People's Stories Democracy

Paris climate pledges far too little, too late
by Robert Watson
UNEP, Global Carbon Project, DW, agencies
Nov. 2019
Cut global emissions by 7.6 percent every year for next decade to meet 1.5°C Paris target. (UN News)
The UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report says that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts. Collective ambition must increase more than fivefold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5°C goal.
2020 is a critical year for climate action, with the UN climate change conference in Glasgow aiming to determine the future course of efforts to avert crisis, and countries expected to significantly step up their climate commitments.
"For ten years, the Emissions Gap Report has been sounding the alarm – and for ten years, the world has only increased its emissions,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
“There has never been a more important time to listen to the science. Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heatwaves, storms and pollution.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that going beyond 1.5°C will increase the frequency and intensity of climate impacts.
“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions – over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director.
“This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now.”
“We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger Nationally Determined Contributions to kick-start the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,” she added. “If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”
G20 nations collectively account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but only five G20 members have committed to a long-term zero emissions target.
In the short-term, developed countries will have to reduce their emissions quicker than developing countries, for reasons of fairness and equity. However, all countries will need to contribute more to collective effects. Developing countries can learn from successful efforts in developed countries; they can even leapfrog them and adopt cleaner technologies at a faster rate.
Crucially, the report says all nations must substantially increase ambition in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as the Paris commitments are known, in 2020 and follow up with policies and strategies to implement them. Solutions are available to make meeting the Paris goals possible, but they are not being deployed fast enough or at a sufficiently large scale.
Each year, the Emissions Gap Report assesses the gap between anticipated emissions in 2030 and levels consistent with the 1.5°C and 2°C targets of the Paris Agreement. The report finds that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 1.5 per cent per year over the last decade. Emissions in 2018, including from land-use changes such as deforestation, hit a new high of 55.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.
To limit temperatures, annual emissions in 2030 need to be 15 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent lower than current unconditional NDCs imply for the 2°C goal; they need to be 32 gigatonnes lower for the 1.5°C goal. On an annual basis, this means cuts in emissions of 7.6 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 to meet the 1.5°C goal and 2.7 per cent per year for the 2°C goal.
To deliver on these cuts, the levels of ambition in the NDCs must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5°C goal and threefold for the 2°C.
Climate change can still be limited to 1.5°C, the report says. There is increased understanding of the additional benefits of climate action – such as clean air and a boost to the Sustainable Development Goals. There are a number of significant efforts from governments, cities, businesses and investors. Solutions, and the pressure and will to implement them, must be significantly enhanced.
John Christensen, Director of UNEP DTU Partnership says: "When looking back at the 10 years we have prepared the Emissions Gap Report, it is very disturbing that in spite of the many warnings, global emissions have continued to increase and do not seem to be likely to peak anytime soon.
The reductions required can only be achieved by transforming the energy sector. The good news is that since wind and solar in most places have become the cheapest source of electricity, the main challenges now is to design and implement an integrated, decentralised power system."
Nov. 2019 (DW)
A new report says that roughly 75% of the 184 national pledges to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement are insufficient to avoid dire global warming.
Scientists are warning that climate change could soon reach a point of no return. And while this tipping point remains a source of disagreement in the scientific community, there is a consensus about the best way to prevent it: Rapidly cut global greenhouse emissions (GHG).
But the primary vehicle to achieve emission reductions, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep warming below 2 C above pre-industrial levels — and preferably to limit temperature increase even further to 1.5 Celsius — is proving to be woefully inadequate.
According to a new report by the Universal Ecological Fund (UEF), around 75% of 184 Paris Agreement pledges have been judged insufficient to slow climate change. Worse still, some these pledges are not even being implemented.
The report is timed to coincide with the upcoming COP climate summit (to take place in Madrid after host Chile cancelled) where signatories to the Paris agreement can make new pledges with steeper emission cuts.
Since the Paris accord was ratified in 2016, only six countries have actually reviewed their pledges, with four upping their cuts and two weakening their pledges.
"Other than a handful of the pledges, namely the European Union and seven other countries, the pledges are quite inadequate," Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and co-author of the report, told DW.
According to Watson, the pledges won''t keep temperatures from rising by 2 Celsius, much less the more ambitious target of 1.5 Celsius.
"Simply, the pledges are far too little, too late," he added. "We wanted to push for much stronger pledges as soon as possible."
Also this week, a paper published in Bioscience Magazine involving more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries declared a climate emergency that could bring "untold suffering" unless urgent action was taken.
This isn''t the first time that the failures of the so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that are at the heart of the Paris Agreement have been highlighted.
A landmark September "United in Science" report that synthesizes climate research by major partner organizations including UN Environment, the Global Carbon Project and the IPCC, said that the Paris pledges need to be tripled to avert catastrophic warming.
If implemented, current pledges will achieve closer to 3 C warming at the end of this century, Pep Canadell, Executive Director Global Carbon Project and a report co-author, told DW of the Paris targets.
More concerning perhaps, he believes the chance to limit warming below 1.5 C has already passed and that unless we reach peak emissions before 2030, "the chances to stay below 2 C will be also largely lost."
One problem, according to the UEF report, is that emerging economies China and India, who are among the world''s biggest GHG emitters, have only pledged to reduce their emissions "intensity" relative to GDP by 2030. Ongoing economic growth will cause their emissions to increase in the coming decades, meaning these huge polluters have a long way to go to meet the Paris targets.
One rare ray of hope is the 28 Member State EU, which is expected to cut GHG emissions by 58% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Part of the problem with the Paris pledges, according to Dr Niklas Hohne, a founding partner of the Germany-based NewClimate Institute, is that such non-binding "bottom-up" commitments are not consistent with the broader goals. As an antidote, he says that nations need to immediately set a timetable to reach and sustain net-zero CO2 emissions.
"It''s no longer about small pledges," Hohne said of a net-zero CO2 emissions policy that the UK Labour Party has already committed to by 2030, as have Democratic Party sponsors of the Green New Deal in the US.
Watson agrees that net zero emissions needs to be the target by 2050, which would mean electricity, at the least, should be 100% renewable.
The US, historically the world''s biggest GHG emitter, has complicated matters when President Donald Trump''s administration this week confirmed its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Combined with Trump''s rollbacks of major federal climate regulations, the Obama Administration-made pledge to reduce emissions by 26-28% by 2025 will now likely not be met.
"We definitely regard this as a dangerous decision," said Sven Harmeling, a climate expert at CARE, an international NGO helping vulnerable communities adapt to the climate crisis, in response to the US withdrawal. "We call on other countries, but also stakeholders in the US, whether cities, whether business, to not get distracted by the isolating step of the US administration but to step up the fight against climate change," he told DW.
Watson sees potential to meet the Paris targets with or without Trump as state governments and private industry set their own decarbonization targets: "There are some sparks of hope that even in the US, in the absence of leadership from the administration and from Congress, some of the US states and industries are trying to go to low carbon," said Watson.
California, for example — which would be the 5th largest economy in the world in terms of GDP — has set itself a net zero emissions target by 2045. "That is a encouraging signal," said Hohne.
* European Parliament declares ''climate emergency''.
European lawmakers have voted to declare an EU-wide climate emergency, in a move aimed at increasing pressure on the incoming European Commission to take a stronger stance on climate change. The climate declaration was passed during a European Parliament (EP) debate on the upcoming United Nations COP25 climate summit that starts December 2 in Madrid.
In a statement after the vote, EU lawmakers urged the European Commission "to fully ensure all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned" with the 1.5-degrees-Celsius (2.7-degrees-Fahrenheit) target limit on global warming. The resolution calls on the EU to cut emissions by 55% by 2030 and to become climate neutral by 2050. European lawmakers have said the bloc must assume a leading role in the international fight against climate change.

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People protest inequality, austerity, corruption, lack of freedoms
by OHCHR, AFP, DW, HRW, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg
Dec. 2019
In the wake of recent protests in Iran, the top United Nations human rights official expressed alarm over multiple human rights violations which have reportedly taken place across the country.
She highlighted a continuing lack of transparency concerning casualties, the alleged mistreatment of thousands of detainees and continued arrests reported throughout Iran, after weeks of protests which began over major increases in petrol prices.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that at least 7,000 people have reportedly been arrested in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces since mass protests broke out on 15 November, saying that she was “extremely concerned about their physical treatment, violations of their right to due process, and the possibility that a significant number of them may be charged with offences that carry the death penalty, in addition to the conditions under which they are held.”
“In such circumstances, with so many reported deaths, it is essential the authorities act with far greater transparency,” added Ms. Bachelet.
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has information suggesting that at least 208 people were killed during five days of demonstrations, which official Government sources said involved between 120,000 and 200,000 protestors. Other, yet unverified reports, convey the number of deaths to be more than doubled that.
“They must undertake prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all violations that have taken place, including the killing of protesters and reported deaths and ill-treatment in custody”, stressed the UN rights chief. “And those responsible must be held accountable”.
She pointed out that there appear to be “multiple violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified and is obliged to uphold.”
Security forces responded to unarmed protesters with water cannon, tear gas, batons and live ammunition. And according to some reports, said OHCHR, the Basij militia and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps used live ammunition against demonstrators.
As well as protestors, bystanders and people watching from their homes were reportedly hit with bullets when Iranian security forces used machine guns against protesters in Jarahi Square in Mahshahr, on 18 November.
“There are conflicting reports about whether or not there were one or more armed people among the protestors,” Ms. Bachelet said. “But this does not in any way justify such an indiscriminate, horrifying and deadly reaction by the security forces.”
29 Nov. 2019
UN deeply concerned at continued protester deaths in Iraq.
UN chief António Guterres has expressed deep concern over reports of the continued use of live ammunition against demonstrators in Iraq. This has led to a rising number of deaths and injuries, Mr. Guterres said in a statement – including in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Iraqi authorities to exercise maximum restraint, protect the lives of demonstrators, respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and swiftly to investigate all acts of violence,” said the statement, issued late Thursday evening.
Echoing the UN chief’s appeal to protect the lives of demonstrators, respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and investigate the violence, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Friday that United Nations staff in Iraq had confirmed that at least 24 people had been killed and more than 210 were injured in Nasiriyah.
Others were also killed and injured in Najaf, the OHCHR spokesperson said, while the overall number of casualties verified by the UN since protests began at the beginning of October now stands at 354 dead and 8,104 injured.
“Once again, we urge the Iraqi authorities to take much firmer and more effective action to ensure security forces do not employ excessive use of force, and in particular use of live ammunition, as they have been doing repeatedly since the protests began. There must also be investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for unlawful killings.
Iraqi PM announces resignation after weeks of deadly protests.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi says he will submit his resignation to Parliament in the wake of anti-government protests, a little over a year since he took office.
Mr Abdul-Mahdi said he would present to Parliament an official memorandum asking for the resignation of the current Government. Celebrations erupted in Iraq''s Tahrir Square, where anti-government protesters have been camped out for nearly two months, following the announcement.
In a Friday sermon, Iraqi Shia religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani warned against an explosion of civil strife, urging government forces to stop killing protesters and protesters themselves to reject all violence.
After protesters burned down the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf on Wednesday, security forces shot 62 people dead nationwide on Thursday, with clashes escalating in southern provinces.
Young Iraqis have protested since early October over what they see as the failure of Mr Abdul-Mahdi''s Government to address corruption, unemployment and poor public services.
13 Nov. 2019 (UN News)
The Iraqi people have paid an unthinkable price to get their voices heard.
Noting that the people of Iraq were at “a critical juncture”, the top UN Envoy in the country told parliamentarians that over the past six weeks, hundreds of thousands have been peacefully voicing their “genuine, legitimate, demands, loud and clear”.
“The Iraqi people have paid an unthinkable price to get their voices heard”, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said in her address to the Council of Representatives in Baghdad.
She noted that since the start of the protests on 1 October, at least 319 people have been killed and around 15,000 injured, including both “peaceful protesters and members of the security forces”.
After a moment of silence for those who lost their lives or were injured, she stated that “while we commemorate the fallen, their ideals and demands remain the same”.
She pointed to a wide spectrum of concerns behind the demonstrations, ranging from an end to corruption to reliable public services as well as a broader reform of the political system, including amending the Constitution.
But “above all”, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert maintained that “many, many Iraqis are asking for a brighter future” and for the country to reach its full potential for the benefit of all its citizens.
She recalled the words of some protesters she had met last week on the streets, lamenting “the loss of “brothers, our friends, our sons. A life in dignity and freedom…or no life”.
“Legitimate, genuine demands deserve meaningful responses and active engagement, both in this House and on the streets,” she added.
She reminded parliamentarians that, with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), which she heads, has proposed a number of concrete steps toward to confidence-building and reform.
“UNAMI has actively reached out to a wide range of Iraqi parties, actors and authorities”, she attested, and yet “the harsh reality is that we continue to receive daily reports of new killings, new kidnappings, new arbitrary arrests, new beatings and new threats”.
“Violence only breeds violence” stressed the UN’s top official in Iraq: “It should stop, and it should stop now”.
Speaking as a former Member of Parliament in her native Netherlands, she said they had responsibilities to listen, and act: “I believe I can safely state that your role - in your position as a Member of Parliament - elected by the people and also accountable to them – that your role is of utmost importance.
“You are important in reaching out to the people, in making their voices heard, in moving forward on key reforms.”
“What I witnessed on the streets in the past few days is an accumulation of frustration over the lack of progress in the last 16 years”, she flagged. “Out of love for their homeland, the many young people on the streets are expressing their hope for better times to come”.
“The young people are asking for nothing more than a better future”, she advocated, maintaining that the Council was part of the solution. “The government cannot go it alone. It is a collective responsibility…for the whole political class”.
The Special Representative underlined her hope that the parliamentarians’ “choices, actions and statements will allay the fears of the Iraqi people… and restore their hope in a brighter future tomorrow”.
* Human Rights Watch expresses alarm over reports of attacks on medical workers treating protesters:
16 Nov. 2019
Repression, use of force risk worsening Bolivia crisis: UN human rights chief
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging authorities in Bolivia to ensure security forces comply with international standards on the use of force following the deaths of at least five protestors on Friday.
The South American country has plunged into political chaos following the controversial resignation last week of President Evo Morales, with at least 17 people killed in demonstrations since then.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN rights chief, said while earlier deaths mostly resulted from clashes between rival protestors, the latest incidents appear to be due to the disproportionate use of force by the army and police. With the country deeply divided, she fears the situation could worsen.
"I am really concerned that the situation in Bolivia could spin out of control if the (''self-declared'') Government authorities do not handle it sensitively and in accordance with international norms and standards governing the use of force, and with full respect for human rights," she said in a statement issued on Saturday.
"The country is split and people on both sides of the political divide are extremely angry. In a situation like this, repressive actions by the authorities will simply stoke that anger even further and are likely to jeopardise any possible avenue for dialogue."
Ms. Bachelet is also concerned that widespread arrests and detentions are adding to the tensions. More than 600 people have been detained since 21 October, many in the past few days, according to her office.
"This situation is not going to be resolved by force and repression," she said. "All sectors have the right to make their voice heard – this is the basis for democracy."
Ms Bachelet called for prompt, transparent and impartial investigations into the arrests, detentions, injuries and deaths that have occurred as a result of the crisis. Data on these incidents also should be made available, she added.
6 Oct. 2019
Iraq protests: At least 109 people killed and over 6,000 wounded in less than a week of anti-government unrest.
Iraq has been rocked by days of protests, as thousands of mostly young men have been demonstrating in different parts of the country against corruption, widespread unemployment and poor public services.
Security forces have responded using water cannon, tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets. Scores of protesters have been killed and thousands wounded.
The United Nations is urging authorities in Iraq to allow citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression after the security forces opened fire on mass anti-government protests which began earlier this week.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday called for dialogue between the Government and the demonstrators, and also expressed sadness over the loss of life.
“We are worried by reports that security forces have used live ammunition and rubber bullets in some areas, and have also fired tear gas cannisters directly at protestors,” OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
“We call on the Iraqi Government to allow people to freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The use of force should be exceptional, and assemblies should ordinarily be managed without resort to force.”
Scores of Iraqis, mostly young men, have taken to the streets since Tuesday, to demand economic reforms, jobs, and reliable basic public services such as electricity and water, as well as an end to corruption.
Internet service in most governorates has also been shut down in response to the protests, according to international media reports.
“Blanket internet shutdowns are likely to contravene freedom of expression, unduly restricting the right to receive and impart information and may exacerbate tensions,” Ms. Hurtado said.
Iraq is the latest country to be rocked by protests. Since June, thousands of people in Hong Kong have been protesting against plans to allow extradition to China, while Haiti has been engulfed in anti-government protests, which escalated in recent weeks.
On Friday, the Government of Ecuador declared a national state of emergency following nationwide street protests led by transportation workers and students, over fuel price rises. Demonstrators clashed with police, who reportedly fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.
The UN chief has been following these “recent waves of street demonstrations”, expressing concern over the violence, injuries and loss of life, according to a statement issued by his Spokesperson.
Mr. Guterres underlined that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly should be respected.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his call to security forces to act at all times with maximum restraint and to respond to any acts of violence in conformity with relevant international human rights standards on the use of force by law enforcement officials.
He also calls on protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence,” the statement continued.
Oct. 2019
Protests and unrest around the world. (OHCHR)
Current or very recent protests, some of which we will talk about today, include ones taking place in Bolivia, Chile, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq and Lebanon.
And of course we have also seen major protests taking place earlier in the year in Algeria, Honduras, Nicaragua, Malawi, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, as well as in a number of EU countries, including France, Spain and the UK. And this list is far from exhaustive.
Of course the reasons behind these protests are complex and varied, and it is important not to come to sweeping conclusions. There are common threads among many of the protests: populations that are fed up and angry, especially with socio-economic conditions, corruption, inequalities and the general widening gap between rich and poor.
These sentiments are exacerbated by growing mistrust of institutions of government, politicians and ruling elites. Some protests have been triggered by one or two specific developments, and have then metamorphosed into expressions of deep public dissatisfaction on a whole range of issues spanning the political, social and economic spectrum.
Some have been fanned by poor government responses or by excessive use of force against the initial protestors, which have brought tens of thousands more people onto the streets in solidarity with those who have been killed, injured or arrested by security forces who in many cases have failed to abide by international standards governing use of force, and tried to obstruct fundamental human rights such as freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression.
20 Oct. 2019
Ongoing Protests in Chile. (Reuters)
The nationwide protests have been sparked by anger over socio-economic conditions and widespread inequalities.
Santiago and other Chilean cities have been engulfed by several days of protests over an increase in public transport costs, low salaries, high utility prices, low pensions, a widening gap between rich and poor and economic inequality with increasing cost of living pressures.
Billionaire right-wing President Sebastian Pinera has declared a state of emergency and controversially has ordered some 20,000 soldiers onto the streets.
Despite a growth rate that should reach 2.5 percent of GDP this year, several social indicators - such as health, education and pensions - show very high inequalities.
Saladin Meckled-Garcia, a senior lecturer in political science at University College London, said the protests showed that people are "suddenly waking up to their conditions and the fact that people in power aren''t doing anything about them".
"While Chile is more developed than other countries in the region, and economy quite powerful, that doesn''t translate into standards of living," says Meckled-Garcia. "There isn''t a foundational safety net in society that protects people from falling through. People suffer, and the cost of living is continuously rising. They are living on the edge."
"Many latent requests have not been answered, tension has built up, frustration has increased in daily life," said Octavio Avendano, a sociologist and political scientist at the University of Chile.
This anger boiled over earlier in a initial protest against a rise in metro fares. There is widespread frustration with economic policies that have virtually privatised all health care and education, at a time that falling pensions and rising costs of basic services that have exacerbated social inequality.
Protestors have also called for the Government to overturn a recent 90% increase in electricity rates and fix the country''s ailing health care system.
The UN rights office said any application of the state of emergency “must be exceptional and rooted in law” and that the authorities must act in according with international human rights standards.
“There are disturbing allegations of excessive use of force by security and armed forces, and we are also alarmed by reports that some detainees have been denied access to lawyers, which is their right, and that others have been mistreated while in detention”.
The UN Rights office called on the Chilean Government to work with all sectors of society “to find solutions that can help calm the situation and address the wide range of socio-economic issues underlying the current crisis”.
At least 23 people have died in the unrest, according to officials. More than 4,000 people have been detained and more than 1,600 wounded, according to the National Human Rights Institute.
On the 25th of October more than one million people took to streets in the Chilean capital of Santiago, uniting in a call for huge social and political change in the country.
Protesters are also calling for constitutional reform. Chile''s current constitution dates back to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Protesters want a participatory constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution, laying the foundation for a state representative of all Chileans and their priorities. A survey by pollster Cadem indicated that over 80 percent of Chileans favoured such reforms.
Chile has one of the highest levels of economic inequality in the developed world.
20 Oct. 2019 (SBS News)
Half a million people have flooded the streets of Barcelona to protest jail terms announced by the Spainish Government for separatist Catalan leaders, in a fifth day of unrest.
Protesters battled police in the heart of Barcelona, setting up barricades and confronting security forces.
The violence came after a day of largely peaceful demonstrations as more than half-a-million people flooded the streets of the Catalan capital to denounce the lengthy jail terms that have sent a shockwave through Spanish politics.
Officials said there were clashes in at least four other towns and cities in Catalonia, Spain''s wealthiest region in the far northeast of the country, as the pro-independence anger showed no sign of abating.
"This kind of violence is unprecedented in Catalonia these people are not separatists," Miquel Buch, the Catalan interior affairs chief and a member of a pro-independence party, told the TV 3 channel.
The day started with hundreds of thousands of people from across the region pouring into Barcelona to protest against the verdict by Spain''s Supreme Court, which sentenced nine separatists to prison over a failed, 2017 secessionist bid.
Unions called a general strike and students boycotted classes for a third day running. Factories were closed, more than 50 flights at Barcelona''s main airport were cancelled and local transport ran reduced services.
Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region with some 7.5 million inhabitants who have their own language, parliament and flag. Independence for the region is a highly divisive issue in Spainish politics.
20 Oct. 2019
Mass protests in Lebanon against political elite, corruption and austerity measures.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters outraged by corruption and proposed tax hikes blocked highways, with huge crowds gathering in Riyadh al-Solh Square in the heart of the capital Beirut.
Thousands of people of all ages, sects and political affiliations brought the capital to a standstil, with demonstrations reported across the country.
The protesters are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon''s political system, citing endemic corruption, ongoing austerity measures, poor infrastructure, lack of job opportunities among their concerns.
Lebanon, which in 1990 emerged devastated from a 15-year civil war, maintains a complicated political system balancing the influence of Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims and other religious groups.
The current fragile coalition government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri has backing from across the political spectrum but faces a range of financial challenges.
Economic growth in Lebanon has fallen in the face of repeated political deadlock in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighbouring Syria.
Public anger surged after parliament passed an austerity budget in July, and on Thursday it flowed into the streets over plans to introduce a tax on calls via messaging apps, widely used in Lebanon. The government scrapped the proposal within hours, but demonstrations carried on into the night before security forces dispersed them at dawn Friday.
Reflecting the scale of public anger, rare demonstrations were reported in neighbourhoods dominated by the Shiite movement Hezbollah, not used to opposition in its own bastions.
Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said the protests were "totally spontaneous" and appeared to target the entire political class.
"The protests are a result of a piling up of grievances, resulting mainly from government mismanagement," he said.
They are the largest demonstrations since a 2015 refuse collection crisis sparked widespread anti-government protests.
Lebanon suffers from constant electricity shortages and poor internet.
* Mass demonstrations in Lebanon are driven by years of anger against a political elite who have failed to deliver for the people, says Rami Khouri, adjunct professor of journalism at the American University in Beirut:
20 Oct. 2019
Police fire tear gas and water cannon during Hong Kong rally. (AFP)
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have been met with water cannons and tear gas after they again defied police by holding a large unauthorised march on Sunday.. Their numbers swollen by anger over the recent stabbing and beating of two pro-democracy protesters.
Authorities had forbidden the march in Tsim Sha Tsui, a densely packed shopping district, citing public safety. But tens of thousands joined the unsanctioned rally regardless, as the movement tries to keep up pressure on the city''s pro-Beijing leaders after nearly five months of protests and political unrest.
The rally began peacefully but descended into chaotic scenes as small groups of hardcore protesters targeted a police station, subway entrances and Chinese mainland bank branches. Police responded with multiple volleys of tear gas.
Tensions were already running high before the march was banned. On Wednesday night the leader of the group organising the weekend rally, Jimmy Sham, was hospitalised by men wielding hammers. Then on Saturday night, a man handing out pro-democracy flyers was stabbed in the neck and stomach. Social media showed the alleged assailant shouting after the knife attack: "Hong Kong is part of China.. You messed up Hong Kong".
At least eight prominent government critics, including politicians, have been beaten by unknown assailants since mid-August.
The central Government in Beijing has denounced the protests as a foreign-backed plot and condemned attacks on those voicing support for China. But it has remained largely silent on the attacks carried out against pro-democracy figures.
Hong Kong has witnessed 20 weeks of pro-democracy protests which have seen millions peacefully take to the streets.
With no political solution in sight, the clashes have intensified each month. Small groups of pro-democracy hardliners have embraced vandalism, while riot police have responded with increasing volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and, more recently, live rounds.
The rallies were triggered by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland. But they morphed into wider calls for democracy and police accountability after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line.
Protesters are demanding an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested and fully free elections, all of which have been rejected by Beijing and Hong Kong''s deeply unpopular leader Carrie Lam.
Earlier this month Ms Lam invoked a colonial-era emergency law to ban face masks. The decision set off a new wave of protests. On Friday night thousands gathered outside subway stations in an array of face masks.
14 Oct. 2019
Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, has struck a deal with indigenous leaders to cancel a highly disputed IMF austerity package and end nearly two weeks of protests that have paralysed the economy and left seven dead, according to the public ombudsman’s office, 1,340 injured and 1,152 arrested.
Under the agreement, Moreno will withdraw the International Monetary Fund-backed package, known as Decree 883, that included a sharp rise in fuel costs. Indigenous leaders, in turn, will call on their followers to end protests and street blockades.
“Comrades, this deal is a compromise on both sides,” Moreno said. “The indigenous mobilisation will end and Decree 883 will be lifted.”
“The moment of peace, of agreement, has come for Ecuador,” said Arnaud Peral, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Ecuador and one of the mediators of the nationally televised talks. “This deal is an extraordinary step.”
The president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations, Jaime Vargas, thanked Moreno and demanded improved long-term conditions for indigenous Ecuadorians.
“We want peace for our brothers and sisters in this country,” Vargas said. “We don’t want more repression.”
Protests over the austerity package have blocked roads, shuttered businesses and halved Ecuador’s oil production, forcing a temporary halt to the country’s most important export.
In a shift from the heated language of the last 10 days of protests, each side at the negotiations praised the other’s willingness to talk as they outlined their positions on managing the deficit with Indigenous leaders demanding higher taxes on the wealthy.
* UN experts concerned by security response to protests:
Oct. 2019
Food and medical aid under threat as Haiti protests worsen
Protests against the current Haitian President have intensified across the country, where 17 people have been killed and nearly 200 injured since violence escalated since mid-September. The protests have had a direct impact on local infrastructure, primarily the health sector where some hospitals have been forced to close.
Education has also been affected, where nearly 2 million children are unable to attend school. Many humanitarian organisations have suspended their operations, including WFP, due to security concerns and lack of fuel.
Demonstrations calling for the resignation of the Haitain President, Jovenel Moise, have been recurring throughout the country for over a year. The heightened level of violence in recent weeks reflects the deteriorating economic and political situation.
Expressing deep concern for the impact on human rights of ongoing political unrest in Haiti, the UN rights chief has called on all actors to acknowledge the grievances of Haitians, many of whom have been demanding the president step down amidst violent demonstrations which ignited a sprawling emergency in recent weeks.
Haitians have taken to the streets repeatedly in the past 16 months, to protest corruption, inequality and economic hardship. Since the latest demonstrations began on 15 September, sweeping the streets of the capital, Port-au-prince, 42 people have died, and 86 have been injured in escalated tensions, Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights said, in a statement from her Office (OHCHR).
“We are deeply concerned about the protracted crisis in Haiti, and its impact on the ability of Haitians to access their basic rights to healthcare, food, education and other needs” said Ms. Bachelet.
The political and humanitarian crisis stems from the struggle between President Jovenel Moïse and a surging opposition movement, which coupled with economic struggle and corruption have led to soaring prices of basic goods, crumbling healthcare facilities, and pushed the country to the brink of collapse.
According to news reports, President Moïse has said he has no intention of leaving office. The majority of victims suffered gunshot wounds, according to information received by (OHCHR), with 19 deaths at the hands of security forces, and others by armed demonstrators or unknown perpetrators.
Among those killed, at least one was a journalist; nine other reporters have been injured, and many have reportedly been threatened. Ms. Bachelet urged all actors to refrain from targeting journalists, and respect the freedom of the media to do its job.
Children are missing school, while road blockades and violence have kept people from accessing sufficient food, drinking water, medicine and fuel, and the health sector “has been hit particularly hard, with shortage of electricity, fuel, supplies and the inability of many medical personnel to reach their places of work”.
She urgeg all parties to avoid hampering the functioning of hospitals and to facilitate access to healthcare, as well as the delivery, including through humanitarian channels, of food and medicine for individuals in prisons, orphanages and other vulnerable groups such as people living with disabilities.
It is crucial that all actors take measures to support and advance peaceful solutions to the many grievances that have led Haitians to take to the streets repeatedly over the past 16 months.
Sep. 2019
Egyptian protests: Concerned by widespread arrests, Bachelet urges restraint. (OHCHR)
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday expressed serious concerns about reports of lack of due process following wide-spread arrests linked to the protests in Egypt, and urged the authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in full compliance with international norms and standards.
According to Egyptian civil society organizations more than 2,000 people, including lawyers, human rights defenders, political activists, university professors and journalists were detained before, during and after the protests that took place in a number of Egyptian cities on 20-21 September. The UN Human Rights Office has received information that a number of those detained were subsequently released.
Reports also suggest some of those detained were denied legal representation when appearing before the Public Prosecutor, and some have allegedly been charged with serious offences. Such charges are reported to include aiding a terrorist group in achieving its goals; spreading ''false news''; participating in unauthorized protests; and misusing social media.
"I remind the Egyptian government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully," Bachelet said. "They also have a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be detained, let alone charged with serious offences, simply for exercising those rights."
"I urge the authorities to radically change their approach to any future protests, including those that may take place today," she said. "Any response by the security forces should be in line with international norms and standards regarding the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as fair trial. All those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights should be released immediately."
27 Sept 2019
Over 2,000 arrested in Egypt over protests against corruption, by Ali Younes & Ramy Allahoum.
Egypt is bracing itself for a second weekend of protests on Friday, with authorities stepping up arrests and tightening security in major cities amid calls for a "million-man march" against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Rights groups say nearly 3,000 people have been arrested since protests erupted demanding el-Sisi quit.
Among those arrested was Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University and well-known columnist, who called for the president''s departure in a Twitter post.
Nafaa''s arrest followed the detention of Hazem Hosny, a spokesman for former army chief Sami Anan who was jailed last year for attempting to run against el-Sisi in a presidential election. Khaled Dawoud, the head of Al-Doustor Party who has been a vocal critic of the president''s policies, was also arrested.
Security forces have also deployed more troops to major cities, with police stopping and searching pedestrians on key thoroughfares and squares. Authorities have also blocked news websites and disrupted access to messaging platforms, according to monitoring groups.
Last weekend''s unprecedented display of dissent is a response to calls for action from a former Egyptian military contractor, Mohamed Ali. The part-time actor, who said he worked with the military for 15 years, accused el-Sisi and his aides of squandering public funds on vanity projects despite widespread poverty.
In a series of videos posted online, he admitted to benefitting from government corruption, describing how his company, Amlak, was awarded lucrative state contracts without going through the proper bidding process.
Ali, who lives in self-imposed exile in Spain, said he regretted being part of the rampant corruption among the army corps and el-Sisi''s relatives, including his wife Entissar Amer.
His description of opulent palaces and luxury hotels that he claimed to have built for el-Sisi - and for which he has yet to be paid - struck a nerve with many Egyptians living under harsh austerity measures imposed under a $12bn loan deal with the International Monetary Fund.
The programme has led to an increase in poverty rates. Official figures show one in three Egyptians live below the poverty line.
Since leading the military''s overthrow of democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, el-Sisi has overseen a broad crackdown against any dissent.
While members of the Muslim Brotherhood - to which Morsi belonged - were the main target of a heavy-handed approach to political dissent, arrests extended well beyond the group. Civil rights activists, lawyers, journalists, academics and actors have also been targeted.
When asked about the demonstrations on Monday, el-Sisi blamed them on "political Islam".
Meanwhile on Twitter, hashtags such as "come out you are not alone", "you are done Sisi", "Sisi must go", and "Next Friday", translated from Arabic, generated tens of thousands of tweets and retweets calling on people to take to the streets peacefully to demand el-Sisi step down.
Egyptian Hollywood actor Amr Waked posted in Arabic to his almost seven million followers on Thursday: "Sisi is done.. it is over for him and anyone who supports him now will be making a huge mistake."
Analysts and politicians say the Egyptian government''s crackdown reflects its insecurity and vulnerability at a critical time as Egypt''s economic woes intensify for the poor and middle class.
"The government''s mass arrests and internet restrictions seem intended to scare Egyptians away from protesting and to leave them in the dark about what''s happening in the country," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"The nationwide crackdown on protests suggests that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is terrified of Egyptians criticisms."
Ayman Nour, an Egyptian opposition leader and former presidential candidate, said el-Sisi was also "trying to send a clear message to prominent generals and politicians who might provide an alternative to him."
Nour said the government''s heavy-handed approach has only heightened people''s anger at worsening socioeconomic conditions.
There are an estimated 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt, with the most common charges being belonging to a banned organisation and spreading false information. Hundreds of thousands have been imprisoned under a protest law, which bans public gatherings of 10 or more people without the authorisation of the country''s interior ministry. Over the past six years, an estimated 18 new prisons have been built in Egypt.


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