Anger on the streets: unrest in Iran, Algeria, Yemen, Morocco and China
Nora Fakim, Giles Tremlett, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Tania Branigan & agencies
Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011
Peaceful demonstrations staged in Morocco but violence breaks out elsewhere in the Middle East and Chinese police crackdown on planned unrest
MOROCCO: Peaceful protests against prime minister
Thousands took to the streets of Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech in peaceful protests demanding a new constitution, a change in government and an end to corruption.
Sunday's protests were a test for King Mohamed VI's regime, which boasts that it is more liberal and tolerant than other countries in the region that have seen violence and revolution.
Despite a heavy secret police presence, uniformed police stayed in the background as demonstrators carefully avoided overt criticism of the king or Islamist chanting. "Where has the money gone?", "The people of Morocco want change" and "We need a new constitution" were among the cries of 5,000 marchers in the capital, Rabat.
"The atmosphere today is peaceful, as it is in our Moroccan nature to be peaceful," a 50-year-old doctor, Mohamed Bebakri, said.
Said Benjibli, the creator of Facebook protest group and one of the few prepared to complain about the monarch, said: "The king has too much power and he needs to distribute more money to the people." Much of the rage was directed against prime minister Abbas El Fassi and his many family members in government posts.
IRAN: Thousands dispersed with teargas and batons
Riot police and plainclothed basiji militia fired teargas and wielded batons to disperse thousands of defiant protesters commemorating the death of two pro-democracy demonstrators killed during anti-government protests last week.
Supporters of the Green Movement gathered in scattered groups for the second time within a week to denounce the death of Saane Zhaleh, 26, and Mohammadi Mokhtari, 22, who were killed in Tehran on Monday. An opposition website affiliated to Mehdi Karroubi, a former presidential candidate, said that one person had been killed in Haft-e-Tir square in central Tehran when security forces opened fire at protesters. Dozens were arrested.
Iran's IRNA state news agency reported that Faezeh Rafsanjani, the daughter of influential cleric and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, had been arrested in Tehran but semi-official FARS news agency reported later that she had been released.
Iran had banned foreign media based in Tehran from reporting the protest. Instead, the opposition turned to social networking websites to spread their voice. Opposition websites claimed the protests reached other big cities, including Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Mashhad and Sanandaj with scenes similar to those in the capital, Tehran.
The Green Wave opposition grouo announced that Ahmad Maleki, the vice-consulate at the consulate general of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Milan, had defected. He is the forth diplomat to defect since Iran's post-election unrest in 2009.
ALGERIA: Police separate crowds with clubs and shields
Police thwarted a rally by thousands of pro-democracy supporters, breaking up the crowd into isolated groups to keep them from marching.
Police brandishing clubs, but no firearms, weaved their way through the crowd in central Algiers, banging their shields, tackling some protesters and keeping traffic flowing through the planned march route. A demonstrating politician was hospitalised after suffering a head wound when he fell after police kicked and hit him, colleagues said. The gathering, organised by the Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria, comes a week after a similar protest, which organisers said brought an estimated 10,000 people and up to 26,000 riot police on to the streets of Algiers. Algeria has also been hit by numerous strikes over the past month.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has promised to lift the state of emergency, which has been in place since early 1992 to combat a budding insurgency by Islamist extremists. The insurgency, which continues sporadically, has killed about 200,000 people. Bouteflika has warned, however, that a longstanding ban on protests in Algiers would remain in place, even once the state of emergency was lifted.
Algeria has many of the ingredients for a popular revolt. It is riddled with corruption and has never successfully grappled with its soaring jobless rate among its youth, estimated by some to be up to 42% despite its oil and gas wealth.
"The people are for change, but peacefully," said sociologist Nasser Djebbi. "We have paid a high price."
YEMEN: Unrest continues for ninth consecutive day
The leader of Yemen's secessionist Southern Movement, Hasan Baoum, was arrested by an "armed military group" in an Aden hospital, according to his son, and shots were fired at a demonstration in the capital Sana'a, as unrest continued for a ninth consecutive day.
Thousands of people also staged sit-ins in the cities of Ibb and Taiz, demanding the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who renewed his call for opposition parties to pursue a dialogue with the government. Security in the southern port of Aden was stepped up with tanks and armoured vehicles out on the main streets.
CHINA: Crackdown after call for 'jasmine revolution'
Chinese security officials questioned or detained scores of activists at the weekend and warned others against staging protests after an online call was made for demonstrations in 13 cities, campaigners said.
The message, posted on an overseas website on Saturday, was titled: "The jasmine revolution in China". The swift crackdown underlined the anxiety of authorities in the wake of the Egypt uprising and protests across the Middle East.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy estimated that more than 100 activists across the country were taken away by police, prevented from leaving home or were missing.
Wang Songlian, of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network, said more than 40 campaigners or dissidents had been summoned or questioned by police or placed under "soft detention" at home or elsewhere. In many more cases, police had visited people to ask them what they were doing or warn them not to take part, she said.
"[The message] linked it to the jasmine revolution and I guess that made the government nervous," she said. "It really shows us how much the government has identified with regimes in the Middle East where people are so aggrieved about social injustice."
Despite a huge police presence at the proposed demonstration locations, there were signs that at least a handful of people in Beijing and Shanghai had hoped to protest.
It is not clear who posted the call for demonstrations on the Boxun website, and the message may well have come from abroad. Many mainland activists appeared to have been unaware of it until police contacted them.
The message said: "You and I are Chinese people who will still have a dream for the future ... we must act responsibly for the future of our descendants."
It urged people to shout demands for food, work, housing and fairness.