2019: The year of global outrage


 | Updated: Dec 23, 2019, 04:45 PM IST

Economic downfall, political autonomy, corruption and climate change were among the many reasons for a massive surge in protests globally. From Hong Kong to Antarctica here are some of the demonstrations that rocked the world in 2019.


Seventh month of Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong is gearing up for demonstrations over Christmas week with protesters planning events in districts across the city, including in prime shopping malls, the latest in more than six months of unrest.

Earlier on Sunday, more than 1,000 people rallied calmly in support of China's ethnic Uighurs, who have been detained en masse in camps in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.

Protests in Hong Kong are now in their seventh month, albeit in a relative lull compared to the scale and intensity of violence since they started in June.

Many residents are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.


Lebanon revolts against economic crisis

On Friday night, troops fired tear gas in Beirut to disperse hundreds of youths who were protesting against Hassan Diab's designation as the Prime Minister. 

Lebanon, in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, has been seeking a new government since Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on October 29 in response to protests against a ruling elite seen as venal and incompetent.

The economic woes have sparked huge protests against the ruling elite, banks are imposing capital controls, pressure has piled on the pegged Lebanese pound, and a hard currency crunch has pushed importers to hike prices.

Efforts to reach a deal on a new premier have been hurt by rifts that reflect tensions between Hariri, who is aligned with the West and Gulf Arab states, and Hezbollah. Washington sees Hezbollah as a terrorist group and has imposed sanctions on it. 


Extinction Rebellion calls for global 'climate emergency'

Climate change has for long remained the elephant in the room, with no concrete long-term action against it. As it accelerates quicker than expected, people all over the world, drawing on the calls of young activist Greta Thunberg, launched simultaneous protests across the globe to bring the attention of world leaders to the threat of mass extinction.

Activists in London, Berlin, New York City, Sydney, Amsterdam, Bolivia, Nigeria, South Korea and Paris took to the streets in mass numbers  to call on politicians to take urgent action to curb carbon emissions by declaring “climate and ecological emergency”. 

The protests were organised by London based Extinction Rebellion Group which describes itself as a global "non-violent civil disobedience activist movement".


Catalonia demands for 'Independence'

Chanting "Independence" and "Free political prisoners", several thousand Catalan protesters gathered near Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium on Wednesday hours before the local side was to face rivals Real Madrid in Spain's most high-profile match.

Protests erupted in October after Spain sentenced nine separatist leaders to long prison sentences for their role in a failed bid for independence in 2017.

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez agreed to meet with Catalonia's pro-independence regional head provided that the national parliament confirms him as premier - a vote in which separatists are likely to play a crucial role.

Catalonia's parliament and its regional government are dominated by separatist parties, but the region itself remains deeply divided over the matter, and the recent crisis has exacerbated the split. 


France denounces Macron's pension reforms

Two weeks of nationwide industrial action against President Emmanuel Macron's planned overhaul of the pension system have disrupted railways and roads, shut some schools and brought more than half a million people onto the streets.

Few hardline unions called for stoppages to continue over the holiday period, while rail sections of more moderate unions also rejected calls for a Christmas truce.

Unions oppose Macron's plans to streamline France's state pension system, including by scrapping special regimes for sectors such as railways, and to push people to work until 64, beyond the legal retirement age of 62.

Macron will forego a special presidential pension payout of about $6.650 per month when he eventually steps down, and change the presidential scheme to bring it into line with the wider overhaul of France's retirement system, his office said, on Sunday.

Negotiations over the pension reform are due to resume in January, after which the government wants to bring its proposal before parliament and have legislation passed by next summer.


304 killed in Iran

At least 304 people have been killed in Iran during anti-government unrest that broke out last month, according to the Amnesty International. 

Thousands have been arrested, including children as young as 15 in a crackdown that followed the protests, London-based Amnesty said in a statement.

Hundreds of young and working-class Iranians took to the streets on November 15 to protest against fuel price rises. The protests immediately turned political, with demonstrators burning pictures of senior officials and calling on clerical rulers to step down.

Iranian authorities earlier this month acknowledged that some "rioters" were shot and killed by security forces. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the unrest as a "very dangerous conspiracy" by Iran's enemies.

On December 6, the United Nations human rights office said at least 208 people have been killed but the real toll could be twice that. At least 7,000 people had been arrested, it said.


Bolivia's political unrest

At least 32 people were killed in the violence that erupted after a disputed election on October 20, with protesters' blockades causing severe fuel and food shortages in La Paz and other cities.

Bolivia’s electoral board had claimed that Morales had enough votes to win hotly contested elections, sparking  allegations of fraud from the opposition and angry clashes in the streets.

Organisation of American States in a nearly 100 page report published details of "deliberate" and "malicious" steps to rig Bolivia's October election in favour of then-President Evo Morales, who has resigned and left the Andean nation in political crisis.

Morales claimed to resign from his post to ease violence that gripped the South American nation since the election, but he stoked fears of more unrest by saying he was the victim of a “coup” and faced arrest.

Bolivian ex-President Evo Morales arrived in Argentina on December 13, seeking refuge under the country's new leftist government after he left his homeland last month. 


450 killed in Iraq's political turmoil

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, last week on Friday said that an early election was the only way out of the current unrest gripping the country and a new government should be formed soon.

More than 450 people, mostly unarmed demonstrators but also some members of the security forces, have been killed since a wave of popular unrest began on October 1. Protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty.

The protests have shaken the country out of two years of relative calm following the defeat of Islamic State insurgents. Infighting between political parties who are clinging onto power has fuelled the crisis and threatens to cause more unrest as protesters lose patience.

Deadlock in parliament also held up the selection of an interim prime minister, causing lawmakers to miss on Thursday the constitutional deadline to name a replacement for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned last month but has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.


'Russia without Putin'

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days in June, leading to tens of thousands to take the streets of Moscow in opposition to authorities decision to block Navalny’s allies from running city parliament elections. 

Over 1,500 of Navalny’s supporters were arrested after demonstrations across the nation against government corruption, the biggest sustained protest movement in the Russian capital since 2011-2013.

The protests were the second mass action since March called by Navalny, who had announced his intention to run for president next year and has drawn a new generation to the streets through a relentless online campaign.

Thousands of Russians, many very young, chanted "Russia without Putin!" in the streets of dozens of cities during the protests. 


Chile's two months of unrest

Chile's Congress last week gave the green light to a referendum on changing the country's constitution next year, a central demand of protesters whose mobilizations brought the nation virtually to a standstill over the past eight weeks.

Nearly two months of protests over inequality rocked Chile, as the crisis started over a hike in public transport fares and has left at least 26 dead and thousands injured. It also has sparked fierce internal criticism of the government, as well as by international human rights groups and the United Nations for alleged human rights violations by its police and its army, which was briefly called onto the streets. 

Chilean lawmakers earlier rejected a bid to oust President Sebastian Pinera over allegations he failed to safeguard human rights during weeks of deadly riots. 

Chile's constitution dates back to General Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 military dictatorship. Critics of the constitution say it fails to guarantee proper healthcare, education and citizen participation in government, while supporters consider it a pillar of stability for one of the region's strongest and most investor-friendly economies.