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‘We want them out’: Iraq protesters call for US troops exit

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, after Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for a “million-strong” march to demand the withdrawal of US troops from the country, putting the protest-hit city on edge. The demonstration on Friday added an extra layer to the months-old protest movement that has gripped the capital and the…

‘We want them out’: Iraq protesters call for US troops exit

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, after Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for a “million-strong” march to demand the withdrawal of US troops from the country, putting the protest-hit city on edge.
The demonstration on Friday added an extra layer to the months-old protest movement that has gripped the capital and the Shia-majority south since October, demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.
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Sadr calls for ‘million-man march’ against US presence in Iraq

In the early hours of Friday, protesters, including men, women and children of all ages, carried Iraqi flags and marched under grey skies. 
Loudspeakers blasted “No, no America!” at a central square in Baghdad. A child held up a poster reading, “Death to America. Death to Israel.”
The US military presence in Iraq has become a hot-button issue in the country since a US drone attack killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3 outside Baghdad’s international airport.
Two days later, parliament voted for all foreign troops – including some 5,200 US forces – to leave the country and called on the government to cancel its request for assistance from the US-led coalition that had been working with Baghdad to fight the ISIL (ISIS) group.
The vote was non-binding, however, and a senior US official said on Thursday that Washington had yet to open talks with Baghdad on a troop pullout.
Al-Sadr, whose party won the most number of seats in the May 2018 parliament elections, seized on the public anger over the drone attack to call “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations”.
Iraq’s top Shia Muslim leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, later called in his weekly sermon for political groups to form a new government as soon as possible to bring stability to the country and enact reforms to improve Iraqis’ lives.
He also reiterated his opposition to foreign interference in Iraq, having previously condemned the US killing of Soleimani.
“Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected … and citizens should have the right to peaceful protest,” he said.
‘We don’t want America here’
Friday’s rally is supported by mainstream Shia parties, including al-Sadr’s political rival Hadi al-Ameri, who heads the Fatah bloc in parliament, as well as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an umbrella group comprised of an array of militias, including Iran-backed groups. 
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the protest, said the turnout was a “real show of strength”. 
“It almost doesn’t matter if this is a million people or less. The size and the vocalness of the crowd has made sure that the message has been sent now.”
There was a heavy security presence as the protesters, mostly hailing from the capital but also Iraq’s southern provinces, walked on foot to an assembly point in Baghdad’s Jadriya neighbourhood, waving Iraqi flags and wearing symbolic white shrouds.

Mariam, second from right, and her family [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]

“I came today to protest against the US being in our lands,” Mariam, 18, told Al Jazeera.
“We want to liberate our country from these chains of oppression. We have been suppressed and hurt by the US’s own interests in the region so we want them out of Iraq.”
Aliya al-Ajeel, a mother from Sadr City, said: “The US occupation has taken everything from us. We have nothing left.”
“Since 2003, we have been stripped from our basic dignity and right to live a normal life. We’re living in decrepit houses; we have no jobs, no salaries. We don’t want America here.”
Linah Alsaafin contributed to this report from Baghdad, Iraq
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Thai protesters back on streets to demand political change |NationalTribune.com

Bangkok, Thailand – Pro-democracy protesters are gathering in Thailand’s capital, in what is expected to be the largest rally in weeks of anti-government demonstrations and the biggest since a military coup in 2014 that brought Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to power. Thousands of protesters on Saturday forced their way onto the campus of Bangkok’s Thammasat…

Thai protesters back on streets to demand political change |NationalTribune.com

Bangkok, Thailand – Pro-democracy protesters are gathering in Thailand’s capital, in what is expected to be the largest rally in weeks of anti-government demonstrations and the biggest since a military coup in 2014 that brought Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to power.
Thousands of protesters on Saturday forced their way onto the campus of Bangkok’s Thammasat University, an institution that has long symbolised democracy in the country’s shaky political history. Later, they made their way into the adjacent Sanam Luang field near the royal palace.
The rally is expected to draw tens of thousands of people, with protesters planning to stay out until Sunday. Police said they would deploy thousands of officers.
“Today, we will continue to push for our demands,” said Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak. “As citizens, we should be able to fight for our rights. You cannot stop us. We have now broken through these first gates and we will continue to break through until we have democracy,” added the student activist as he mobilised a large group of protesters on the outer limits of the university.
Moments earlier, tensions had risen as a scuffle broke out between an anti-government protester and a security guard.
Democratic reforms
The student-led, anti-government movement has been calling for three significant changes to Thailand’s power structure: the dissolution of parliament, the rewriting of the military-drafted constitution and an end to the intimidation of dissidents.
Protesters believe that their votes in last year’s long-delayed general election have been disregarded after Prayuth, a former army general, stayed on as prime minister with the backing of an unelected Senate and smaller parties, despite the pro-military Palang Pracharat party finishing second.

Following the 2014 coup, Prayuth scrapped the country’s constitution and had the military write a new charter that increased the king’s powers and allowed the military to appoint the 250-member Senate that was to have a say in selecting the new prime minister.
Protesters have also been openly discussing Thailand’s powerful monarchy in public, with some calling for it to be reformed and have its political power reduced. This level of public criticism and debate is unprecedented in modern times, as the kingdom’s royal institution is protected by strict lese majeste laws that can carry prison sentences of up to 15 years.
The anti-government movement has been brewing since mid-July, but its origins began when Thailand’s top court in February moved to dissolve the popular Future Forward Party (FFP). Led by charismatic billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the FFP won the third-highest number of parliamentary seats in the March 2019 election and was seen as a threat to the political establishment.
The coronavirus pandemic momentarily halted the movement in March but protests resumed as cases started to fall. And in June, the disappearance of Wanchalerm Satsakit, a well-known activist who was abducted in plain sight outside of his apartment in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, was the spark that pushed people to take to the streets.

Pro-democracy activists shout slogans during a protest at Thammasat University in Bangkok [Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo]

The initially youth-led demonstrations have since grown consistently larger, drawing citizens from all age groups and walks of life amid rising discontent over Thailand’s widening economic inequality.
Mook, 21, a recent university graduate, said she was participating in the protest to fight for “a better future”.
“We’re unhappy with the government, it’s very simple,” she told Al Jazeera. “Last year, when I was in university, it became obvious to us [other students] how difficult our future will be if we don’t ask for this [three demands],” she said.

Peeja Plahn: ‘Thailand needs to move on’ [Caleb Quinley/Al Jazeera]

“So today, I’m joining this activity because I think Thailand desperately needs democracy.”
Police estimate up to 50,000 people could show up at Saturday’s protest, but student leaders believe there could be up to 100,000. Some are worried of an impending crackdown as Prayuth recently warned protesters to not “violate the palace”.
“I’m coming here to help the young people,” said Peeja Plahn, 53. “Many of them have not seen political rallies like this and they won’t know what to do if things get bad. We’re here to support their cause, but we’re also here because this government doesn’t work,” he added.
“Thailand needs to move on.”
At least 28 activists have been arrested on various charges, including sedition, since the protests began months ago.
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Anti-Netanyahu

Anti-Netanyahu protesters keep up pressure on Israeli leader |NationalTribune.com

Thousands of Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Saturday over his alleged corruption and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The crowd rallied outside Netanyahu’s residence, blowing whistles, waving signs and flags and calling for his resignation. Smaller protests were held along bridges at major intersections in cities across Israel.…

Anti-Netanyahu protesters keep up pressure on Israeli leader |NationalTribune.com

Thousands of Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Saturday over his alleged corruption and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The crowd rallied outside Netanyahu’s residence, blowing whistles, waving signs and flags and calling for his resignation.
Smaller protests were held along bridges at major intersections in cities across Israel.
Israeli media estimated that about 10,000 people attended what has become a weekly demonstration in Jerusalem. Organisers said that as many as 25,000 people joined the protest.
The protests, now in their 12th week, built up over the summer as COVID-19 cases spiked.
With a population of nine million, Israel has reported almost 150,000 infections and more than 1,000 deaths.

Thousands demand Netanyahu quit over coronavirus, corruption

The country is in a recession as a result of the pandemic and the unemployment rate is hovering above 20 percent.
A survey published in August by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 61 percent of Israelis did not trust Netanyahu to manage the coronavirus crisis.
Some critics of the prime minister say he is preoccupied with his corruption trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The 70-year-old was indicted in November in cases involving gifts from wealthy friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage. His trial opened in May and is set to resume in January.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing. He has described his trial as a leftist political witch-hunt aimed at unseating a popular right-wing leader.
He has also condemned the demonstrations against him, accusing protesters of trampling democracy.
A diplomatic breakthrough with the United Arab Emirates in August – followed by Bahrain on Friday – has largely been welcomed by Israelis, but has been overshadowed by the economic fears stirred by the coronavirus crisis.
After a media backlash, Netanyahu scrapped plans to travel on an executive jet with his family to Washington, DC on Sunday for a signing ceremony of the Israel-UAE accord, separately from an airliner chartered for the Israeli delegation.
Some media commentators criticised the plans to travel to the United States as extravagant at a time when Israelis are heading into their second lockdown since March.
The prime minister’s aides said the plans to travel separately had been a health precaution. But Netanyahu’s office said on Friday that he would travel with the rest of the delegation.
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Portland

Portland protesters use new, old tactics against police

Shield walls have been used on battlefields from ancient Sparta to Hastings in 1066 — and now on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Protesters come nightly carrying homemade shields and protective armor, forming a wall in the streets, ready to test police officers who stand between the demonstrators and their targets for mayhem. But the…

Portland protesters use new, old tactics against police

Shield walls have been used on battlefields from ancient Sparta to Hastings in 1066 — and now on the streets of Portland, Oregon.

Protesters come nightly carrying homemade shields and protective armor, forming a wall in the streets, ready to test police officers who stand between the demonstrators and their targets for mayhem.

But the protesters also combine the Space Age with the medieval, arming themselves with lasers, used to dazzle cameras and distract police officers. Green lasers are most common, but blue lasers are the most dangerous. They are hot enough to ignite paper and, according to police, to scorch an officer’s skin.

The tactics of protest have evolved greatly since the peaceful marches of the civil rights era and the more violent days of the 1970s. They also have gone worldwide, with anti-police protesters in Portland and Seattle learning from the anti-communist protests in Hong Kong and others elsewhere.

That means black clothing, which helps create anonymity in the crowd, making it tough for authorities to pin a particular act on a particular person. Umbrellas are used to block cameras, and fireworks and smoke are deployed to confuse. Even leaf blowers have a use: to push tear gas away from protesters. All those tactics got their start elsewhere but have been used to great effect on the streets of the U.S.

“I haven’t done a systematic analysis yet, but clearly there is a lot of diffusion happening, particularly in terms of defense against less lethal weapons,” said Lesley Wood, a sociologist at York University in Canada who studies protest movements and policing.

The vast majority of demonstrations this year in the U.S. have been peaceful.

Dana R. Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who studies protest movements, conducted a survey of the crowd reliving Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march on Washington on Aug. 28. She found that only a third said they had engaged in “direct action” demonstrations over the past year.

In Portland, while thousands have marched for racial justice, those committed to chaos number only a couple of hundred, though they turn out night after night prepared to battle police. It’s usually easy to tell who they are.

“Folks who are expecting to get arrested, they gear up, they write numbers for people to bail them out on their arm,” Ms. Fisher said.

Some of the gear has been standard for decades, such as bottles filled with gasoline and covered with a wick — the Molotov cocktail. Throwing rocks from the street has been a mainstay of protests for far longer.

Police say they also have confiscated stun guns, batons, knives and the occasional firearm. Federal authorities, who deployed agents and officers to Portland, reported facing sledgehammers, metal pipes and improvised explosive devices.

Balloons filled with urine or feces also have been lobbed.

And then there are the lasers.

Most are green. Although they are sold as laser pointers, they are often powerful enough to injure the eyes. The Department of Homeland Security said its agents and officers deployed to Portland have sustained more than 100 eye injuries.

Police have nabbed some laser operator suspects.

Federal prosecutors last week charged Hugo Ryan Berteau-Pavy, 26, with firing a laser at the Multnomah County Justice Center during a June 13 demonstration.

An officer on the roof of the center tracked Mr. Berteau-Pavy through the crowd, according to court documents, and then watched as he and other protesters marched to Mayor Ted Wheeler’s home and shone the laser at his residence and other homes in the neighborhood. Mr. Berteau-Pavy was arrested with a green laser in his pocket.

Local prosecutors did not pursue the case, so federal officers stepped in.

The local district attorney did pursue charges in a case accusing Bryan M. Kelley of firing a blue laser into officers’ eyes as protesters broke into Portland City Hall in late August.

“Law enforcement found the laser was so powerful that it would burn through paper and cause dry material to catch fire,” the district attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors said Mr. Kelley admitted he knew the laser was advertised as capable of “burning,” and he knew it could damage eyes.

Protests and mayhem continued in Portland this weekend with what police described as a “large fire” set Sunday night on mattresses in the street near a police station and demonstrators chanting “Burn it down.”

When the fire became a danger, police alerted protesters that they were bringing in the fire department. Most demonstrators made way for the firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

During the evening, 15 people were arrested.

Police described the equipment they confiscated, including a stun gun, a baton, body armor, a sling shot and a prepared Molotov cocktail — a dish detergent bottle with a wick taped to the top, ready to be lit and thrown.

Portland police regularly say the unruly crowd is full of people wearing body armor and gas masks or goggles and carrying homemade shields, seemingly singling them out from more mundane protesters.

Ms. Wood, the professor at York University, said there is a long history of police trying to divide “good” and “bad” protesters.

“Unfortunately, this perception of ‘bad’ protesters relies on stereotypes and assumptions — often targeting young, Black, countercultural activists, and those who won’t cooperate quickly with police,” she told The Washington Times.

“In an atmosphere of distrust and polarization, many more protesters may be unwilling to cooperate and are thus perceived as ‘bad,’ escalating the conflict,” she said.

On Sunday, police in Portland said they tried to deescalate the situation by, for example, pulling back officers after the fire was extinguished.

Protesters say that is not always the case. They complain of hair-trigger responses by officers and use Twitter to identify those they believe are more likely to become aggressive with demonstrators.

A typical evening will start with the committed demonstrators gathering at a park and picking a destination for the evening. Police stations and public buildings have been prominent targets, but so was the Portland mayor’s apartment building.

Police, through a loudspeaker, will tell the protesters to remain peaceful and stay off certain property or fences. But protesters will rattle a fence or encroach on the off-limits property. Officers respond either by marching in force or by deploying less-lethal weapons, sometimes including tear gas.

“It’s almost like a dance between protesters and law enforcement,” said Ms. Fisher, the University of Maryland professor.

A key moment comes when protesters lob rocks or toss tear gas canisters back at officers.

“Once something’s been thrown at police, things escalate from there,” she said.

Ms. Fisher said the mayhem sometimes is a miscalculation. Fireworks aren’t used intentionally to set fires, but it can happen, and “once something gets on fire, everything escalates.”

The weaponry can spur a kind of arms race.

When rioters targeted the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, federal agents and officers were quick to deploy tear gas. A group dubbed the Portland Dads soon brought leaf blowers to push the tear gas cloud back toward the police.

When coordinated, the strategy worked perfectly. The officers were limited by their need to defend a specific piece of ground, making them vulnerable to the retaliation.

Within a couple of days, though, federal authorities brought leaf blowers of their own to control the direction of the gas cloud.

Portland has pioneered some moves such as the Wall of Moms, a group of self-proclaimed mothers who stood as a first line of protesters, singing lullabies and hoping to serve as protection for those behind them. Ms. Fisher said she could see that tactic spreading to other protests.

Tactics are shared online, sometimes through social media posts but also through websites such as CrimethInc.com, which serves as a kind of Consumer Reports guide with articles such as “A Demonstrator’s Guide to Helmets” and “Protocols for Common Injuries From Police Weapons.”

“When you’re choosing a leaf blower, make sure it has a good fan and a wireless power source,” the site advises. “Leaf blowers work well in combination with umbrellas and shields. While the shields protect demonstrators against impact munitions, the leaf blowers keep the gas moving away from protesters until someone can run up and extinguish the canister or throw it back at the assaulters who shot it. Teamwork!”

CrimethInc., which calls itself “a decentralized network pledged to anonymous collective action,” also gives advice on how to hold a shield to absorb a police charge and how to use a lacrosse stick to pick up and fire tear gas canisters back at police.

One irony of the protests is that demonstrators, whose stated goal was to draw attention to policing tactics, have brought much scrutiny on their own moves.

They debate tactics among themselves, even in the heat of a protest, arguing with one another over megaphones over whether to attempt some action such as tearing down a fence.

Other times, the debate happens online.

After this weekend’s arrests in Portland — Saturday’s 59 arrests was a one-day record during the 100 days of mayhem — the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front questioned why protesters always marched straight at police.

“Instead of marching straight to the riot line, head-first into clouds of tear gas and violent arrests, let’s move AWAY from the cops,” the outfit said in a Twitter post.

It also suggested picking other targets: “There are certainly hundreds of corporations that fund or profit off of policing, prisons, ICE, etc., that haven’t received enough attention at protests.”

Ms. Fisher said police in Portland, including federal officers, used confrontational tactics to disperse crowds and hoped to dissuade people from coming out to protest.

“In times when people are feeling really outraged and upset, that doesn’t actually work,” she said. “Research shows us when a crowd has hit a certain boiling point with dissatisfaction with the status quo, if you try to disperse by being more aggressive, you end up with larger crowds.”

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