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Why Millions Are Protesting Worldwide

From Chile to Iraq to Hong Kong, people are upset
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 26, 2019 1:54 PM CDT
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A local resident argues with a police officer in Hong Kong on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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(Newser) – In Hong Kong, it was a complicated extradition dispute involving a murder suspect. In Beirut, it was a proposed tax on the popular WhatsApp messenger service. In Chile, it was a 4-cent hike in subway fares. Recent weeks have seen mass protests and clashes erupt in far-flung places triggered by seemingly minor actions that each came to be seen as the final straw, the AP reports. The demonstrations are fueled by local grievances, but reflect worldwide frustration at growing inequality, corrupt elites, and broken promises. Where past waves of protests, like the 2011 Arab Spring or the rallies that accelerated the breakup of the Soviet Union, took aim at dictatorships, the latest demonstrations are rattling elected governments. Among them:

  • Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese poured into the streets after the government floated a new tax on WhatsApp on the heels of an austerity package that came in response to an increasingly severe fiscal crisis. The protests rapidly escalated into an indictment of the entire post-civil war order, in which a sectarian power-sharing arrangement has transformed former warlords and other elites into a permanent political class. The government has failed to reliably provide basic services like electricity, water, and trash collection.
  • A similar story has unfolded in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, where a government that distributes power and top offices among Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds has calcified into a corrupt stasis, with parties haggling over ministries as services and infrastructure fall into further ruin despite the country's considerable oil wealth. "Massive economic mismanagement coupled with spiraling corruption have pauperized large segments of the Arab people," says a professor.
  • Hong Kong's protests erupted in early June after the semiautonomous city passed an extradition bill that put residents at risk of being sent to China's judicial system. At one point, protesters said they had brought 2 million people into the streets. Authorities were forced to drop the extradition proposal, which was triggered by the need to resolve the status of a murder suspect wanted for killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan. But by then, the movement had snowballed to include demands for full democracy in the form of direct elections for the city's top leader.
  • On Friday, an estimated one million Chileans filled the streets of the capital Santiago, more than ever took to the streets during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet or the democratic governments that came after him. The protests were sparked by the subway fare hike but soon morphed into a mass movement against inequality in one of Latin America's wealthiest countries. At least 19 people have been killed as protesters have clashed with police in recent days.
(Read more protests stories.)

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