Occupy

Maidan martyrs betrayed in Ukraine prisoner swap

Activists in Ukraine are protesting a judicial ruling they say defers accountability in the massacre of scores of protesters during the Maidan Square occupation of 2014, popularly known as "Heaven's Hundred." Five ex-officers of the Berkut, the former regime's now-disbanded political police, faced charges of killing 48 protesters and wounding 80 others during the February 2014 repression. Another 21 sought in the violence, also members of the Berkut's elite Black Company, managed to escape to Russia after the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime later that month, and some are now believed to have been incorporated into paramilitary groups by the Vladimir Putin government. The five were ordered released from custody by the Kyiv Court of Appeals on Dec. 28—among the 200 prisoners freed in a swap between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Their release was protested in an open letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky by the group Families of the Heaven's Hundred Heores, who asserted that it violates international law. Lawyers for the families went on a 13-day hunger strike in November in protest of the cases being dropped for the impending swap.

Chile to vote on new constitution next year

Chile's President Sebastian Piñera signed a law on Dec. 23 allowing a referendum on a new constitution for the country. The law was passed by the Chilean congress last week following more than two months of mass protests. The referendum is scheduled for April 26, and asks voters two questions: should Chile have a new constitution; and who should write it, an assembly of elected citizens or an assembly that would include a mix of current lawmakers?

Peru next for regional protest wave?

Weeks after a nationwide uprising in Chile was sparked by protests over transit fare hikes in the capital, politicians in neighboring Peru are issuing nervous warnings in the wake of days of street demonstrations in Lima. On Nov. 29, students occupied Central Station on Lima's Metro to demand subsidized transit fares, "adjusted to the real incomes of Peruvians." The riot police were mobilized to clear the station, and a tense stand-off with protesters ensued. (EuroNews, Peru21, Nov. 29) Nov. 28 saw an angry march throughout downtown Lima by municipal water-workers and their trade-union allies, to oppose the privatization of the city's water system. The march was called by the water-workers union SUTESAL after President Martín Vizcarra signed Supreme Decree 214, calling for the sale of shares in the Lima Potable Water & Sewage Service (SEDAPAL), initiating longstanding plans to privatize the state company.  (Diario Uno, Nov. 29; Gestión, Nov. 15)

Student strikes shake Costa Rica

A mass student protest filled the streets of San José Oct. 22, opposing new budgetary terms being imposed on Costa Rica's public universities. The demonstration, which was also attended by staff and even rectors of the universities, was called after the Ministry of Finance ordered an increase in the percentage of the Special Fund for Higher Education (FEES) that goes to capital expenditures—which effectively means a cut in salaries for teachers and staff. Banners read "The education of our children is not up for negotiation" and "Hands off the UCR," a reference to the University of Costa Rica. University authorities and students did meet for several hours with government officials after the march in search of an agreement, while thousands of supporters maintained a vigil outside the presidential palace. President Carlos Alvarado, elected as leftist last year but now accused of imposing a neoliberal program, was among those who met with the protest leaders. Coordinated marches were also held in cities around the country. (Tico Times, El Mundo, Semanario Universidad, Costa Rica)

Econo-protests from Santiago to Beirut

A state of emergency has been declared in Chile following protests that erupted Oct. 18—initially over transit fare hikes in Santiago but quickly escalating to an uprising over general economic agony. Radicalized youth have blocked thoroughfares, burned buses and ransacked shops, while whole families have filled the streets in a nationwide cacerolazo—beating pots and pans to express outrage over the high cost of living. Protesters have similarly taken the streets, erected barricades and clashed with police in Lebanon, where a state of "economic emergency" has been declared. Again, demonstrations were initially sparked by government plans to impose a tax on text messaging, but protests have continued even after the tax was rescinded in response to the upsurge of popular anger Oct. 17. Demonstrators have revived the slogan from the 2011 Arab Revolution, "The people demand the fall of the regime."

Ecuador: celebration as protesters score victory

Celebrations broke out across Ecuador Oct. 13 after President Lenin Moreno agreed to overturn Decree 883, which would have eliminated fuel subsidies. Moreno's capitulation followed 10 days of nationwide protests that left at least eight dead, hundreds injured and more than 1,000 detained. After suspension of the decree was announced, thousands of indigenous activists, local residents and student volunteers took to the streets of Quito to clean up the city. Teams worked their way through El Arbolito park, epicenter of the protest movement, which was still littered with burning tires and pavement slabs that had been used as barricades. Moreno and protest leaders are to open a dialogue to find alternative means to cut Ecuador's public spending.

Catalan independence leaders get prison terms

Spain's Supreme Court on Oct. 14 ordered imprisoned nine Catalan political leaders—with sentences ranging from nine to 13 years for the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds—over their role in organizing the 2017 independence referendum. The sentences are each followed by equal periods of absolute ineligibility for public office. Oriol Junqueras—the former vice-president of Catalonia and the highest-ranking of the defendants—received the longest sentence. Three others were found guilty of disobedience and fined. The sentences have sparked protests in the region, with assembled crowds causing flights to be canceled at Barcelona's airport. Police used batons and rubber bullets to regain control of the facility. Demonstrators also gathered at Barcelona's Plaça San Jaume, the seat of the Catalan government, and erected barricades across roads and rail lines elsewhere in the city. Catalonia's feared anti-riot force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has been mobilized to clear the streets. (BBC Newsround, Jurist, The Local, Spain; infoLibre, Spain)

Hong Kong: will protests spread to mainland?

Protesters are rejecting what they call Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "fake concession," with the demonstrations now in their fourteenth straight week. Contrary to widespread media reports, Lam's supposed  "withdrawal" of the extradition bill is actually only a promise to withdraw it when the Legislative Council reconvenes next month—with no date yet set. Lam refused the other four demands of the current unprecedented mass movement: repudatiation of the term "riots" for the protests (with "riot" charges carrying a 10-year prison term); an independent investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations; release of all detained protesters, and the dropping of all charges; and "universal suffrage" in elections of the chief executive and Legislative Council.  (Nikkei Asian Review, The Villager)

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