis” of political stability in Latin America however this recent unrest has laid siege to this claim. 

The Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has announced a series of reforms aimed at appeasing the protesters including increasing the minimum pension and minimum wage. He has also pulled out of hosting two major diplomatic events that were to be held in the country. The COP25 climate summit, where world leaders were set to discuss implementing the Paris Climate Accords, was due to be held in early December. The Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum was also due to be held in mid-November but Chile has pulled out of hosting both events. The president said that the decision had caused him “pain” and that his government had to “prioritise re-establishing public order.

Iraq

Anti-government protests have been continuing in Iraq with protesters demanding more jobs, better public services and an end to corruption. 

Baghdad has been placed under curfew although clashes between protesters and police forces show no sign of becoming less violent.  In fact, violence is becoming more and more brutal with up to 18 people shot dead and hundreds wounded by government forces in the holy city of Karbala. The government has been forced to establish ‘green zones’ in the capital, where government offices and embassies are located, to be defended by armed government forces. 

Protests earlier in October left 150 dead after Iraqi security forces fought protestors. The latest wave of riots has left over 45 dead, half of which are reported to have died after storming government buildings and militia headquarters and increasing the death toll to 220. 

Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has promised reforms, although those protesting seem intent on removing him and his government from power. The Prime Minister, who holds a minority government in Parliament is refusing demands from the opposition bloc to hold snap elections. 

Hong Kong

Protests in Hong Kong over a controversial extradition law started in March 2019 and became a mass movement in June, they have been taking place ever since. 

Those protesting are discontent about what they see as Chinese influence over Hong Kong. Hong Kong acts as an autonomous province of China after the United Kingdom returned the territory in 1997 under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle. Support for the protesters rose after the Hong Kong Executive attempted to pass a controversial Extradition Bill where those arrested in Hong Kong could be moved to Chinese courts and therefore be tried under Chinese laws. The Bill has since dropped, but unrest continues with sit-ins, rioting and peaceful protests.  

Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam’s administration is predicting that the territory is now going to enter recession as a result of the protests. It is estimated that visitor numbers dropped by more than 50% and retail sales plunging by as much as 25% as staff are unable to get to work and shops have to shorten trading hours. The protesters now have a list of five basic demands such as amnesty for arrested protesters and an inquiry into the use of force by authorities against demonstrators, which they seek to be answered before they stop protesting. 

Spain

Citizens in Barcelona are campaigning for their independence from Spain as hundreds of thousands take to the streets. Barcelona is seen as the historic capital of the province of Catalonia, an area that has a large independence movement. An ‘illegal’ referndum was held in 2017 with the pro-independence vote winning by a landslide (92.01% of the vote).  However, it was denounced by the Spanish constitution and a result independence was denied. 

This latest round of protests has been the result of the jailing of Catalan independence leaders leading to protests involving 350,000 people.

Lebanon

Lebanese protesterss have taken to the streets and have been amassing in Martyrs’ Square in the capital of Beirut. Initially, protesting began after the Government attempted to place a tax on WhatsApp calls, a plan which was quickly abandoned. However, now protesters have focused their anger on the increasing wealth of the most powerful while the country’s economy declines. The government in response sent riot police to put down the protests with tear gas and rubber bullets leaving many wounded.  After two weeks of protests, on October 29, the Prime Minister offered his resignation saying in a televised announcement, he commented that he had reached a “dead end.”

Conclusion

All these protests are diverse in the issues that spurred them and the content of their demands. Ivan Briscoe, Latin America Director for the International Crisis Group told the Buenos Aires Times that “We’re talking about unrest that straddles poor countries and wealthier countries, left and right, democracies and authoritarian governments. That makes a single explanation incredibly hard to achieve.” 

It may be possible that there is no link and that this wave of unrest is purely coincidental. The context of these protests differs from continent to continent, in Latin America economic inequality and vestiges of ideologies gone seem to have spurred resentment between the social classes. Meanwhile in the Middle East, government corruption and inaction are said to have led people to take to the streets. In Europe, turbulent economic climates and an increase in nationalism have led to the swelling of independence groups like those in Catalonia. In Hong Kong, people on the streets would argue that they are marching for their freedom from an oppressive government. It seems that overall, large cultural and economic rifts have culminated at the same time, bringing years of issues to a head and pushed people to fight their governments.

There are other protests under way in other countries as well; People’s Vote and pro-Brexit marches in the United Kingdom, protesters in Egypt demonstrating against the government, the Gilet Jaunes movement in France is approaching its first anniversary and police are protesting in Haiti to demand better working conditions. Whether we see more protests arise in the coming months or if these are the tail end of a trend, each of these have large impacts on countries, their people and their neighbours. 

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