Sunday, February 27, 2011

Iraq's 'Day of Rage' : government answers public with gunfire and mass arrests

MORE than two dozen people are known to have been killed in Iraq, as people around the country faced armed security forces in a nationwide 'Day of Rage' against bad government and official corruption.

After enduring war and occupation, sectarian gangs and suicide bombers, and seeing foreign companies return to partake of Iraqi oil wealth, this was ordinary Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shi'ite, Christian or Kurd, coming out together for reconstruction and basic living standards for everybody, and to make their voices heard. They want reliable electricity supplies, clean water, a decent hospital, and jobs for all. They want the government to listen.

Report with extracts from Washington Post:

"I have demands!" Salma Mikahil, 48, cried out in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, as military helicopters and snipers looked down on thousands of people bearing handmade signs and olive branches signifying peace. "I want to see if Maliki can accept that I live on this," Mikahil said, waving a 1,000-dinar note, worth less than a dollar, toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's offices. "I want to see if his conscience accepts it."

The authorities response to Friday's exercise of democratic protest was security forces beating protesters and opening fire with live ammunition. Six people were killed in Falluja, six more in Mosul, with more deaths reported around the country. Hundreds were injured.

Unlike those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the Iraqi demonstrators were only raising modest demands, not expecting to bring the government down. Not yet. But crowds forced the resignation of the governor of the province of Basra and the entire city council of Fallujah and chased away the governor of Mosul, the brother of the speaker of parliament, who was also there and fled, too.

Angry crowds seized a local police station in Kirkuk, set fire to a provincial office in Mosul and rattled fences around the local governate offices in Tikrit, prompting security forces to open fire with live bullets. At least three people were reported killed in the Tikrit area and three others in Kirkuk. By sundown in Baghdad, security forces were spraying water cannons and exploding sound bombs to disperse protesters, chasing several through streets and alleyways and killing at least three, according to a witness.
Two people were also reported killed in Kurdistan, in the north.

The Iraqi situation is embarrassing for the Obama administration, which would like to complete the withdrawal from Iraq while claiming it has left democratic government there, even if it is also leaving US bases and private security outfits. Iraq's security forces "generally have not used force against peaceful protesters," said Aaron Snipe, an embassy spokesman. "We support the Iraqi people's right to freely express their political views, to peacefully protest and seek redress form their government. This has been our consistent message in Iraq and throughout the region."

'The turnout Friday appeared to surprise many of the demonstrators, coming as it did after a curfew on cars and even bicycles forced people to walk, often miles, to participate. There were also pleas - some described them as threatening - from Maliki and Shiite clerics, including the populist Moqtada al-Sadr, to stay home. Sadr, whose Mahdi Army is blamed for some of the worst sectarian violence of the war, is now part of Maliki's governing coalition and attempting to position himself as both insider and outsider. Sadr's power lies in his rare ability to call hundreds of thousands into the streets, and analysts said he is perhaps concerned about losing his impoverished urban followers to the new and still only vaguely unified protest movement .

By mid-morning in Baghdad, people were walking toward Tahrir Square along empty streets fortified with soldiers in Humvees, snipers on rooftops and mosque domes and checkpoints with X-ray equipment that might reveal a suicide vest. Young and old, some missing legs and arms, some chanting old slogans of the Mahdi Army, the protesters passed crumbling high-rise apartment buildings webbed with electrical wires hooked to generators. At times, the air smelled like sewage.
"Bring electricity!" they shouted, and "No to corruption!"

It was reported yesterday that not content with attacking demonstrators, Iraqi security forces had detained hundreds of people, including prominent journalists, artists and intellectuals. Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.

"Ssairi and his three colleagues, one of whom had been on the radio speaking in support of protesters, said about a dozen soldiers stormed into a restaurant where they were eating dinner Friday afternoon and began beating them as other diners looked on in silence. They drove them to a side street and beat them again.

"Then, blindfolded, they were driven to the former Ministry of Defense building, which houses an intelligence unit of the Iraqi army's 11th Division, they said. Hadi al-Mahdi, a theater director and radio anchor who has been calling for reform, said he was blindfolded and beaten repeatedly with sticks, boots and fists. One soldier put a stick into Hadi's handcuffed hands and threatened to rape him with it, he said.
The soldiers accused him of being a tool of outsiders wishing to topple Maliki's government; they demanded that he confess to being a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Hadi told them that he blamed Baathists for killing two of his brothers and that until recently he had been a member of Maliki's Dawa Party.

Hadi said he was then taken to a detention cell, his blindfold off, where he said there were at least 300 people with black hoods over their heads, many groaning in bloody shirts. Several told him they had been detained during or after the protests. Hadi, who comes from a prominent Iraqi family, and his colleagues were released after their friends managed to make some well-placed phone calls.
"This government is sending a message to us, to everybody," he said Saturday, his forehead bruised, his left leg swollen.

Security forces have attacked the premises of the Journalistic Freedom Observatory, a human rights group reports.

"At about 2 a.m. on February 23, 2011, more than 20 armed men, some of them wearing brown military uniforms and red berets, and others wearing black military uniforms with skull-and-cross-bones insignia on their helmets, pulled up in Humvees outside the group's office in Baghdad and broke in, a witness told Human Rights Watch. The security forces conducted a destructive search of the office that lasted more than an hour and seized the organization's computers, external hard drives, cameras, cell phones, CDs, documents, and several flak jackets and helmets marked "Press," the witness said.
"This raid on the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory shows the contempt of Iraqi authorities for groups that challenge the state's human rights record," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

A spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the men were part of the Iraqi army but gave few other details.

Human Rights Watch visited the group's office the morning after the raid and saw extensive damage, including broken furniture, destroyed equipment, kicked-in doors, and ripped-up posters and literature for the organization's events, such as their annual "Press Courage Awards." Framed photographs of journalists killed in Iraq since 2003 were strewn on the floor, covered in broken glass.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that authorities would not return the computer hard drives and other electronic data storage devices seized from the group.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wisconsin waking American workers

IN the biggest demonstration Wisconsin has seen since the Vietnam war, tens of thousands of working people and students marched in the state capital Madison yesterday, in snow and freezing temperatures, to oppose cuts and attacks on trade union rights.

Republican Governor Scott Walker, supported by the reactionary middle-class Tea Party, wants to cut health and pension entitlements and increase contributions for public service workers, effectively slashing take home pay, and to take away rights to union representation and collective bargaining.

Saturday's demonstration was supported by a wide range of public service and other workers, teachers and firefighters being joined by teamsters and building trades, with placards saying "An Injury to One is an Injury to All".

Students were another lively section. Off-duty police too have joined the protesters at the state capitol, marching as public service union members although they have been promised exemption from Walker's attacks.

The Republican governor has been questioned by police after a telephone prankster posing as billionaire Tea Party backer David Koch caught him admitting that he thought of hiring provocateurs to cause trouble in the public service marches. Madison mayor David Ciesewicz said the demonstrators had all been well-behaved, even cleaning up the capitol and its lawn after their rallies, and he considered it a "serious matter" that the governor considered hiring outsiders to disrupt peaceful demonstrations.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin supports the Wisconsin 14 - Democrat state senators staying away from the Capitol to stop Walker getting quorum for anti-union measures.

Firefighters on march in Madison, February 16:

Students marching on Saturday:

The Wisconsin workers' stand is being backed by other trade unionists across America, with demonstrations from Oakland to New Jersey.

Solidarity in Springfield, Illinois:

Demonstrators rally in support of Wisconsin ...

...and in New Jersey

“Make no mistake about it, we are in the middle of a well-funded, well-orchestrated war on organized labor and public education,” said Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

The New Jersey rally had been called in solidarity with Wisconsin workers, but also in readiness to fight off attacks in their own state. Jersey governor Chris Christie wants to cut pensions and health-care benefits for public workers, though he says he supports vigorous collective bargaining. He tied several pieces of his proposed budget to cuts, saying he would make a required payment into the state’s retirement fund in 2011 if the pension changes were passed. The state faces a $54 billion pension hole, and past governors have consistently failed to fully fund the system.

Christie has also said he would pay for higher property-tax rebates only if the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed his cuts to workers’ health care. He wants workers to pay 30% of the cost of their premiums; currently they put 1.5% of their total salaries toward health care. Democrats, in turn, argue that would be overly burdensome on the lowest-paid workers with families.

Christie's education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, proposed a new tenure system for teachers in which they would need to earn good evaluations for three straight years to keep tenure. Cerf also proposed doing away with the “last in, first out” policy, which is also being debated in New York City.

Karen Iorio, 48, of North Brunswick, "a stay-at-home mom" said she came to support the teachers’ union on behalf of her father, a retired middle-school algebra teacher. “We’re going to go back to the 1920s, when there were robber barons and there were a lot of people who were extremely poor,” she said. “I just think that doesn’t leave a lot of hope in the future for my children to get decent-paying jobs.”

Big Business billionaires behind Wisconsin Walker's attack on unions

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amsterdam, February 1941

DE DOKWERKER, Amsterdam's tribute to workers' action

FEBRUARY 25, 2011 is the seventieth anniversary of a proud moment in the history of the Dutch working class, the Amsterdam general strike. The Netherlands had surrendered to Germany in May 1940, and the first anti-Jewish measures began soon after, with the barring of Jews from the air-raid defence services in June 1940. By November 1940 Jews were being removed from public life, including the universities, and there were to be student protests at Leiden and elsewhere.

There was also unrest amongst workers in Amsterdam, especially the workers at the shipyards in Amsterdam-Noord, who were threatened with forced labour in Germany.

The Dutch pro-nazi movement NSB and its streetfighting arm, the WA (Weerbaarheidsafdeling - defence section), engaged in a series of provocations in Jewish neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. In response, young Jews formed their own self-defence squads, knokploegen, and there were a series of street battles in which the Nazis sometimes got more than they had bargained for. In a pitched battle on February 11, 1941 on the Waterlooplein, WA member Hendrik Koot was badly wounded. He died of his injuries on February 14, 1941.

On February 12, 1941, German soldiers, assisted by Dutch police, encircled the old Jewish neighbourhood and cordoned it off from the rest of the city by putting up barbed wire, opening bridges and putting in police checkpoints. This neighbourhood was now forbidden for non-Jews. On February 19, the German Grüne Polizei stormed into ice-cream salon Koco in the Van Woustraat. In the fight that ensued, several police officers were wounded.

On the weekend of February 22 and February 23, a large scale raid was mounted by the German Nazis. Some 425 Jewish men, age 20-35 were taken hostage and imprisoned in Kamp Schoorl and eventually sent to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps, where most of them died within the year. Out of 425, only 2 survived.

Some of the Dutch Left, including the Communist Party, decided not to let the deportations go without some kind of resistance. An open air meeting was held on the Noordmarket. A leaflet commenting on the raids, described the German military police and their collaborators as animals. It went on:

The metalworkers in Amsterdam have shown the way. They struck in unison against their forced transport to Germany, and the coercive power of the German military administration had to contend with this resistance! In one day, the metalworkers triumphed!!
So, do not let the jackboot of the German soldier intimidate you!
Organize protest strikes in all factories!!
Join ranks to fight against this terrorism!!
Demand the immediate liberation of the interned Jews!!
Demand the disbanding of the Dutch Fascist terror groups!!!
Organize self-defense in factories and neighborhoods!!
Show your solidarity with the Jewish segment of the proletariat, which has been so badly mistreated!!
Spare the Jewish children from the terror of the Nazi atrocities; take them in with your families!!!
Be aware of the tremendous might of your unified action!!!
It is much greater than that of the German military occupation! There's no doubt that many German proletarian soldiers support your resistance!!!
Strike!! Strike!! Strike!!!
Shut down all of Amsterdam for one day—shipyards, factories, shops, offices, banks, city hall, and enterprise works!!

On February 25, Amsterdamers woke to quiet streets - there were no trams running. Other city services stopped for the day, and staff did not turn up to open the Bijenkorf department stores. Docks and workshops were on strike too. The strike spread to Hilversum, Utrecht and other cities and towns. By February 27 the Germans appeared to have suppressed the strike, and it had not halted the deportations.

But the Nazi idea that, despite their ruthless bombing and invasion, they could simply incorporate the Netherlands, without its Jews, into their New Order, had suffered a blow. It was a blow for the honour of the Dutch people and the working class.

February 1941 was the first direct action against the Nazis' treatment of Jews in Europe. It is significant too that it preceded the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union by four months, and so the Dutch Communist Party was not slavishly adhering to the truce or even collaboration which might have been expected to come from the Hitler-Stalin pact.

This may partly have reflected the existence to its left of veteran communist Henrik Sneevliet's Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party(RSAP), which had gone underground as the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front, producing its first clandestine paper Spartacus in July 1940. The MLL-Front, in which Trotskyists were also involved, contributed to the agitation for the February strike. Alas, Sneevliet and other leaders were captured and executed the following year.

The next strike would be student strikes in November 1941, and after that the large April-May strikes in 1943, that heralded armed resistance as the prospect of liberation grew nearer.

Neither Jewish resistance nor working class action rate much attention in official Holocaust commemorations and teaching, but in Holland, Marie Andriessen's statue De Dokwerker, erected as a memorial for the strike in 1951, has been the site of regular remembrance ceremonies.

Piet Naak, one of the leaders of the February strike, was awarded a medal by the State of Israel in recognition of his courageous stand. He returned it in protest at Israeli occupation policies and treatment of the Palestinians.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Famous Five fight cause for 300,000 in Ireland


DUBLIN'S O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel likes to boast of its location close by the historic Georgian heart of the Irish capital. But five women from Lithuania and Poland are winning hearts by their historic battle for what's right in a struggle with the O'Callaghan Hotel Group.

The five women - Ingrida Balciuniene, Grazyna Ziemer, Raisa Jonaitiene, Jolita Nalusiene, Regine Balciuniene and Greta Pashuskiene, refused to sign new contracts giving up their right to a minimum wage of €8.65c an hour. Other workers in the O'Callaghan Hotel Group in Dublin agreed to sign away those rights.

The outgoing Irish Government pressed through legislation allowing for the minimum wage to be reduced, but gave assurances that this could not happen without the consent of workers affected.

However, at the Davenport Hotel workers have been brought into three meetings over the past three weeks and repeatedly told they must sign the new contracts or face being taken off the roster. They were not given a copy of the new contract, either in English or in their own languages.

The women have worked as cleaners at the Davenport Hotel for between four and six years. The new contracts would mean losing €1 an hour. They refused to sign them on 1st February when the new legislation came into force and have been removed from the payroll ever since.

The Irish union SIPTU served strike notice on the hotel on 9th February over the hotel’s decision which it regards as an effective lockout. The union says that although the dispute involves only five people it has implications for over 300,000 workers affected by the new National Minimum Wage legislation and related rates of pay in the hotels, contract cleaning, security and other low pay sectors.

A petition to support the workers is available online at:

1. Defend workers right to protect current minimum wage
2. Defeat employers offensive to drive down pay of vulnerable workers
3. Force Government to honour commitments in Dail Eireann to protect these workers

The Davenport Hotel is part of the O'Callaghan Hotel Group owned by Persian Properties and property developer, Noel O'Callaghan.

* Formed in 1990, by a merger between the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and the Federated Workers Union of Ireland, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) claims a proud tradition going back a century to when the ITGWU was founded by James Larkin.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Don't forget Kurdistan, or Iraq

THERE were two demonstrations in London yesterday. Libyans aghast at the reported killings of demonstrators in their homeland gathered outside their embassy.

But also thousands of Kurdish people marched to condemn the killing of protesters in Iraq-Kurdistan "and in solidarity with peoples protest movement against militia rule, corruption, poverty, lack of social justice and freedoms", writes Houzan Mahmoud "We started form 8Am in front of the office of the so called Kurdish Regional Government and marched through the streets of Edgware Road, all the way to Parliament. This was the biggest protest in Europe against these atrocities commited by Barzani militias.. People chanted slogans such as Barzani is terrorist, Militias out out, Barzani, and Talabani out out, long live freedom and equality, and down with Barzani and many more. Also photos of Barzani and Talabani were burnt down by protestors".

The Kurdish region of northern Iraq has been billed as a democracy since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the British government and others have forcibly repatriated Kurdish refugees. But the region remains under the control of the two rival Kurdish nationalist parties which fought Iraqi rule, and their two leading families, the Barzani-led Kurdish Democratic Party(KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Jalal Talabani is also president of post-invasion Iraq.

It was reported from Sulaimaniya at the weekend that demonstrators had thronged the streets on Saturday to demand justice over a deadly shooting at a protest earlier that week. In Baghdad, hundreds of orphans and widows rallied to call on the government to take care of them.

The demonstrators in Sulaimaniya demanded that those responsible for a shooting two days earlier that killed two people and injured nearly 50 be held responsible. The crowds shouted: "Down, down, with Massoud Barzani!" referring to the president of the three provinces that make up the autonomous Kurdish region.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters had demonstrated in front of the offices of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party in Sulaimaniyah,. They pelted the building with stones, and Kurdish guards on top of the building opened fire. The KDP claimed its guards were forced to defend themselves from the crowd; Barzani has appealed for calm and vowed to investigate.

The demonstrators were angry with the tight grip with which the two main ruling parties in the Kurdish north dominate the region and its economy. They say it is impossible for people not affiliated with either one to find a decent job or start a business.

Saturday's rally was largely peaceful, but at one point security forces fired shots overhead to disperse the crowd; an official at the hospital said 12 people were treated after being hit by stones, indicating some scuffling had gone on. The official did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Earlier at the city's university, about a 1,000 students also rallied to demand Barzani apologize.

In Baghdad, MPs loyal to Barzani got in a shouting match with a representative from Goran, a new opposition party in the Kurdish region. As the Goran member was describing how the protesters were not armed and carrying out a peaceful protest, a Kurdish MP shouted: "This not true!"

About 1,500 people rallied in Baghdad in a demonstration organized by non-governmental organizations looking to highlight the plight of some of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens. Hundreds of thousands of women who lost their husbands in wars over the decades or children who have lost parents are particularly vulnerable.

One of those in attendance was 9-year-old Ahmed Nasir, who lost his father in 2006 in a roadside bombing in western Baghdad. "We have seven children at home," he said. "My mother takes care of us by sewing clothes, and we have no salary."

In a statement, the organizations behind the demonstration said they want the government to give each orphan a monthly stipend.

Media Attacked
An Iraqi television channel that carried live footage of protests in Kurdistan was attacked early on Sunday, its owner said.
"At 2:00 am (2300 GMT Thursday) in Sulaimaniyah, a group of masked men carrying weapons entered the building of our television channel," said Tuana Othman, owner of the Nalia station.

"They wounded the guard with a gunshot before firing their weapons onto our equipment and then fleeing."
Othman said that while the channel was not fully up and running, it had aired live images of protests on Thursday in Sulaimaniyah, the second-biggest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, to carry out testing.

It is also reported that immediately after the protests, looters targeted seven offices of the Kurdish opposition Goran party, despite the bloc's denials that it was involved in the protests at the KDP offices

In NEW YORK, Human Rights Watch has said Iraqi authorities should open an independent and transparent investigation into the reported shooting of several protesters in demonstrations on February 16 and 17 They should recognise the right to free assembly and use only the minimum necessary force when violence occurs at protests, Human Rights Watch said.

On February 16 Iraqi police in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, opened fire on angry demonstrators outside the governorate of Wasit province, killing three and wounding more than 50, according to various news reports and a protest organizer.

"Iraqi forces and their commanders have a lot of explaining to do to justify the use of live ammunition on demonstrators," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Similar behavior by security forces in this tense time in the region has only ignited more powerful and angry popular reactions."

Iraqi oil workers have also been engaged in strikes and demonstrations in the south of the country. They are complaining of poor pay and conditions, and also threatening not to allow foreign companies to enter the Rumaillah oilfield.

The London demonstration called on the Kurdish Regional Government to release people arrested on Thursday in Sulaimaniyah and bring to justice thoseresponsible for opening fire on demonstrators.

Dashty Jamal of Freedom Umbrella , a coalition of British-based Kurdish organisations and supporters involved in yesterday's demonstration, said: "The British and US government want to present the KRG as a success to legitimise their wars, but here is the reality. There is rising unemployment, the government has no respect for women's rights or workers' rights. People are angry," he said.

"Protests have since spread across Iraqi Kurdistan as people call for increased freedom and civil liberties, jobs and an end to political corruption," he said. "The ruling parties have responded to this by increasing the presence of armed militia in cities and shooting on more demonstrators and arresting activists."

Refering to KDP rule since 1991, Mr Jamal added: "People in Kurdistan are fed up with 20 years of military dictatorship."

The Stop the War Coalition, which mobilised huge demonstrations against the US-British invasion of Iraq, has called for support for a demonstrations today and Friday, but over Libya and Bahrain:

> ST
> ************

There is also an Iraqi demonstration on Friday, against the Iraqi government and the suppression of demonstrators in Iraq. The call says:

"Support our Iraqi brothers and sisters who will be demonstrating on
25/11/2011 in Baghdad and let us demonstrate against the horrific crimes
against our people in London.

The "War on Terror" has stripped us off our basic rights, stolen our freedom
and robbed our lives. Let us unite in the face of this farce democracy of a religious dictatorship
and occupation and protest for our rights!

Join us for the sake of humanity and demand basic rights, freedom and true democracy!

The US strongly supported the protests in Egypt and Tunisia yet they have not condemned the attacks on the Iraqi protesters- Resist the occupation!"

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Going, going,.....Gaddafi. But business going on.

MUAMMAR GADDAFI has appeared on Libyan TV to disprove rumours sustained among others by British Foreign Secretary William Hague that he had fled the country. Venezuela had already denied that he was there. But with the Libyan dictator already dependent on foreign mercenaries, and air strikes ordered against his own people, how much longer can his regime prolong Libya's agony by trying to cling on?

Over 400 people have reportedly been killed already in Libya. Not much reliable news is being allowed to leak out, but two Libyan jets and some helicopters landed in Malta yesterday, with air force officers -two said to be colonels - saying they had fled after refusing orders to bomb civilians.

There were reports of air strikes on two places near Tripoli, Misurata and Azawiya, and even on suburbs of the capital itself. The two planes in Malta may have been those sent to Benghazi to carry out similar attacks before deciding to defect.

Much of Benghazi had reportedly already been taken over by rebels, with some army units coming over to the people. In Tripoli itself some districts were barricaded, as residents prepared to resist foreign mercenaries rampaging through the streets shooting people.

Today's Guardian quotes Ali Zeidan, of the Libyan League of Human Rights, in Munich: "Protesters gathered for very big street demonstrations. Then at 3am, forces came without any warning and started shooting live ammunition into the crowd. Some of the demonstrators ran, others fell. There were about 60 killed and around 130 injured. It wasn't the police, it wasn't the army, it was Gaddafi's elite guard assisted by paid foreign African fighters.


"Libyans used to be afraid. But after they saw the blood, they aren't afraid anymore, they are angry. Everybody knows somebody who has been killed or injured, everyone is very angry. What Gaddafi's son said made people furious, it's as if the people can just be treated like trash. Now people don't want to go back to what they had for the last 42 years [of Gaddafi's rule]. Now they feel no fear, if there are deaths people accept that we must carry on. Protesters will go to the centre again today and keep demonstrating until the job is done.".

Souhayr Belhassen, head of the International Federation of Human Rights, said she had gathered accounts from Tunisians and others who had left Libya, describing how property belonging to Gaddafi had been attacked and police stations set alight. "The revolt is heading to the capital," she said. She said senior figures including ambassadors and security forces, were abandoning Gaddafi. "They have jumped ship and the boat is sinking," she said.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

When the big guns threatened the Bombay yacht club

FRIENDS in India are commemorating an event 65 years ago which helped bring a nation (or two) to birth, by shaking a mighty empire. This was the mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy, which began on 18 February 1946. It boiled up from a mixture of rising national feeling and social discontent.

Like other such events, it began in a small way, over what might otherwise have become a forgotten issue, and not unlike the Potemkin mutiny.

On 16 January 1946, a contingent of 67 naval ratings of various branches arrived at Castle Barracks, Mint Road, in Fort Mumbai. They had come from the basic training establishment, HMIS Akbar, located at Thane, a suburb of Bombay. They reported to the officer on duty, who informed the galley staff of their arrival. Quite casually, the duty cook took out 20 loaves of bread from the large cupboard and added three litres of tap water to the mutton curry as well as the gram dal which was lying already cooked before. That evening only 17 ratings ate the watery, tasteless meal, while the rest went ashore and ate, a quiet but open act of defiance.

When reported to senior officers present, this grievances practically evoked no response and the discontentment continued to build up. The crews felt the way their wellbeing and conditions were neglected reflected their status in the King's navy.
This came with the upsurge of the independence movement, and news about the trials of officers of Bhose's Indian National Army(INA), who had fought the British during the war.

Much of the political news passed from port to port and ship to ship by radio. The ratings of the communication branch in the shore establishment, HMIS Talwar, drawn from more educated and often higher social strata, particularly resented their treatment as inferiors by the authorities, and the way complaints about facilities were ignored by those in charge.

On February 18, 1946, a meeting of ratings was held to air their grievances, and by dusk on 19 February, a Naval Central Strike committee was elected. Leading Signalman M.S Khan and Petty Officer Telegraphist Madan Singh were unanimously elected President and Vice-President respectively.

Starting in Bombay, the naval strike spread across British India, from Karachi to Calcutta and ultimately came to involve 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors. The ratings in Calcutta, Madras, Karachi and Vizag went on strike with the slogans "Strike for Bombay", "Release 11,000 INA prisoners" and "Jai Hind" (Victory to India). The mutineers kept in touch via the radio relayed from HMIS Talwar. The White Ensign was hauled down. Signifying their unity and wish to overcome the divisions among Indian political leaders, the mutinying ships hoisted three flags tied together — those of the Congress, Muslim League, and the Red Flag of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

Hundreds of strikers from the sloops, minesweepers and shore establishments in Bombay demonstrated for 2 hours along Hornby Road. Many of the men had armed themselves with spanners and iron bars. But they had wide support, and there were many spontaneous actions. In some places vehicles carrying mail were stopped and the mail burnt. British men and women going in cars and victorias were made to get down and shout "Jai Hind" (Victory to India). Meanwhile the navy's big guns were trained on the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Yacht Club and other buildings from morning till evening.

Onshore the mutineers were supported by demonstrations which included a one-day general strike in Bombay. The strike spread to other cities, and was joined by the Royal Indian Air Force and local police forces. Naval officers and men began calling themselves the "Indian National Navy" and offered left-handed salutes to British officers. At some places, NCOs in the British Indian Army ignored and defied orders from British superiors. In Madras and Pune, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the Indian Army. A Gurkha unit refused orders to fire on strikers.

We might note that the sailors' grievance over food was but small compared with what many civilians had endured. While the Indian army and navy had been expected to help defend India and serve the British empire during the War, the British authorities had let three million people die from famine in Bengal in 1943. Small wonder that now, taking the naval mutiny as signal that their time had come, people took part in widespread rioting in Calcutta and elsewhere.

But the mutineers received no support from the national leaders. Mahatma Gandhi in a statement on 3 March 1946 criticised the strikers for mutinying without the call of a "prepared revolutionary party" and without the "guidance and intervention" of "political leaders of their choice". He further criticised the local Indian National Congress leader Aruna Asaf Ali, one of the few prominent political leaders of the time to offer her support for the mutineers, stating she would rather unite Hindus and Muslims on the barricades than on the constitutional front.

The Muslim League argued that the unrest of the sailors was not best expressed on the streets, however serious the grievance may be. Legitimacy could only be conferred by a recognised political leadership. Spontaneous upsurges could only disrupt political consensus. Thus the two main parties, on course to accept British backed partition, with all the bloodshed that followed, were united for once in asserting their authority, against the sailors who mounted such a powerful show of unity and threat to British rule, and against the masses who were ready to support the sailors.

The Communist Party of India, the third largest political force at the time, extended full support to the naval ratings and mobilized the workers in their support, though in the end, accepting that India's struggle must remain at the national bourgeois 'stage', it would not challenge the national leaders and could not halt division.

By February 20, the third day, British destroyers had positioned themselves off Bombay. The British prime minister, Labour's Clement Attlee, ordered the Royal Navy to put down the revolt. Admiral J.H. Godfrey, the Flag Officer commanding the RIN, went on air with his order to "Submit or perish". Rumours spread that Australian and Canadian armed battalions had been stationed outside the Lion gate and the Gun gate to encircle the dockyard where most ships were berthed. However, by this time, all the armouries of the ships and establishments had been seized by the striking ratings. The clerks, cleaning hands, cooks and wireless operators of the striking ship armed themselves with whatever weapon was available to resist the British destroyers that had sailed from Trincomalee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

The Royal Air Force flew a squadron of bombers low over Bombay harbour in a show of force, as Admiral Rattray, Flag Officer, Bombay, RIN, issued an ultimatum asking the ratings to raise black flags and surrender unconditionally. In Karachi, the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch had been called from their barracks. The first priority was to deal with the mutiny on Manora Island. Ratings holding the Hindustan opened fire when attempts were made to board the ship.

At midnight, the 2nd Battalion was ordered to proceed to Manora, expecting resistance from the Indian naval ratings who had taken over the shore establishments HMIS Bahadur, Chamak and Himalaya and from the Royal Naval Anti-Aircraft School on the island. The Battalion was ferried silently across in launches and landing craft. D company was the first across, and they immediately proceeded to the southern end of the island to Chamak. The remainder of the Battalion stayed at the southern end of the Island. By the morning, the British soldiers had secured the island.

The decision was made to confront the Indian naval ratings on board the destroyer Hindustan, armed with 4-in. guns. During the morning three guns (caliber unknown) from the Royal Artillery C. Troop arrived on the island. The Royal Artillery positioned the battery within point blank range of the Hindustan on the dockside. An ultimatum was delivered to the mutineers aboard Hindustan, stating that if they did not the leave the ship and put down their weapons by 10:30 they would have to face the consequences. The deadline came and went and there was no message from the ship or any movement. Orders were given to open fire at 10:33. The gunners' first round was on target. On board the Hindustan the Indian naval ratings began to return gunfire and several shells whistled over the Royal Artillery guns. Most of the shells fired by the Indian ratings went harmlessly overhead and fell on Karachi itself. They had not been primed so there were no casualties. However, the mutineers could not hold on. At 10:51 the white flag was raised. British naval personnel boarded the ship to remove casualties and the remainder of the mutinous crew. Extensive damage had been done to Hindustan's superstructure and there were many casualties among the Indian sailors.

The mutiny was called off following a meeting between the President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC), M. S. Khan, and Vallab Bhai Patel of the Congress, who had been sent to Bombay to settle the crisis. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by a statement issued in Calcutta by Mohammed Ali Jinnah on behalf of the Muslim League. Under these considerable pressures, the strikers gave way.

The negotiations lasted some days, and it seemed as though the demands of the strikers were conceded in principle. Immediate steps were taken to improve the quality of food served in the ratings’ kitchen and their living conditions. The national leaders also assured that favourable consideration would be accorded to the release of all the prisoners of the Indian National Army. However, despite assurances of the good services of the Congress and the Muslim League widespread arrests were made. These were followed up by courts martial and large scale dismissals from the service. None of those dismissed were reinstated into either the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence, nor were they offered compensation.

Disturbances continued on shore after the strike had ended, and a British intelligence summary issued on March 25, 1946 admitted that the Indian army, navy and air force units were no longer trust worthy, and if wide-scale public unrest took shape, the armed forces could not be relied upon to support counter-insurgency operations as they had been during the Quit India movement of 1942. Coupled with the strikes that erupted across the Royal Air Force that year, the Indian navy mutiny was therefore a key factor in the British government's decision to get out of India.
Clement Attlee admitted as much.

The Indian and Pakistani governments were less honest in acknowledging this debt,and in West Bengal in 1965, a play based on the events, Kallol (Sound of the Wave), was banned by the Congress government, and playwright Utpal Dutt imprisoned. In later years India felt it safer to adopt the history. The RIN Mutiny was renamed the Naval Uprising, a statue erected in Mumbai, and Navy ships named after two prominent mutineers, Madan Singh and B.C Dutt. We might compare this with the way Dublin has a railway station named after the socialist James Connolly, though Ireland's bourgeois governments would dread his reappearance.

For the rest of the world, educated as we have been by Western cinema's version of India's road to independence, those who fight oppression are periodically advised to follow the path of Gandhi,and stick to non-violent civil disobedience (and usually the emphasis is on civil, rather than disobedience). Without detracting either from the Mahatma's greatness or that of the masses who followed him, let us remember also the persuasive part played by the guns of the Indian navy when they were trained on the Bombay yacht club!

Here is one commemorative event I have heard of, there may be others:

Commemorative Event

Now postponed to

21 February · 16:30 - 19:00

Sahawas Hall, Sinhagad road, near Dandekar bridge, opposite to Ramkrishna math, Pune

This is the 2nd of special annual events organized by the New Wave in Pune. The 19th of February 2010 marks the 65th anniversary of the glorious naval revolt of 1946 which shook the British rule over India to the core. It was the final straw which broke the back of the Empire finally paving the way for India's independence and starting off a chain of national liberation movements throughout South East Asia and the middle east.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is the BBC being modest about Mr.Shamir?

AS Wikileaks founder Julian Assange waits to hear if he will be extradited to Sweden (on sex charges), from where it is feared he could face extradition to the United States( for being founder of Wikileaks), BBC Panorama has weighed into the fray with a Panorama programme suggesting Assange is not the hero some may think.

To start with the programme by John Sweeney showed us the kind of clip that makes Wikileaks admirable and worthy of support, an American Apache helicopter crew's video of themselves gunning down Iraqi civilians and a Reuters reporter on a street, shooting up a van that came as an ambulance, and laughing at their results. Like an arcade game. Seeing a man rushing away carrying a baby, one of the Americans comments that it is the person's fault for bringing the baby into a war. Yeah, the crew agree. Aw c'mon guys, let's not be so guarded, it was the goddam baby's own fault for being born in Iraq!

Moving on to more controversial matters we were told that the Guardian had been happy to publish a document referring to Afghanistan but deleting the names of Afghan informers, whereas Wikileaks left in the names, thus endangering people's lives. I'm surprised that documents contained the informers' real names.

The US authorities could not say for sure that anyone had been killed as a result of being named, but thought they might be. Assange, we were told, thought the informers ought to know the risks, which is interesting.

Many of the huge amount of documents that have come out tell us nothing except what US diplomats were thinking, which makes me wonder whether they were material that someone wanted to be leaked, so they could express undiplomatic opinions.

But US serviceman Bradley Manning, aged 23, is facing real enough charges on account of the leaks and could face 52 years in prison. Not much of the money that has been raised for Wikileaks has gone to help Manning, it seems. Meanwhile the Tea Party fanatics of the American Right would like to become a necktie party for both Manning and Julian Assange.

While celebs like Bianca Jagger, Tariq Ali and John Pilger rally to defend Assange, some of the people who have known and worked with him are less than keen on him as a boss or hero figure. The BBC programme introduced us to Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who has broken with Assange after criticising the way Wikileaks was being run and finding himself suspended. Domscheit-Berg, who has written a book about his experiences and tried to set up an alternative to the Wikileaks network, said he would never have knowingly worked in the same organisation as an "antisemite" - referring to Israel Shamir, who is Wikileaks man in Russia and former Soviet republics.

Panorama noted that Shamir had used his position with Wikileaks, champions of freedom of information, to bring succour to the hardline regime of Alexander Lukashenko, in Belarus, passing on confidential cables that could be used to show US backing for the opposition. Lukashenko has arrested 600 opposition supporters and journalists since the country's presidential election. It is said the whereabouts of many Belarus oppositionists are unknown.

We know a bit about Israel Shamir. Born in Novosibirsk, he emigrated to Israel, where he served in the army, and says he lives in Jaffa, and has converted to Orthodox Christianity. Ten years ago, while the Second Intifada was under way, and worldwide interest was growing in Israel/Palestine conflict, the name Israel Shamir began appearing on the internet. He described himself modestly as a leading Israeli writer, and posed as a dissident, anti-Zionist Israeli who wanted to assist the Palestinian cause.

Two people who had the pleasure of meeting this new friend, Ali Abunimah, who runs the Electronic Intifada website, and Hussein Ibish, of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), came away with the distinct impression that he was not just anti-Israel, but anti-Jewish, rehashing classic European antisemitism that was nothing to do with the Middle East, and in short, the sort of "friend" the Palestinians could do without.

A Palestinian who met Shamir in Sweden, where he had been living since 1984, told me the Russian-born Israeli was not only acquiring an association with Holocaust deniers but seemed to be reviving weird old ideas about the infamous blood-libel.
It was in Sweden that Shamir approached revisionist historian David Irving, offering to sell him a large collection of historical documents from the Third Reich, apparently obtained in Russia. Irving appears to have got nervous about the deal, either unsure of the documents' provenence or fearing he was being set up.

But it was anti-fascist activists in Norway and Sweden who uncovered the strange fact that Israel Shamir was also known in far-Right antisemitic circles as Joran Jermas, a name he had officially acquired in Sweden in 2001 - the same year he began appearing on the internet and in pro-Palestinian gatherings as Israel Shamir.

It was as Israel Shamir that on February 23, 2005 he graced a meeting in the House of Lords hosted by Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who said he had not realised the nature of the speaker's views. For Stephen Pollard, taking Lord Ahmed to task in the Times, Shamir's 'real' identity and antisemitism could have been easily-ascertained before hand, though oddly it was six weeks after Shamir's performance that Pollard's comment appeared. (Lord Ahmed's Unwelcome Guest, Times April 7, 2005

One journal that has employed Jermas/Shamir is the Russian magazine Zavtra, noted for its antisemitism and conspiracy theories. It was the editor Alexander Prokhanov, who invited former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke to Russia to promote his new book, 'Jewish Supremacism', and his National Association for the Advancement of White People. Duke was also among those luminaries who attended the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran. Shamir for his part did not make it to Iran, though he was invited to address a far-Right outfit in the 'States. But apparently they thought the fee and expenses he wanted were over the top. (I am told that when the people who invited Shamir to that House of Lords event had second thoughts he threatened to sue, claiming cancellation would affect sales of his book).

The supposedly "left-wing" US journal Counterpunch , edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St.Clair, seems to value Shamir/Jermas' highly literary contributions more than any worries over his right-wing associations, which makes me think that some of these so-called lefts have lost their way. (I don't know what Cockburn pere, Claud, would have said, he may have been prepared to lie for the Stalinists, but it was anti-fascism that motivated him).

Still, allowing for the fact that this was only a half-hour Panorama programme, there was one small fact that might have been mentioned concerning the strange but colourful career of Joran Jermas, alias Israel Shamir. In 1975 he joined the BBC Russian service, moving to London the following year. (Among the friends he claims in Britain is Martin Webster, former leader of the National Front). I am not sure how long he stayed with the Corporation, but he joined at a time when anyone working for them was vetted by MI5, and the Russian service subsidised by MI6.

Meanwhile, back on the air, the Beeb's intrepid reporters shouted their questions to Julian Assange, who appeared at a loss for words, knowing they probably already have the answers. In Sweden, where things have not been the same since Prime Minister Olaf Palme paid the price in more ways than one for maintaining neutrality and harbouring runaway Americans, people point to the amount of US media surveillance now as showing how little sanctuary Assange can expect.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Tehran, Bahrain and Baghdad too

THE wave of rebellion which has sent rulers packing from Tunisia and Egypt came crashing into several Middle East capitals yesterday. In Tehran , where leaders of Iran's opposition had asked official permission for a rally supporting the Egyptian upsurge, thousands of people defied a government ban by taking to the streets, and clashed with government forces.

The demonstrators, who chanted slogans such as "Down with the Dictators" and "Release Political Prisoners" gathered in various parts of the city, but were attacked by police and plain-clothed basiji militia as they attempted to march. The government forces used tear gas and batons, and opened fire.

HRANA, a human rights website, reported one person killed and three wounded when the riot police opened fire at demonstrators near Tohid Square. It said 250 people had been arrested. Many people had to be taken to hospital because of beatings by rot police.

There were reports of demonstrations in other parts of Iran,including the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan, Rasht, Mashhad and Kermanshah.

Supporters of the opposition 'Green' movement were claiming the protests showed it was still alive, despite repression. Neither Mir Hossein Mousavi nor Mehdi Karroubi who had called for yesterday's demonstrations in solidarity with those in Egypt and Tunisia, appeared out yesterday, but this may have been because security police were stationed outside their homes.

President Ahmadinejad's government had affected sympathy and even satisfaction with the movement in Egypt that toppled Mubarak, but it plainly did not intend tolerating anything like it being tried at home.

Foreign reporters and camera crew were not allowed to cover yesterday's protests, but Al Jazeera's Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, confirmed reports that security forces used tear gas, pepper spray and batons against the protesters.

Jabbari said that she had received reports that up to 10,000 security personnel had been deployed to prevent protesters from gathering at Azadi Square, where the marches, originating from various points in Tehran, were expected to converge.

Iranian government media yesterday claimed injuries were caused by the demonstrators opening fire.

There have also been demonstrations in Yemen and in Bahrain, where al Jazzeera noted that young people from both Shia and Sunni communities appeared to have joined forces to demand change.

Another place where the Egyptian revolution appears to have rekindled the people's confidence and hopes is Iraq, torn as it has been by sanctions, war, invasion and sectarian terror fostered from outside. Yesterday it was the turn of young Iraqis who demand something better to speak. A Baghdad correspondent writes:

"Today there are protests in Firdouse Square and Tahrir Square taking place now.
The news is the US and Iraqi forces attacked the peaceful protesters in Firdous Square with battons and water canon, tearing their banners and dismanteling their camp. The are also reports that one of the organisers Uday Al Zaidy was taken to to unknown destination. and ten other protesters were also arrested by interior ministry special forces. There are also report of injuries (due to beatings?)

Protests and demonstrations up and down Iraq have been taking place in different parts of Iraq for more than a week now. Kirkuk, Basrah, Ramady, thi Qar, Baghdad ...coverage on

Rafidian TV

"The organisers have sought and GOT permission from the interior ministry to have the protest today 14th Feb at 10:00 am Baghdad time.
Najah Fadhil one of the organisers spoke on Rafidain TV at about 13:05 GMT on Rafidain TV, explained that he and other organisers arrived at 09:00 at Firdous Square, in order to prepare for the protest. They were met with a high ranking officer (a colonel) from the interior ministry forces, who tried to talk them into moving their protest into Abu Nawas street just a few of hundred metres away from Firdous Square. On this pretext they asked Uday Al Zaidy to accompany them to the proposed place. Since then non of Zaidy's colleagues or members of his family are able to contact him, no one know his where abouts. It is therefore assumed that this was a trap and that he was arrested. Fadhil and other organisers were detained by the interior ministry forces for over an hour inised a military vehicle on site their phones and id cards were confiscated during detention.
The protest went ahead and the US forces used battons and water canon to disperse the protest.

A crowd has already gathered at Mutanaby street (bookshops street), marched on to Tahrir Square, on hearing the news of the arrests and brutality they marched on Firdous Square but the Iraqi and American forces had blocked all the enternaces to Firdous Square.
There are also news of arrests in Qadisiya and Nasiriya provinces in the south, with reports of cerfews being imposed.

Facebook contact!/Iraqe.Revolution

The demonstrators in Baghdad made this call:

"O our people in wounded Iraq. We have gathered your children in this place and are determined to change the corrupt reality which cannot be tolerated any longer. Killing, displacement, unemployment, arbitrary arrests, theft of public funds and hunger mark our lives. Our salvation and the salvation of our children and future generations will only come by ending the American occupation and the political system based on sectarian and ethnic quotas created by the occupation and adopted the Green Zone politicians who proved to us day after day, they did not come to serve Iraq as they claim , but to serve their own interests.

"The sons and daughters of Iraq; your youths decided to march forwards today for their right to freedom and decent living, and for a vision for a better tomorrow. Your youth dream of a bright future after the deposing for ever of the system of the ethnic and sectarian quotas.

"Our Iraqi heroes .. We will use the earth in Firdous Square as our bed and we will stay here at the heart of Baghdad, day and night until all our demands are accepted and met. our demands at the present time:

1. Obliterating corruption and bringing to justice those who have embezzled or misused public funds.

2. Provide the full entitlements under the ration system and ensure complete coverage for all. Initiate immediate plans of action in order to improve of basic public services.
3. The release of detainees who are held without trial or charge and immediate disclosure of all secret prisons.

4. Providing job opportunities for all young people.

5. The enactment of the immediate care and financial support for millions of orphans and widows and to increase the salaries of retirees.

"These are our primary demands. They are the demands of the majority of the Iraqi people.

"We appeal to our youths to join the march for these national demands based on the sincere desire for national independence, for rebuilding Iraq and to preserve the unity and dignity of its people. We deplore any attempt of a partisan monopoly or political manipulation of this popular movement.

"Our primary goal to change the dire situation faced by Iraqis urging our fellow youth to join the Iraq Liberation march to join us or organise sit-ins at their local centres or squares.

The preparatory committee for the protest
The popular movement for the salvation of Iraq"

Thanks to Tahrir of Solidarity Iraq and to Iraq Occupation Focus for this news and informnation

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Fears for busworkers' union leader in Iran

FEARS are being expressed for the life of Iranian bus workers' leader Mansour Osanloo, who is reportedly shackled by cuffs on his wrists and ankles to a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack in prison.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) said earlier today that it had received reports that Osanloo had been taken to hospital from Rajai Shahr prison after suffering chest pains.

"Over preceding days contact with his family has been restricted and access to the open air has been limited. We are deeply concerned about his health. He had been repeatedly denied medical leave from Rajai Shahr Prison, contrary to recommendations of the prison doctor".

Osanloo, aged 50, is president of the ITF-affiliated Sherkat e Vehad, or Vahed Syndicate, a union of bus drivers in Tehran and surrounding areas. In July 2007 he was dragged from a Tehran bus by men later identified as Iranian security forces. Three months later he was sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of ‘acting against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the state’; in 2010 another year was added to his sentence.

"In reality", the ITF says, "his only ‘crime’ has been to help found a genuinely democratic trade union for his fellow bus drivers". Several other officers of the bus union have been arrested and are still held in prison.

In August 2008, Mansour was transferred to Rejai Shahr prison, west of Tehran, where he was placed among prisoners who have been convicted of crimes such as murder, rather than among political prisoners. He was threatened and attacked in prison by another prisoner, a former policeman believed to be an informer.

He has been denied permission to leave the prison for treatment for pre-existing medical problems, and new ones gained through the denial of access to treatment.
Despite the recommendation by the Coroner, and Medical Examiner, in both 2008 and 2009 that Mansour be treated outside the prison, the authorities continue to refuse to allow him to leave for treatment.

ITF general secretary David Cockroft stated: “Frankly, I believe that if he hadn’t had his life threatened, been beaten, arrested, re-arrested and held for years in awful Iranian prisons, he would today be a well man.”

“His maltreatment is part of a campaign to crush his voice and that of his trade union, the Vahed Syndicate. The blame for it lies with the government of Iran, a government that is today letting loose its so-called security forces against protesters in cities across the country.”

He concluded: “Hasn’t that government learnt from the experience of its neighbours: that no one is too powerful to be held to account, and that injustice – such as has been meted out to Mansour Osanloo – cannot be sustained indefinitely?”

Amnesty International has expressed concern for Mansour Osanloo, and is urging supporters to write to the Iranian authorities. For more information and the letter you can send see:


Iran protest crackdown condemned

Posted: 14 February 2011

Amnesty International has condemned the Iranian authorities for breaking up an apparently peaceful march held in Tehran in support of Egyptian and Tunisian protests. Protests were also reportedly held in other cities across Iran, such as Esfahan, Shiraz and Kermanshah.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were placed under house arrest by the authorities ahead of the protests on Monday.

Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:

“Iranians have a right to gather to peacefully express their support for the people of Egypt and Tunisia.

“While the authorities have a responsibility to maintain public order, this should be no excuse to ban and disperse protests by those who choose to exercise that right.

“This crackdown is the latest in a series of moves by the authorities aimed at blocking the work of activists and stifling dissent.”

The march comes amid a wave of pre-emptive arrests of political and other activists over the past several days.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Freedom for the Artist, the Academic and the Trade Unionists!

THOUSANDS of Iranians could be out on the streets in Tehran tomorrow, celebrating the Egyptian people's victory in ousting Mubarak, but with the ominous signal for the Iranian regime that opposition parties have called for this demonstration and made comparisons between their fight and that in Egypt.

Insisting last week that the opposition had no intention of calling off its demonstration, which had been legally and responsibly organised, Ardeshir Amir-Arjomandi , an aide to former prime minister Moussavi, told Deutsche Welle radio that there was no doubt about the "maturity" of the people in Iran, the only question was how level-headed the regime could be.

" Does the state have enough sense to accept the demands of the people and to listen to their peaceful opposition without turning these demands into violent and blind actions?”

Amir-Ariomandi, who is in Europe, added : “in the same way that seekers of freedom follow similar rules and guidelines in the path towards freedom and democracy, dictators employ similar principles and methods in order to stay [in power] and suppress freedom-seekers.”

“Running over protesters using state-owned vehicles began in Vali-Asr Square [in Tehran], and was re-enacted in Al-Tahrir square [in Cairo], the mobilisation of thugs for attacking protesting citizens began in Tehran and was extended to Cairo,” he said, adding “the attitude of Iran’s Pharaoh is more terrifying and immoral than the Pharaoh of Egypt, because he has used religion to suppress and has utilised it as a tool.”

I was at the annual general meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) yesterday. With friends and comrades going to Trafalgar Square to celebrate the Egyptian revolution or attending the People's Convention against the cuts at Euston, I was not expecting a big attendance at our AGM, but besides the 'regulars' we had some new faces, and some veterans of Iran's struggles and prisons, going back to the fight against the Shah, to bring their wisdom.

Ruben Markarian, a leading member of Rahe Kargar, which had hundreds of its members executed by the Islamicist regime in the 1980s, spoke about workers' struggles in Iran today, the importance of the women and the youth -so many of whom were unemployed - and the nationalities in Iran.

Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, who had been attending the People's Convention and then the Egypt rally, managed to join us in the afternoon to launch a campaign for Iranian political prisoners, before slipping back to the anti-cuts conference. John is submitting an Early Day Motion about the prisoners, and urged people to lobby their own MPs to support this.

HOPI is highlighting the notorious treatment of award-winning Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, who is internationally known and respected, not to single him out, but to draw wider attention to the repression and the situation of all political prisoners in Iran.

Freedom for Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners in Iran!

ahm2011(if you support the statement, please email

The Iranian regime has unleashed a new wave of oppression against opposition activists. In recent weeks, dozens of campaigners, lawyers and artists have been convicted on spurious charges and many more have been arrested.

- Award-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for planning to make a film about the opposition movement that sprung up after the disputed elections of June 2009. In addition, the director was banned from making any films or travelling abroad for 20 years.

- Student activist Mohammad Pourabdollah has been in prison since early 2010.

- Habibollah Latifi, a student of Kurdish descent, has been sentenced to death after having being found guilty of “waging war against God”.

- In January, human rights activist Shiva Nazarahari was sentenced to a four-year jail term and 74 lashes on charges of subversion. Her lawyer Nasrin Soudeh was handed a jail sentence of eleven years for defending political prisoners.

- Fariborz Rais Dana, a Marxist economist and sterling critic of the regime’s neoliberal policies, was arrested on December 18 (28 Azar). No reason for his arrest has been given and not even his lawyer knows where he is being held.

The US is continuing to make military threats against Iran, while crippling the country with ever harsher sanctions. But these have not weakened the regime fundamentally. In fact, it is the people of Iran, the workers, women and students, who are suffering most – precisely those sections of society that are fighting for radical change from below.

This is why Hopi is part of an international campaign that fights for:

- Freedom for all political prisoners!

- Squash the medieval prison sentences imposed against the political opponents of the regime!

- No sanctions, no military threats against Iran! For radical change from below!

In discussion it was pointed out that many so-called criminal cases in Iran were also political, in that the regime's backward laws criminalised personal matters such as "immodest dress" and homosexuality, but also that the authorities tried to frame political opponents with criminal charges such as "drugs possession".

It was also agreed to add opposition to the death penalty to our campaign, it being said that Iran has now overtaken China and the United States for the rate of death sentences carried out.

The TUC and other trade union organisations internationally protested last year at the execution of teacher and trade unionist Farzad Kamangar, who had been accused of "endangering national security" and "emnity towards God". He was hanged in Ervin prison in May 2010, without even his family being informed.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says it was informed on Monday, 7 February 2011, only a few days after the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions expressed concern about secret executions inside Vakilabad Prison, at Mashad, that 10 more prisoners with drug-related offences were secretly hanged at Vakilabad. Neither lawyers nor families of the prisoners were forewarned that the death sentences would be carried out.

Five of those executed were Afghan citizens, the campaign says. There have been demonstrations in Afghanistan over the Iranian government's treatment of Afghan refugees.

Reza Shahabi, treasurer of the Sherkat -e Vahad bus workers union in Tehran, staged a prolonged hunger strike in December to protest his wrongful detention by the authorities, after his family had put up bail. He had been arrested on 12 June 2010, three days after the arrest of Saeed Torabian, the union's spokesperson. Saeed Torabian has since been released but there are six other members of Sherkat-e Vahed (the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company) in prison, including Mansour Ossanloo, the head of the union , whose release was recommended on health grounds, and his deputy, Ebrahim Maddadi.

There have also been arrests reported of leaders and activists in the sugar workers and bakers' union.

As the Islamicist regime belies its "anti-imperialist" and "progressive" credentials by carrying out neo-liberal economic policies and attacking jobs and workers' living standards, the demand for political and trade union freedom is becoming a "bread and butter" question, as someone said yesterday, with groups of workers adding anti-regime slogans to what were previously economic demands.

Indeed, it would seem it is not just executions the regime wants to keep secret. Telling the truth about what is happening in Iran's economy and society is becoming a dangerous profession, as revealed by this account of how the regime is jailing, if not "shooting the messenger":

'We have learned the astonishing news of “Dr. Raisdana’s arrest” by the security agents of the Islamic republic on the early morning of December 19th, 2010 at his home in Tehran. Dr. Fariborz Raisdana is a well known intellectual, economist, social activist, and ...the active member of the Iranian writers’ association. He published several books and articles on political economy and sociology. He has been known as a leftist socio-economic expert who always considers working class in his economic impairment analysis. So that he can be firmly called an “Iranian working class economist”. Dr. Raisdana’s field of expertise is econometrics. He has tried hard to disclose how workers and wage earners have been implicated by the relations of political economy in the turbulent Iranian society and how they have been increasingly suffering.

'Arrest of Dr. Raisdana , the member of the Iranian writers’ association which is a long-lasting core on the struggle against censorship in Iran , is a warning to the grass root movements who are seeking public justice and to the people whose main civil and democratic demand is focused on human rights and freedom of speech in spite of the extensive violation of civil rights in Iran. Moreover, his arrest, as a leftist economist who criticizes the Iranian government socio-economic platforms, points out the fact that social and political oppression apparatus in Iran is trying to implement its unfair plan to reduce the allocation of national subsidies. This is the unreasonable plan which has been evaluated by the majority of the experts as a plan to consolidate the military authority in the public sphere of Iran. It is out of question that the military economic plan results in reducing welfare and increasing pressure on the lower classes which Dr. Raisdana is their voice in the society to stand against the illegitimate resilient structure.

A petition saying 'We, the undersigned , condemn Dr. Raisdana’s arrest and with pledge to civil rights and freedom of speech we demand his immediate and unconditional release". can be found at

For more on this and other HOPI campaigns:


Friday, February 11, 2011

Behind the scenes of Egypt's revolution

Striking Misr Spinning and Weaving Company workers in Mahalla al-Kubra. (Nasser Nouri)

SO after the last two days of yes-he's-going, no-he's-not, Mubarak has finally been sent off to the sunset home for retired dictators - well Sharm el Sheikh, for now. I'd not go into the water if I was him. The Guardian's reporters ChrisMcGreal and Jack Shanker met a lifeguard from the Red Sea resort, Mohammed Abdul Ghedi, in Tahrir Square holding up a sign in English that said: "Mubarak you are nothing, you are heartless, without mind, just youkel, worthless, fuck off."

"This is my first day here and he is gone. Mubarak is a liar. When he promised to leave in three or six months we don't believe him. We only believe him when he is gone," he said. "Now Egyptians are free. All of Egypt is liberated. Now we will choose our leaders and if we don't like them, they will go."

It is not the kind of revolution that some naively expected. The people did not storm the presidential palace. The proletariat has not seized power. For now, the Army is taking charge. As it was in the past. Though this time it is promising to safeguard the transition to democratic government. We shall see.

So what has really changed? "We have changed, the Egyptian people have changed", as a man in Tahrir square said, and onlookers have marvelled. People chased off the riot police who were trained and equipped to batter them. They made clear from the start that they would not be distracted or divided by religion or other irrelevances. They stood up to Mubarak's thugs, whether on charging camels, or dropping masonry from overhead, or firing shots in the dark.

When the army came, some people sat down in front of tanks, and some talked to the soldiers. If the army was not ordered to shoot the people, it could be that the officers considered what might happen if the order was given and the soldiers refused to shoot. Better to leave the tanks parked, and the people holding the square.

It was not just happening in Cairo of course, and not just in Tahrir Square. In neighbourhoods where people took control and chased off looters and provocateurs, and in workplaces where workers met freely and organised, on the docks and canal, and in mills and factories, there was your revolution. It must have been brewing beneath the surface before it took the world's intelligence services and media by surprise.

And it has not gone away.

Here's a report that appeared of all places in the Los Angeles Times.
February 9, 2011,0,4302496.story

Egypt uprising has its roots in a mill town

***** El Mahalla el Kubra has long worried the Mubarak government. And the city’s dogged labor leaders now want more than just better working conditions. *****

By Timothy M. Phelps, Los Angeles Times

February 9, 2011

Reporting from El Mahalla el Kubra, Egypt

The revolt shaking Cairo didn’t start in Cairo. It began in this city of textile mills and choking pollution set amid the cotton and vegetable fields of the Nile Delta.

In a country where labor unrest was long thought to be a bigger threat than the demands of the urbanites now flooding the capital’s Tahrir Square, El Mahalla el Kubra has long been a source of concern among officials. The 32,000 employees at government textile mills and tens of thousands more at smaller private factories are the soul of the Egyptian labor movement.

The movement’s leaders have a long history of resisting harassment and enduring jail.

A nationwide protest against high food prices, unemployment and police torture that failed elsewhere exploded into violence on the streets here in 2008, inspiring a youth movement that eventually launched the effort to oust President Hosni Mubarak.

As reports of labor unrest rippled across the country this week, labor leaders here said improved living standards were no longer enough.

“Our slogans now are not labor union demands,” said Mohamad Murad, a railway worker, union coordinator and leftist politician. “Now we have more general demands for change.”

Until recently, a demonstration of several hundred people was considered large for Egypt. Police ensured that they did not get out of hand. But events in Mahalla on April 6, 2008, became famous throughout the country because of videos posted on YouTube, Facebook and other social media websites.

Tens of thousands of people turned out that day in this city of half a million, where shops sell brightly colored blankets and quilts, bolts of striped cloth, wedding dresses and other products of the city’s mills and factories.

After police opened fire, killing two people, crowds rampaged through the streets, setting fire to buildings, looting shops and throwing bricks at the officers.

Perhaps more significant to the regime, protesters tore down and stomped on a giant portrait of Mubarak in the central square, a rare event in a country where respect for the leader is enforced by a security apparatus with tentacles that reach into every block.

“This uprising was the first to break the barrier of fear all over Egypt,” Murad said. “No one can say that Egypt was the same afterward.”

Out of that grew the April 6 youth movement, which spread reports of what had happened in Mahalla. While more-established opposition groups moved cautiously in the wake of the revolt that brought down Tunisia’s strongman in mid-January, the youth movement urged Cairo residents out onto the streets.

Protests returned to the streets of Mahalla too, and only this week started calming down. Rioting broke out Jan. 28 when police used force against a repeat of the April 2008 demonstration.

Demonstrators stormed and burned the main police station and set fire to police cars, witnesses said.

“On that Friday, the crowds controlled the city,” said Murad, who was interviewed behind a ticket booth as rickety trains rolled through on their way to Alexandria or Cairo, about 65 miles to the south.

The next day, he said, police pulled out of the city altogether, as they did in Cairo and other localities, and the army was sent in to restore calm.

On Monday of this week, tanks were posted in front of banks, where people lined up to withdraw money for the first time since the crisis began. There was only a small uniformed police presence, and the usual checkpoints guarding the entrances to the city were nonexistent.

But “government thugs” were said to be lurking throughout the city, looking for troublemakers and foreigners, so journalists’ interviews had to be conducted furtively.

In a preemptive effort to buy the allegiance of government employees, officials on Monday announced a 15% pay raise, at a cost of nearly $1 billion a year.

For the 25,000 workers at Egypt Spinning & Weaving in Mahalla, that would mean a boost of $24 a month from their current pay of about $160.

Hamdi Hussein, 59, a gray-haired labor leader and avowed communist who has been arrested more times than he can remember, acknowledged that the government has frequently been able to placate workers with timely raises or other concessions, or has kept them quiet by playing on their fears of privatization.

A strike called Tuesday at Egyptian Spinning & Weaving to show solidarity with the large demonstration in Tahrir Square drew only about 1,500 workers. But elsewhere in the country, there were numerous reports of strikes. About 3,000 Suez Canal workers were reported to have gone on strike, and hundreds of workers at the government telephone company demonstrated for higher pay in Cairo and Suez.

About 2,000 workers went on strike at a pharmaceutical company in the Nile Delta and 1,300 walked off the job at a steel company in Suez, where hundreds of unemployed young people also picketed a petroleum company demanding jobs. French cement giant Lafarge in Suez was also reported to have been hit by a strike.

Labor leaders here such as Hussein, who runs a labor training and education center, say they are frustrated that they have no voice in the negotiations in Cairo. So far, the government has chosen which groups it wants to talk with.

But Hussein said that may change with the formation here of what is intended to be a nationwide “committee to protect the revolution.” He described it as an attempt to make sure the interests of the poor are represented in any changes and also to target corrupt members of the ruling party, especially government-sponsored union leaders.

Another role, he said, would be to counter the Muslim Brotherhood, a traditional enemy of the left but the largest single voice in the opposition.

But the goals of the labor movement have been transformed by the sweeping nature of the current protests, Murad said. Labor wants much more than higher wages and better working conditions, he said.

“And we want Mubarak to leave.”


Let's salute the heroism of the Egyptian masses. Let's salute also the maturity and wisdom they have shown.

Hopefully their revolution will not be usurped or stolen from them, as has happened elsewhere.

And we must also hope that the US-funded and equipped army, with its new authority, is not turned against the workers, as happened in 1952, when troops fired on striking textile workers at the Kafr al Dawar mills near Alexandria, and the "ringleaders", regarded as Marxists, were executed.

But whatever happens, things have changed in Egypt and the Middle East, and my feeling is that they are never going to be the same. A lot of people here are taking inspiration from the Egyptian people's struggle, and I've seen a few offering their ideas as to what should happen. I think we need to learn more about the workers' struggle, and we can learn from it. We are marching together.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Dream of Democracy, Nightmare for Oppressors

THE courageous huge demonstrations that seem to have united the Egyptian people against Hosni Mubrak and his thugs are not abating, and behind them the uprising has depth, in the people taking responsibility for their neighborhoods, and the trade unionists organising at work.

Whatever happens, and whether or not the Western powers can cook up something, or the revolution is temporarily diverted or usurped, the geni is out of the bottle. People have tasted their own power, and things can not be easily restored to as they were.

The same discontents, and the same dreams of democracy and justice, are spreading from Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, across the Arab world from Mauretania in the west to Oman in the East, though naturally the form and degree of protest varies, as does the political awareness.

Needless to say, not everybody in the Middle East is happy about what is happening. Israel's supporters in the West are fond of repeating that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East", and leaving aside that it maintains what must be the longest running military occupation in the world. They even used to pretend that it was only surrounding dictatorial regimes that made their people oppose the Zionist state among them. But that's an old one.

Making clear democracy is not for export to lesser breeds, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cautioned his US backers not to be hasty in letting the Egyptian people free to hold democratic elections.

"If extremist forces are allowed to exploit democratic processes to come to power to advance anti-democratic goals - as has happened in Iran and elsewhere - the outcome will be bad for peace and bad for democracy," Netanyahu declared.

Well, he should know. ...He is heading the most extreme right-wing government Israel has ever had, with ministers who openly call for ethnic cleansing, and say they can ignore what the rest of the world thinks. Seeing their own rights threatened with restrictions and the methods of Occupation, Israeli peace campaigners like Uri Avnery have warned of the danger of fascism.

Suddenly feeling the seismic tremors from Egypt, Israeli leaders are not their usual confident selves. They are remembering they had peace with Egypt. Labour's Binyamin Fuad Ben-Eliezer, a military man who had to deny accusations of shooting Egyptian prisoners in the 1967 war, has been speaking about his good friend Hosni Mubarak. Less sentimentally, others know that a popular Egyptian government is not likely to be one that helps maintain the siege of Gaza.

According to Ha'aretz journalist Gideon Levy, "Israel is now hunkering down, frightened of what the future will bring. What if the new government in Egypt revokes the peace treaty? Quick to the draw, as usual, spreading the typical fear of real and imagined dangers, Israel's prime minister has forbidden his cabinet ministers from speaking on the subject - and they are even obeying him. Warning, danger: the peace is about to be torn up.

There have been small demonstrations within Israel in support of the risings in Tunisia and Egypt, Palestinians and Israeli Arab citizens demonstrating outside the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv. Avnery and others have warned that if Israel wishes to save its peace with Egypt it had better make peace with the Palestinians, now.

"Only one who lost all basic human feeling can oppose the aspiration of young Egyptians to live in a democracy", writes Adam Keller in a statement from Gush Shalom. "To maintain and strengthen the peace with Egypt, we must end the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians".

"Only one who has lost all basic human feeling can oppose the aspiration of masses of young Egyptians, mostly secular, to live in a democracy and enjoy the basic rights which citizens of Israel take for granted - the right to freely express their opinions, to organize politically as they please and to freely elect their government and parliament. It is in the supreme interest of the State of Israel that in its neighboring countries a real democracy will prevail, a democracy growing from below out of the dreams and aspirations and determined struggle by thousands and millions of people".

But it is safe to say that Adam Keller has no illusions in the present Israeli government's thinking like that.

Not that Netanyahu and his government are the only ones afraid.

More detentions in Ramallah at rally for Egypt
Published Wednesday 02/02/2011 (updated) 04/02/2011 12:40

RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Authority police beat back protesters with clubs and detained at least two at what witnesses described as a spontaneous rally and show of support for the Egyptian people as chaos hit Cairo streets.

"I was sick and tired of sitting at home and doing nothing," one Ramallah resident said, explaining that she had seen on the social networking site Facebook that friends were attending a peaceful protest at 9 p.m. in the city center.

When she arrived shortly after nine, she said one protester was already being dragged away. "There were only 30 people there at the start," she said, adding that after the arrests more gathered.

Palestinian police officials in Ramallah could not be reached for comment by phone, but told Ma'an earlier that officers would be "ready for any problems" that erupted.

Protesters said the event had been peaceful until police broke out batons and started pushing women at the front of the group back and away from the city center.

"Our rally was simply in support of Egypt," one protester told Ma'an by phone, "we said nothing against the PA, we were not even out in the street."

Earlier in the day, dozens of Fatah supporters had gathered in the same spot protesting in support of Mubarak. Protesters were said to have carried signs accusing Egyptian opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei of being a CIA agent, according to a report in Israel's The Jerusalem Post.

The paper cited sources in Ramallah who said the demonstration was initiated by the PA leadership.

Turnout at the protest was low and there were no reports of arrests.

On Sunday, PA security forces shut down a demonstration in front of the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah, after calling in one of the organizers for questioning multiple times a day earlier, organizers of the rally said.

Forces pushed demonstrators and a man who identified himself as a police commander said the demonstrators were in a "security area" and would have to disperse, they said.


For the Palestine Authority the upsurge in Egypt comes along with the widespread anger fanned by the recent Palestine Papers leak, exposing how far US-backed President Abbas and his crew were prepared to go to appease Israeli occupation and wage aggression against their own people. But their opponents in Hamas, notwithstanding their link to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, don't seem sure how to respond to developments.

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Police in the Gaza Strip shut down a demonstration Monday in support of the uprising in Egypt.

Activists said six women and two men were arrested at a park in Gaza City, where a few dozen demonstrators had gathered. The women were released after a few hours. It was not immediately clear when the men were freed because they were separated, one of the protesters said.

Asmaa Al-Ghoul, a Gaza-based journalist and writer, was among those detained.
"Hamas police arrested me with group of demonstrators in Gaza in solidarity with Egyptian people," she wrote on Twitter. "Women's police beat me violently" and detained other young women.

They were standing in solidarity with the Egyptian uprising, Al-Ghoul added.
Human Rights Watch slammed Gaza's Hamas rulers for breaking up the rally.
"The Hamas authorities should stop arbitrarily interfering with peaceful demonstrations about Egypt or anything else," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director, in a statement.

"Police committing unlawful arrests and abusing demonstrators should be held to account," she said.

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian writer and activist, said neither authority tolerated protests. "Fatah and Hamas agree on so little; at the core of that little common denominator lies repression of dissent and suppression of freedoms," Barghouti said Monday in an email.


Things seem to have eased in Gaza, whether because of the strength of feeling or a UN human rights observer's impending visit.

Hundreds in Gaza rally in solidarity with Egypt
Published Thursday 03/02/2011 (updated) 04/02/2011 21:28

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip rallied Thursday in solidarity with the uprising in Egypt. Marchers carried banners reading "People want the regime out" and "Down with Hosni Mubarak".

A student group distributed a statement calling on the UN to take action against the regime. "The massacre being carried out against protesters in Tahrir square warrants a decisive stance," the statement said. It called on the international community to "respond immediately" to the crisis.

Police in Gaza broke up a smaller rally this week as did the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch called on the Palestinian Authority to end violence against demonstrators, the latest instance being Wednesday evening in Ramallah. "The Palestinian Authority should immediately make clear that its ‘state-building’ training of security forces does not include beating peaceful demonstrators," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Mideast chief.

Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who has lived in both Gaza and Ramallah to report sympathetically on people's lives and struggles, noted that "The Palestinian leadership has been careful not to support the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and has banned demonstrations in solidarity with the rebelling peoples. Palestinian television has virtually ignored the events in Egypt".

She spole with Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker, a 68-year-old urologist, who was a member of the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation at the Washington-Madrid talks. He treats patients in Ramallah and Jerusalem's Augusta Victoria Hospital. For the past seven years, he has been the general commissioner of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, an organization formed by a decree by Yasser Arafat in 1993. The commission seeks to guarantee that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization meet the requirements for safeguarding human rights.

How is that so many people like yourself are happy about the developments in Egypt [before the bloody clashes erupted], yet there is no public expression of support in West Bank cities?

[On Tuesday] afternoon I returned from a meeting on another matter with [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas. Appalled, I told him about a young man who initiated on Facebook a solidarity vigil for the Egyptian people. He was detained and interrogated the evening before the demonstration. Abbas expressed dissatisfaction and promised that the young man would be released immediately. I didn't know that he had already been freed.

Demonstrators who went to the Egyptian consulate in Ramallah and were dispersed told me that security personnel in civilian clothes monitored them, threateningly. Two weeks ago, other young people organized a similar solidarity event for Tunisia. They told me they intended to demonstrate even though they had been told this was forbidden. In both cases, young people said they were thankful to the two peoples for their support of the Palestinian cause.

I was impressed by their enthusiasm. But most people don't demonstrate because they know it is not welcomed. We have a pattern of restricting the freedom of demonstration and assembly. Demonstrations of support for our own people, during the attack on Gaza and against the occupation, were suppressed.

What is that Palestinian Authority afraid of when it bans solidarity demonstrations?

There are two reasons. Due to the close relations with the Mubarak regime, the leadership is perplexed by expressions of support for the opponents of a friend. The second reason - when a regime is insufficiently democratic, it fears that popular demonstrations might spin out of control.

There are reasons to suppose that many of the factors that drove people to protest in Tunisia and Egypt are in play here.

There is one huge difference: Here we live under Israeli occupation. We have to focus on the main goal of ending the occupation. And that's the problem: For years we have behaved as though we have turned into a subcontractor of the occupation, so we have to return and make the occupation pay a price. Not necessarily by using arms, and definitely not by harming civilians.

People dare in several places to confront the Israeli army, but not the Palestinian police.

Yes. But that won't continue indefinitely. The main lesson to be drawn from the Al Jazeera documents is that Israel is not ripe for a fair political agreement. So we should concentrate on our internal situation, put our home in order, enhance our steadfastness. A storm of change is soon to happen, and if we fail to change our path, we will be swept up by it.

Dr. al Aker, who has been quoted as saying the Palestinian Authority was becoming a police state even though it was not a state, complains of arbitrary arrests and torture of detainees, of the security and intelligence apparatus screening people for jobs, and security bodies ignoring the courts.

And in the Gaza Strip?

"It's a mirror image", he says, going on to refer to the PA's building an army under supervision of the occupier, and to the size of the security apparatus. "Our ratio between security men and civilians is one of the highest in the world. Why?"

Isn't it strange, Amira Hass asked, that the leaders of an occupied people are not supporting a popular uprising?

"That's the result and the price of being dragged to the status of a regime, before liberation, while giving up on the agenda of a national liberation movement. As a regime, they must identify with regimes.

Is the situation reversible? Can the PLO return from its status as a virtual regime to a national liberation movement?

"The same people? No. But there is a new a spirit. The Palestinian Authority's role has to change. The leadership core must return to the PLO, while the PA should remain with powers as a large municipality. Nothing more. The PLO, which has lost its structure, must be rebuilt.

"I can feel the seeds of change. There are demonstrations in the villages, the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel], the boycott on settlement products, defying the PA on the Goldstone report. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt will expedite the process of change, revitalize the Palestinian cause and bring it back to where it belongs - not to a government or a "state," but as a movement of national liberation."

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