National strike begins in Colombia, aims to paralyze country
SEGOVIA, Colombia — Just before midnight, masked men armed with sticks began hurling rocks at 40 heavily armed riot police, who responded with gunshots and flooding the street with tear gas. As dawn broke on this usually bustling gold-mining town, stores were shuttered, streets were blocked with sandbags, rocks and smoldering tires. At least eight police and five civilians were injured in the melee.
The actions marked the beginning of a national strike aimed at paralyzing this Andean nation in hopes of winning a laundry list of concessions. President Juan Manuel Santos has accused guerrillas and other armed groups of trying to infiltrate the protests and ratchet up tension as the country is in the midst of delicate peace talks with the FARC rebels and heading into elections next year. The agrarian strike, as it’s known, is broad-based and far-flung. Coffee, cacao, potato and rice farmers have joined ranks with cargo truckers, gold miners and others. Teachers and labor unions are also joining in.
Their demands are equally ample, calling for reduced fuel and fertilizer prices, the cancellation of free trade agreements, increased subsidies and the end of a crackdown on informal mining operations, among others. Government negotiators worked through the weekend and managed to mollify some sectors in some parts of the country but it wasn’t enough to stop what many believe could become the largest protest of the year. The National Police said at least 20 people had been detained and estimated that some 12,500 were participating in protests in 20 different municipalities. But there was no mention of the injuries in Segovia or elsewhere.
More than 16,000 police have been trying to dismantle roadblocks that were snarling traffic on a day when many were trying to return home after a three-day weekend. Bus transportation was also anemic as companies decided to suspend service to avoid run-ins with protesters. At a news conference in Havana, where peace talks are taking place, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, backed the protesters. “We hope that the government’s hackneyed custom of linking all social and popular protests with the boogeyman of the FARC isn’t an excuse for violence from the armed forces,” guerrilla commander Ivan Marquez read from a statement. He also said the government should reconsider a free-trade agreement with the United States, which he said had put national farmers at a disadvantage against a flood of subsidized U.S. agricultural imports.
Arrests in Agricultural National Strike in Colombia
Bogota, Aug 19 (Prensa Latina) The popular agricultural national strike advances Colombia with several arrests by the security forces on demonstrators and journalists from alternative media. According to local media reports, members of various social sectors began arriving at points in towns of Boyaca, Putumayo, Tolima, Nariño, Valle del Cauca, Arauca, amid a strong presence of more than 16 000 troops deployed , that have retained more than 50 people already.
The protesters, tired of the economic policies of the Government, came to protest peacefully to demand, among other things, the implementation of measures and actions against the crisis of agricultural production and social investment in the rural and urban population in education, health, housing, public services and roads. Telesur television network reported that in the northern department of Antioquia,-which already recorded one wounded by firearms and other four by stun-bombs, protest leaders have been threatened with pamphlets. Huila and Putumayo has also reported several arrests and there are about 50 people arrested the Cauca, including journalists from alternative media, Telesur reported.
The Association of Peasant Reserve Zone reported that the minor Alejandro Vargas is in serious condition after the army fired on the road against communities at the Tulua-Buga road. In a press conference today the Strikes National Command said the government does not give guarantees to exercise the right to protest. The strike is reflected in the social networks in which people are pronounced under the tag # YoParoPor. From early morning hours, three strikes are scheduled in parallel in Bogota stared by farmers, students, workers, teachers, doctors, and other sectors, which will converge at the Plaza Bolivar.
Zero Hour Arrives, Strike Begins in Colombia
Bogota, Aug 19 (Prensa Latina) Thousands of Colombians from different social sectors took the country´s main roads in a national strike, amid the large deployment of police units with the order of taking action against those who block the roads. More than 16,000 policemen and the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron were deployed in 19 cities and 16 main highways and two people have already been arrested in the main road linking Bogotawith Tunja, in the surroundings of Puente de Boyaca, reported El Tiempo daily. Farmers, indigenous, Afro-Colombians, among people from other sectors, remain at mass gathering points.
Residents started to mobilize for the strike since Saturday in 30 of the 32 Colombian departments, including Antioquia, Choco, Valle del Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Huila, Caqueta, Tolima, and Meta,a mong others. Strikers say that the current government has established anti workers and anti popular policies which restrict and limit rights, privatize institutions and give Colombian natural resources to transnationals. Those policies, added the protesters, promote land sales to foreigners, destroy national production through the free trade agreements, increase the prices of the family shopping basket, raise fuel prices, then worsening the current economic crisis that they themselves do not recognize. The agricultural farmers demand to protect the agricultural and livestock production, the territorial recognition of the farmers community and the social investment in the countryside.
Soldiers Kill Jenin Resident during Confrontations
JENIN, August 20, 2013 (WAFA) – Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian resident of Jenin and injured three others during confrontations that erupted on Tuesday between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Jenin refugee camp, said witnesses. They said an army force entered the camp to arrest people. Confrontations broke out and the soldiers opened fire killing Majd Lahlouh, 22, and injuring three others. They were all transferred to hospital for treatment.
Riot police break up Panama student protest
STUDENTS from two schools faced off against riot police on Monday, August 19, as they closed Via Israel to protest the sale of land that could impact the institution. The students from Isabel Herrera de Obaldía Professional School in Paitilla twice blocked the road twice causing brief traffic jams that extended the length of Cinta Costera. Paitilla, returned to Vía Israel today They were joined by students from the Colegio José Remón Cantera, which is adjacent to the school and which would also be impacted by the sale They were dispersed by riot police.
Ban a reaction to protests last year in which security guards were badly injured.
Students are to be locked out of a meeting to set new university fees after protests badly injured two security guards, one of whom needed surgery. The injuries, which occurred during protests at last year’s meeting to discuss fees, have already cost Auckland University $17,000 and the bill is estimated to top $30,000. Staff are now so worried about a repeat of the incident – details of which have not previously been made public – that they are taking preventive measures. How much more the country’s 152,000 university students will pay next year will be decided in the coming months. Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and Massey University have already settled on a 4 per cent rise for domestic students in 2014 – the maximum allowed by the Government. The same increase last year triggered protests, and the University of Auckland has braced itself for more trouble when its council meets in October.
The meeting will be held in a venue “that can be adequately locked down right from the start and does not require us to relocate council members and staff following a breach of security”, an internal memorandum signed by vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon and chancellor Ian Parton reveals. An obligation for the meeting to be public will be met by a live video stream being broadcast to another location. However, that reasoning has been dismissed by the Tertiary Education Union, which says student debt is of growing concern. “If they are prepared to increase the fees to a level where they can anticipate student dissatisfaction, then they should be man enough to front up to the decision,” said national president Lesley Francey. Fee increases and growing international student numbers were being used by universities to plug a gap in government funding, Ms Francey said.
The University of Auckland document outlines the chaos that unfolded during last year’s fee-setting meeting, when 25 students were permitted to attend and a video stream was set up for others. Protesters activated a fire alarm at the rear of the clock tower to disable door locks and about 15 pushed past security and shoved and verbally abused some council members. The university said two UniSafe security officers injured in the protests were subsequently off work for 50 and 90 days each, with one undergoing surgery. Their treatment for wrist and knee injuries and compensation had cost the university $17,000, with ongoing costs estimated at more than $30,000. Yesterday, a university spokeswoman said no charges were laid in relation to the assaults as the offenders could not be identified. It was too early to say what fee changes would be proposed for 2014.
In Kashmir, angry youth flirt with armed militancy
(Reuters) – Ishfaq first threw a rock at an Indian policeman six years ago. Now he’s thinking about arming himself with a gun. The 21-year-old is the human face of a trend that is worrying security sources, politicians and a rights group spoken to by Reuters – the revival of violent anti-Indian sentiment among the Kashmir Valley population just as New Delhi fears a renewed onslaught from Pakistan-based militants. Ishfaq and his friends were among thousands who took to the streets across the Muslim-majority Himalayan state following the July 18 killing of four men by Indian border police during a day of protests against an alleged desecration of the Koran.
Three weeks on, hiding from police in a crowded bazaar of the lakeside city of Srinagar, Ishfaq said several years of unarmed struggle against India’s rule had been met only with violence. “If the same situation persists, the day is not far away when we go back to the gun,” said Ishfaq, who asked for his second name to be withheld. “We cannot fight without weapons.” Rising attacks on security forces and evidence that more young people are slipping into the grasp of armed militants risk undoing years of security gains in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The timing could not be worse for India. A looming general election has prompted accusations that some politicians are manipulating the instability.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources say militant groups may turn their fire on India again when Western troops leave Afghanistan next year. “People generally feel pushed to the wall here,” said Khurram Parvez, an activist with rights group the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society whose grandfather was shot dead by security forces at a protest. His own leg was blown off by a militant bomb in 2004. “In the last three or four years they have tried to criminalise protesters and curb public speaking. Unfortunately this pressure and violence from the state is starting a new sense among people where violence is getting legitimised.” That is certainly the view of Ishfaq, who spoke to Reuters in a room gruesomely decorated with photos of victims of alleged torture at the hands of Indian security forces. With separatist leaders frequently under house arrest and banned from public speaking, and no sign of dialogue that could lead to a political solution, he feels betrayed by India. “We are on the threshold, we cannot bear it, we cannot tolerate it any more,” he said.
RISE IN FATALITIES
Last summer was the most peaceful in the disputed South Asian region since an armed insurgency exploded in 1989 as Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Ashok Prasad, the chief of police in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, said the number of attacks by militants was actually down this year. But the fall in the number of attacks disguises a sharp rise in the number of fatalities. Eight soldiers died in a single brazen ambush on an army truck in heavily defended Srinagar the day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited in June. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks the violence, 42 members of the security forces have been killed so far this year, up from just 17 in all of 2012.
That reverses a decade-long trend in which fatalities fell annually as militants laid down arms and protests and riots replaced bullets and bombs. The violence coincides with an upswing in tension along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, who have been quarrelling over the region they both claim in full since freedom from British colonial rule in 1947. Tit-for-tat artillery exchanges regularly rattle the de facto border.
Two weeks of shelling between India and Pakistan has followed an ambush that killed five Indian soldiers on August 6. Pakistan denied any involvement in that ambush. But Indian security officials suggest a new wave of Pakistan-based Islamist guerrillas are trying to cross the LoC, part of a shift in focus to India ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year that some feel has echoes of 1989. The foreign fighters bring weapons and inspiration, but they can only flourish with local support. There are signs that support is growing.
“Anyone who comes across, we welcome them,” said Ishfaq. Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in June said the numbers of people joining the militancy was still extremely low, but conceded that a trend of young, educated youth joining the ranks of militants was “a serious concern”. Several factors are blamed for this creeping radicalisation. One security source pointed to the growing popularity of more conservative strains of Islam and to high unemployment. Many Kashmiris simply feel India has not made enough concessions despite several years of peace, making normal life difficult. Widely despised laws protecting security forces from trial are still in place, access to simple technology such as text messaging is limited and the heavy military and police presence in the state has not been lifted.
FERTILE GROUND FOR RADICALS
Though the latest violence is small compared with the worst years of the insurgency, when thousands died in fighting annually, some Kashmir politicians warn that, left unchecked, the situation could quickly get out of hand. “In 1989 there was almost no violence, but it exploded into a full insurgency within a year,” said Yasin Malik, a former militant who now leads a political movement calling for a Kashmiri nation independent of both India and Pakistan, which polls show is what most people in the Kashmir Valley want. Some trace the latest uptick in violence to the execution in February of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted of a 2001 attack on India’s parliament.
Fearful of a backlash, the Indian government imposed a week-long blanket curfew across the state immediately after Guru was hung, infuriating much of the population. Others look further back. Parvez, the rights activist, says police shootings that killed more than 100 young protesters in 2010 and a campaign of arbitrary detention, documented by Amnesty International, both helped radicalise opinion. A security source with close knowledge of anti-militancy operations met Reuters on a wooden bridge across the Jhelum river that runs to Pakistan. He said some of the anger directed at the police was justified because of rights abuses.
“There is a deepening of radicalisation and a slight increase in recruitment of locals,” the source said, adding that he feared next year’s election would be fertile ground for violence from militants seeking to undermine the vote. Ishfaq and his friends, already halfway to going underground, say they are in no mood to back down. “We are hopeful a day will come when there will be results and until there we will keep fighting. We want independence from both India and Pakistan,” he said.
Kazakh Inmates Injure Themselves In Protest
ASTANA — Prison inmates in Kazakhstan’s western city of Oral have injured themselves to protest their treatment. Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry issued a statement on August 20 saying that 25 inmates inflicted injuries on their bodies after the prison’s administration confiscated “prohibited items.” The statement did not specify what items had been confiscated, what kind of injuries were inflicted, or when the incident took place.
According to the statement, all the injured inmates were provided with medical assistance and they are in satisfactory condition. For years, prisoners in Kazakhstan’s penitentiaries have rioted to protest jail conditions. Prison protests have intensified in the past three years after a video was posted on the Internet showing an inmate being beaten by a prison guard.
Paraguay sends troops to north after rebel attack
ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) – Paraguay’s government has sent troops to a northern area where members of the small, left-wing Paraguayan People’s Army carried out a guerrilla attack that killed five people. Interior Minister Francisco Vargas said Monday that a small contingent was deployed near the ranch where five security guards were killed. He says the attack came in response to the government’s firm stance against the group. The guerrilla group is accused of carrying out killings, kidnappings, bank robberies and attacks on police. About a dozen people in fatigues kidnapped six security guards at the ranch Saturday. Police say they shot five to death then freed one so he could tell police who carried out the attack.
Mexico teachers, police clash outside congress
MEXICO CITY (AP) Protesting teachers have broken into the complex for the lower chamber of Congress in a march against Mexico’s education reform. Television video shows about 500 teachers clashing with police in riot gear in the parking area of Congress after teachers tried to get inside the complex.
The protesters did not reach the chamber where the House of Deputy’s Education Committee voted to approve regulations implementing a constitutional education reform signed into law earlier this year. Protesters broke windows and set cars afire late Monday. Local media reported several teachers and federal police suffered minor injuries.