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Hundreds arrested at Moscow demonstration for free elections

Police officers detain protesters during a rally calling for opposition candidates to be registered for Moscow elections [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Moscow, Russia – More than 1,000 people, including opposition leaders and city council election candidates, were arrested on Saturday as police cracked down on an unsanctioned demonstration for fair elections.

Hundreds of riot police and members of the national guard were dispatched to the centre of the capital, closing down streets near the planned protest site at city hall and rerouting demonstrators and bystanders.

The number of detentions, monitored by the independent OVD-Info group, was still growing after about 3,500 people had gathered. Prominent political figures were forcefully put into vans before the protest could start amid scuffles.

It was the second protest in Moscow within a week after last Saturday’s authorised rally for free local elections, attended by some 20,000 people, and one of the largest demonstrations in Russia since the 2011-12 rallies against President Vladimir Putin‘s re-election.

“Putin is a thief,” chanted dozens of protesters who took to Petrovka street, one of the fanciest areas in Moscow.

Police were quoted as saying by Russian news agencies that 1,074 people were arrested for a variety of offences.

“I’ve been scared all my life but enough is enough. If we stay home, nothing will change,” said Yelena Rastovka, a pensioner.

Alexandra Parushina, a council member of the Khamovniki district, was hit on the head by riot police. She was taken to an ambulance bloodied.

Opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was at the forefront of last week’s demonstration, called for the second round of action in front of the city hall on Saturday. The anti-corruption lawyer has not been able to attend, though, as he was arrested on Wednesday and given 30 days in jail.

Other young liberal leaders and candidates for the City Duma – the regional parliament – elections, such as Dmitry Gudkov and Lyubov Sobol were put into custody after they arrived on site.

Countrywide discontent

The recent wave of Moscow protests, which began with a round of smaller rallies between July 15 and 19, was sparked by the decision of the Russian election committee – strongly linked to central power – to ban all but a few opposition and independent candidates vying for the city council seats.

The move led to a campaign on social media among Moscow residents and activists to take to the streets.

The pushback also comes against a backdrop of growing discontent nationwide as Putin’s approval ratings slip.

The northern region of Arkhangelsk has been the theatre of a year-long battle and occupation by locals of the site of a huge new landfill to be built in the middle of an untouched forest. In the Urals metropolis of Yekaterinburg, thousands demonstrated for several days in May against the building of a new cathedral at a local park.

Given this climate of citizen anger and grassroots movements popping up in various regions, authorities have become wary of political opposition gaining any more traction as shown by Saturday’s crackdown.

Source: Aljazeera

Where are they? Families lament missing Sudanese after attack

The June 3 massacre by security forces left 87 people dead, according to the investigation [Marwan Ali/EPA-EFE]

“My cousin wasn’t a trouble-maker, he used to stay mostly in the neighbourhood. He used to watch TV every evening and sometimes re-enact what he saw in a way that made us laugh at home.”

That’s how Zakia Khalil described her 18-year-old cousin Abadi Osman, an ice-seller in Sharq El-neel, in the eastern suburbs of Khartoum, where he lived with paternal relatives and was raised by his grandfather.

He went missing on June 3 after a military attack on a pro-democracy sit-in in front of the military headquarters in Sudan’s capital.

“He was like any other person in the country affected by the economy and the way the country was being governed,” Khalil told Al Jazeera.

“He came out because he believed in the revolution.”

For months, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese, including Osman, demonstrated against the country’s long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir. When the demonstrations turned into a mass protest camp outside the military headquarters in early April, Osman joined in as well, coming home only a handful of times during the two months the sit-in lasted.

On April 11, the military seized power after removing and arresting al-Bashir. A newly formed Transitional Military Council (TMC) began negotiating with an opposition coalition known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which represented the protest movement. But the talks between the ruling generals and the protest leaders broke down several times as the sit-in continued.

Hundreds wounded

On June 3, the military raided the sit-in resulting in the deaths of more than 100 demonstrators, according to the protest-aligned Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD).

More than 700 people were reported wounded from the attack and subsequent days of violence. Survivors also recounted the army, mostly made up of soldiers from the notorious Rapid Support Forces, led by the deputy head of the TMC, threw bodies into the Nile River near the sit-in.

Khalil said she and her family looked everywhere for her cousin – in hospitals, mortuaries and police stations – but could not find his name among those wounded, arrested or recorded as dead.

Osman was listed among the dozens missing.

On Saturday, the committee set up by the ruling generals announced that investigations into the attack were ongoing but revealed only a handful of officers were responsible for the killings.

“One of the [generals] was warned that he is not responsible for the operation yet he disobeyed orders and led the Rapid Support Forces into the sit-in area and handed down orders for them to get out of their armoured vehicles and force the protesters out,” Fath al-Rahman Saeed, the head of the committee, told journalists in a press conference in Khartoum.

He said the order was given to disperse an area known as Columbia, adjacent to the sit-in, where alcohol and drugs – both illegal in Sudan – were known to be sold.

“Some outlaws exploited this gathering [the sit-in] and formed another gathering in what is known as the Columbia area, where negative and illegal practices took place,” Saeed said.

He added 87 people were killed and 168 wounded and no rapes took place, despite a CCSD report saying there were at least 50 cases of rape. There was no mention of the whereabouts of those missing in the brief press conference.

“It’s not only on the day of the attack, some people disappeared after,” Musab Alsharief, a member of a neighbourhood resistance committee mobilising protesters nationwide, told Al Jazeera.

‘Lost their minds’

Pages and accounts on social media were set up for families to post names and photos of their missing loved ones, in hopes that someone would recognise them and tell the families where they were.

One such page lists 17 people still missing since the June 3 raid. But activists say not all families have access to social media, and not all of those killed had families – so the number of those missing is likely higher.

“We’ve found some of those who went missing, but most of them weren’t in a stable state of mind,” Alsharief said. “Some of them have lost their memory, some of them have lost their minds completely.”

He added they had signs of beatings and torture.

“I just want Abadi to come back,” Khalil said.

Source: Aljazeera

Is the world ignoring Syria's war?

The United Nations says the world is ignoring the bloodshed in Syria as President Bashar al-Assad steps up the campaign to take back the rebels’ last stronghold.

Government fighters backed by Russia began the offensive on Idlib province in April.

At least 450 civilians have died since then, with 103 killed in the past 10 days.

But the UN says the international community is not paying attention to the mounting death toll.

Have we become indifferent to the eight-year conflict?

Presenter: Martine Dennis


Marwan Kabalan – head of policy analysis at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies

Nour Hallak – Syrian civil society activist

Yahya al-Aridi – Syrian opposition representative

Source: Aljazeera

Nigeria to label Shia group a 'terrorist organisation'

At least 20 members of the group have been killed since Monday during clashes with security forces [Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

A Nigerian court has granted the government permission to label a local Shia group as a “terrorist” organisation.

Dayo Apata, Nigeria’s solicitor general, confirmed on Saturday that a federal court allowed the government to proscribe the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) as such, a move offering the authorities the chance to clamp down harder on the group.

IMN members have been marching in the capital Abuja calling for the release of their leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015 despite a court order to release him.

Zakzaky’s office said plans to ban the movement had been considered since 2015 and it was not surprised by the move.

The protests have often turned violent. The Shia organisation said at least 20 of its members were killed this week during a series of protests in Abuja. No official death toll has been released by police.

Security was stepped up across the country in the face of the ongoing protests, which police say are violent and unruly.

Zakzaky has been held in detention since December 2015 when the army killed almost 350 of his followers at his compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in northern Kaduna state.

He faces charges of murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace, and other offences following the 2015 violence. He has pleaded not guilty.

The latest round of protests and the ensuing deadly crackdown has raised concerns, with rights groups calling for an investigation into the killings.

“The Nigerian police’s apparent rush to use firearms against Shia movement protesters is unlawful and counterproductive,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Wednesday.

“The authorities should bring an end to their violent crackdown on the Shia Islamic Movement in Nigeria, and investigate the excessive use of force by the police,” she added.

Source: Aljazeera

Defying police ban, HK protesters return to gang-attack scene

Demonstrators react to tear gas during a protest against last weekend’s attacks in Yuen Long [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong – In defiance of a police order, thousands of protesters in Hong Kong convened in a small rural town where suspected gang members assaulted pro-democracy protesters and passersby last weekend.

What on Saturday began as a peaceful march to denounce the violence at a subway station in Yuen Long slowly led to standoffs with riot police, who fired rounds of rubber-coated bullets and tear gas and advanced to disperse crowds. In some areas, there were clashes as protesters pushed back against police by throwing umbrellas and bottles. 

Hong Kong police said protesters “hurled bricks and hard objects” at them. Shortly after, riot police stormed the subway station and used batons to disperse protesters. Footage showed blood on the station floor.

According to the hospital authority, 24 people were injured, eight patients remain in the hospital, two are in serious condition and six are stable.

Late on Saturday, some protesters remained in and around Yuen Long station. Police warned in a statement that they risked arrest and long jail sentences. 

“Police hereby reiterate that the protesters are participating in an unauthorised assembly and may be liable to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment,” it said.

Max Chung, the applicant for the march, estimated that 288,000 people participated in the demonstration. Police did not provide a figure.

The police this week came under heavy criticism for an apparent failure to stop the violence against the protesters on July 21, when an attack in Yuen Long by a mob of white-clad, rod-wielding men left at least 45 people, including members of the media, injured.

Twelve people were arrested after last Sunday’s violence, including some with links to criminal groups known as the triads.

As the outcry over a now-suspended extradition bill that would allow criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial continues, protests are spreading into deeper pockets of the territory and reaching more remote communities.

Dubbed Take Back Yuen Long, Saturday’s rally took aim at “terrorism”, according to Chung, who applied to police on Tuesday for permission for the march to take place in the northern town.

But on Thursday, police issued a letter of objection for the rally, citing concerns for public safety and order.

“The march is triggered by the violent incidents last Sunday and protesters have shown hostility towards some Yuen Long residents,” Anthony Tsang Ching-fo, the acting New Territories North regional commander, said on Thursday, according to the South China Morning Post.

“There is a fairly high chance for both sides to clash.”

DATE IMPORTED: 27 July, 2019 Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against the Yuen Long attacks in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Protesters’ demands

Despite losing the appeal on Friday, Chung, a 39-year-old native of Yuen Long, vowed to push on with the unlicensed assembly.

“It won’t be stopped. One of the slogans is ‘spreading the blossoms’. We plant all the flowers and they blossom. So until the government responds to the five requests, especially the independent investigation [into police violence], I don’t see how anything can stop it.”

Since mass demonstrations began in early June, demonstrators’ requests have included the complete withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill, which the city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam has pronounced “dead” but has not officially retracted. 

Other core demands include an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, removing the “riot” label for the June 12 protests, the release of arrested demonstrators and the direct election of officials.

Following Sunday’s attack, which appeared to target black-clad pro-democracy protesters returning home from a demonstration, police came under fire for arriving 39 minutes late to the scene.

Police flatly denied any accusations of collusion with the mobs and claimed they were strapped for manpower as another demonstration unfolded in the city centre 30km away, where protesters surrounded Beijing’s liaison office and defaced the Chinese national emblem.

Police officers fire tear gas at demonstrators during a protest against the Yuen Long attacks in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu


Tensions have risen dramatically since, with state news agency Xinhua calling the act a “blatant challenge” to the central Chinese government.

Earlier this week, the spokesman for the Chinese Defence Ministry, when asked how China’s forces would respond to the situation, referred to a law in the territory that states that the Hong Kong government may request the assistance of Chinese troops stationed in the city to maintain public order.

Earlier this week, 11 universities in Hong Kong issued a statement urging students not to partake in Saturday’s march citing safety concerns.

Phil, a 31-year-old protester planning to attend Saturday’s march, described it as “revenge” against the gangsters.

“[Danger] always is a risk, but Hong Kong people need to do that otherwise things will become worse,” he said. “Protesters have two different sides – peaceful and violent. But you can see being peaceful is not going to make the government do anything.”

On Friday, hundreds of protesters occupied the arrival hall of Hong Kong International Airport in an effort to spread the message of anti-extradition to travellers.

Source: Aljazeera