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PostPosted: Sat Dec 10, 2011 10:58 am 
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US protesters 'occupy' lawmakers' Washington offices
8 December 2011

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Activists demonstrate during the "Take back the Capitol" rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Around 1,000 demonstrators assembled at US lawmakers' offices on Thursday as part of a "Take Back the Capitol," action targeting corporate America's influence in Washington's corridors of power.

Protesters -- many of them labor-union activists who support the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York in September -- aimed to highlight that 13.3 million people are unemployed in the United States, and urge lawmakers to shun cuts to unemployment benefits and focus on job creation.

"You have the moral imperative to support those who are slipping," rabbi Erica Asch told demonstrators, standing alongside priests during an ecumenical ceremony near the US Capitol. Protesters then chanted slogans under the windows of House Speaker John Boehner's office. Around 100 of them headed inside and reached the speaker's closed door, but they left five minutes later without incident. The protesters staged sit-ins at other lawmakers' offices in an attempt to secure meetings with their elected representatives, centered on jobs and the economy.

Dozens of pro-labor groups and unions, including the American Dream Movement, US Action, SEI and AFL-CIO, launched "Take Back the Capitol" events on Tuesday before Congress, the White House and K Street, epicenter of the US capital's influential and lucrative lobbying industry. On Wednesday, the demonstrators managed to shut down several blocks of K Street and dozens were arrested.

Washington is home to two separate open-ended protest encampments, both near the White House, inspired by Occupy Wall Street and focused on highlighting the damaging effect of social inequality and corporate influence on US politics. Joining them this week has been a self-styled People's Camp on the National Mall, made up of about 15 tents -- in clear view of the Capitol -- erected by protesters from different corners of the United States.

The protests come as President Barack Obama presses Congress to pass a $447 billion employment package, which has been previously knocked back by Republican representatives.

Source: Breitbart.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 10, 2011 10:59 am 
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The Muff March against 'designer vagina' surgery

On Saturday morning, women will march down Harley Street to protest against the pornification of our private parts

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Kate O'Brien and Sinead King, members of the Muffia, in London in 2009. Photograph: Anna Gordon

"Keep your mitts off our muffs!" "I love my vagina!" "You've put my chuff in a huff!" These are some of the slogans of the Muff March taking place along London's Harley Street Saturday morning. Its aim? To raise awareness of the increase in gynaecological cosmetic surgery – both on the NHS and in private clinics. The march, which has more than 300 supporters on Facebook, is organised by campaigning group UK Feminista and performance artists The Muffia, who dress up in nude bodysuits decorated with lavish pubic hair.

At its most modest, the Muff March is against the pornography-influenced obsession with removing pubic hair. But it's also about protesting against the sort of surgery that makes you cross your legs. Typical procedures on offer include labiaplasty (trimming or removing the labia) and vaginal rejuvenation (tightening – usually referred to by "designer vagina").

In the US this industry is worth $6.8m (£4.4m). In the UK the latest figures come from a 2009 report in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. It revealed that in 2008 the number of operations increased by 70% compared with the previous year: 1,118 labiaplasty operations on the NHS. (There were 669 in 2007 and 404 in 2006.) And that's just the NHS. The Harley Medical Group reported over 5,000 inquiries about cosmetic gynaecology last year, 65% for labial reduction.

Professor Linda Cardozo of King's College London recently warned of the risks of labiaplasty: permanent scarring, infections, bleeding and irritation. "The private sector is not recorded, audited or regulated. At least if you have it on the NHS you have to go through your GP and that's a gatekeeper." (Although one anonymous blogger writes on the NHS website: "I have flaps of skin everywhere and the whole thing is a total mess. I will never be able to be intimate again.")

I recently heard of a woman GP very concerned by the number of girls in their mid-teens coming to her worried about what their genitals looked like: she thought it was becoming an issue largely because of the fashion for shaving off pubic hair, which made them more self-conscious. Of course, there are rare cases where there is an underlying medical reason for this surgery, but they are just that, extremely rare. A doctor who has treated women seeking labiaplasty told me: "When you examine them, they are completely normal."

Some experts suggest this is a new form of body dysmorphic disorder. Others see it as a depressing but logical extension of the pornification of our culture. As it becomes more acceptable for young people to watch porn (where a "standardised" genital appearance is encouraged and many of the women have no pubic hair), so young women having their first sexual experiences are being measuring – and measuring themselves – against this weird porn "norm". As one woman who has sought surgery says: "I browsed through one of my brother's Playboys to see what the girls looked like. Some seemed to have very small or almost no labia." In a world where not even your labia can ever be pretty enough, it's time to fight back. Forward march, muffs!

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:14 am 
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Thousands of Russians protest against Putin
By Steve Gutterman and Amie Ferris-Rotman
10 December 2011

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Policemen detain an activist during a rally to protest against violations at the parliamentary elections in St. Petersburg December 10, 2011. REUTERS-Alexander Demianchuk

(Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people in Moscow and thousands more in cities across Russia demanded an end to Vladimir Putin's rule and a rerun of a parliamentary election on Saturday in the biggest opposition protests since he rose to power 12 years ago.

Potesters waved banners such as "The rats should go!" and "Swindlers and thieves - give us our elections back!" in cities from the Pacific port of Vladivostok in the east to Kaliningrad in the west, nearly 7,400 km (4,600 miles) away. But the biggest protest by far was in Moscow, where riot police were out in force but just watched as protesters waving flags and shouting "Putin is a thief!" staged the opposition's biggest protest rally since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The protests showed a groundswell of anger over the December 4 election, which the opposition says was rigged to favor Putin's United Russia, and discontent with the prime minister three months before he tries to reclaim the presidency at the polls. "Today 60,000, maybe 100,000 people, have come to this rally," former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in a speech to a huge crowd packed into Bolotnaya Square across the Moscow River from the Kremlin. "This means today is the beginning of the end for these thieving authorities," said Kasyanov, who now leads an opposition movement which was barred from the election.

People of all ages gathered in Moscow, many carrying white carnations as the symbol of their protest and some waving pictures of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev declaring: "Guys, it's time to go." Helicopters at times buzzed overhead.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader, read out a list of demands including annulling the election and holding a new one, registering opposition parties, dismissing the election commission head and freeing people the protesters consider political prisoners. "Russia has changed today -- the future has changed," he said, urging demonstrators to come out for new protests on December 24. The crowd chanted, "We'll be back!"

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Russian residents in Britain demonstrate outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London December 10, 2011. REUTERS-Luke MacGregor

But Konstantin Kosachyov, a United Russia lawmaker authorized to speak on behalf of the Kremlin, ruled out negotiations on the organizers' demands and said: "With all respect for the people who came out to protest, they are not a political party."

The rallies, many of them held in freezing snow, were a test of the opposition's ability to turn public anger into a mass protest movement on the scale of the Arab Spring rebellions that brought down rulers in the Middle East and North Africa. Most Russian political experts say the former KGB spy who has dominated the world's largest energy producer for 12 years is in little immediate danger of being toppled and that protests are hard to keep going across such a vast country. But they say Putin's authority has been damaged and may gradually wane when he returns as president after the March election, unless he answers demands ranging from holding fair elections to tackling rampant corruption and reducing the huge gap between rich and poor.

"The time has come to throw off the chains," one of the main opposition figures, blogger Alexei Navalny, said in a message sent from jail following his arrest in a protest in Monday. "We are not cattle or slaves. We have a voice and we have the strength to defend it," he said in the message, which drew cheers when it was read out from the stage by Oleg Kashin, an opposition journalist.

Such large protests were unthinkable before last Sunday's election, in which United Russia won only a slim majority in the State Duma lower house -- police warned protesters to get off a Moscow bridge at one point for fear it would collapse. But in a sign that the Kremlin has started to sense the change of mood, most of Saturday's rallies were approved by city authorities hoping to avoid violence and state television showed footage of the protests - but no direct criticism of Putin.

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Opposition activists hold a rally to protest against violations during the parliamentary elections in Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok December 10, 2011. REUTERS-Yuri Maltsev

PROTEST FROM EAST TO WEST OF RUSSIA

Invited by messages sent on social media, people protested in dozens of cities such as Vladivostok, Novosibirsk in Siberia, Arkhangelsk in the Arctic north, in Kaliningrad in the west, and in the Karelia region near Finland. Witnesses said 10,000 took part in a protest in St Petersburg, Russia's second city.

Police broke up an unapproved protest by about 400 people in Kurgan, on Russia's border with Kazakhstan, and at least 20 were detained in Khabarovsk near Russia's border with China, Russian news agencies said. Ten were held in St Petersburg, police said, and 35 were detained in Syktyvkar near the Arctic Circle.

"This is history in the making for Russia. The people are coming out to demand justice for the first time in two decades, justice in the elections," Anton, 41, a financial services sector employee who gave only his first name, said in Moscow.

"I want new elections, not a revolution," said Ernst Kryavitsky, 75, a retired electrician dressed in a long brown coat and hat against the falling snow in Moscow.

At least 100 trucks of riot police were parked near the Kremlin and columns of police trucks drove around the capital. Police put the number of protesters at around 25,000, and organizers said it was up to 150,000.

Medvedev has denied the allegations of fraud in the election. Putin, who became prime minister in 1999 and was elected president in 2000, has accused the United States of encouraging and financing the protesters.

FALLING POPULARITY

The protesters were mainly angered by the election, in which they say only cheating prevented United Russia's result being worse. International monitors also said the ruling party had an unfair advantage and that they had evidence of ballot-stuffing. Putin, 59, remains Russia's most popular leader in opinion polls, and has dominated the country under a political system in which power revolves around him. Far from all Russians wanted to take to the streets to protest.

"We think all these rallies, they're not right, because you need to work for justice in legal ways," said Lyudmila Mashenko, owner of a small business walking with her grandson in Moscow.

Some protesters want new elections but still back Putin. "I came here today mainly to say that I don't agree with the result of election," the manager of an IT company in St Petersburg who gave her name only as Dasha.

But Putin has seen his support - won by restoring order after the chaos of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union - slip in opinion polls. Many Russians felt disenfranchised in September when he and Medvedev announced plans to swap jobs after the presidential election and said they had taken the decision years ago.

(Additional reporting by Andrei Ostroukh, Thomas Grove and Guy Faulconbridge, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Steve Gutterman)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:09 am 
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Big Moscow protest rally against vote fraud begins
10 December 2011
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

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Protesters wave a Red flag, as simbol of revolution, as they march during a mass rally to protest against alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, with St. Basil Cathedral in the background.

MOSCOW (AP) - Tens of thousands of Muscovites thronged to a square across the river from the Kremlin on Saturday to protest alleged electoral fraud and urge an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's rule, demands repeated at other rallies across this vast country in the largest public show of discontent in post-Soviet Russia.

The demonstrations come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and effectively remained the country's leader while prime minister, is to seek a third presidential term. The massive outpouring of public anger challenges his image, supported by state-controlled TV channels, as a man backed by the majority of Russians.

That image was undercut by last Sunday's parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats, but lost the unassailable two-thirds majority it had held in the previous parliament. Even that reduced performance was unearned, inflated by massive vote fraud, the opposition says, citing reports by local and international monitors of widespread violations. The reports of vote-rigging and the party's loss of seats acted as a catalyst for long-simmering discontent of many Russians.

"The falsifications that authorities are doing today have turned the country into a big theater, with clowns like in a circus," said Alexander Trofimov, one of the demonstrators at Bolotnaya Square, on an island in the Moscow River adjacent to the Kremlin.

Protests took place in more than 50 other cities from the Pacific Coast to the southwest, including a large demonstration estimated by police at 7,000 people in St. Petersburg. Less than 100 demonstrators were reported arrested nationwide, far fewer than the hundreds taken into custody at smaller protests in the first days after the Dec. 4 national election. Police, who normally crack down fast and hard on any unauthorized gathering, even allowed a few hundred leftist radicals to conduct an unsanctioned protest on Moscow's Revolution Square just outside the Red Square.

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Protesters shout anti-Putin slogans during a mass rally to protest against alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011.

In the Pacific city of Vladivostok, several hundred protesters rallied along a waterside avenue where some of Russia's Pacific Fleet warships are docked. They shouted "Putin's a louse" and some held a banner caricaturing United Russia's emblem, reading "The rats must go."

The Moscow rally, which lasted about three hours, was so sprawling that unbiased crowd estimates were difficult to make. Police put the attendance at 25,000; organizers claimed up to 150,000. Whatever the precise number, it was a show of dismay that gave pause to the ruling elite. State-controlled TV channels that usually ignore or deride the opposition gave notable airtime to the protests. A top United Russia official, Andrei Isayev, acknowledged late Saturday that "expression of this point of view is extremely important and will be heard in the mass media, society and the state."

Officials in many cities, including Moscow, gave permission for the protests. But in what appeared to be an attempt to prevent young people from attending the protest, Moscow's school system declared Saturday afternoon a mandatory extra school day for grades 9 to 11. Students were told about the decision only on Friday, news reports said.

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Protesters shout anti-Putin slogans during a mass rally to protest against alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011.

Hundreds of people were arrested in smaller protests earlier in the week. Some, including prominent opposition blogger Alexei Navalny, were sentenced to 15 days in jail. Another prominent opposition figure, Sergei Udaltsov, was hospitalized after his Monday arrest and was expected to be released Saturday, but the Interfax news agency said he was taken from the hospital to a court to face further charges.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev conceded this week that election law may have been violated, and Putin suggested "dialogue with the opposition-minded"—breaking from his usual authoritarian image. The Kremlin has come under strong international pressure, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling the vote unfair and urging an investigation into fraud. Putin in turn criticized Clinton and the United States for allegedly instigating protests and trying to undermine Russia.

If Saturday's protests are a success, the activists then face the challenge of long-term strategy. Even though U.S. Sen. John McCain recently tweeted to Putin that "the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you," things in Russia are not that simple.

The popular uprisings that brought down governments in Georgia in 2003, in Ukraine the next year, and in Egypt last spring all were significantly boosted by demonstrators being able to establish round-the-clock presences, notably in Cairo's Tahrir Square and the massive tent camp on Kiev's main avenue. Russian police would hardly tolerate anything similar.

Opposition figures indicated Friday that the next step would be to call another protest in Moscow for next weekend and make it even bigger. But staged events at regular intervals may be less effective than daily spontaneous protests. Russia's opposition also is vulnerable to attacks on the websites and social media that have nourished the protests. This week, an official of Vkontakte, a Russian version of Facebook, reported pressure from the FSB, the KGB's main successor, to block access to opposition groups, but said his company refused.

On election day, the websites of a main independent radio station and the country's only independent election-monitoring group fell victim to denial-of-service hacker attacks.

Jim Heintz, Romas Dabrukas, Sofia Javed, Gary Peach and Vladimir Kondrashov in Moscow contributed to this report.
Source: Breitbart.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:51 am 
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Protesters chant 'Russia without Putin' as Kremlin's opponents stage unprecedented rally by Moscow river

Up to 50,000 protesters chanted 'Russia without Putin' as they filled a Moscow square to demonstrate in unprecedented numbers against their rulers.

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Protesters light flares during a mass rally in Moscow

By Andrew Osborn
10 December 2011

It was not a chant that many had ever expected to hear, as up to 50,000 Russians from all walks of life stood, the snow falling steadily upon them, a few hundred yards across the Moskva river from the Kremlin.

"Russia without Putin! Russia without Putin!" they roared as they craned their necks to glimpse and hear the slightly-built internet blogger who had just taken to the open-air stage.

Only last year beaten to within an inch of his life for writing something the authorities did not like, Oleg Kashin appeared to be without fear as he addressed his audience, at the biggest anti-government rally to be held in Russia for two decades. "The most powerful weapon we have," he declared, reading from a statement, "is a sense of our own dignity. We must not take it on and off like we would a velvet jacket."

The crowd of up to 50,000 who had come to protest against last weekend's allegedly rigged parliamentary election filled a square directly opposite the citadel that houses Russia's authoritarian government, and its mood was both defiant and upbeat. Space was at a premium and people hung off bridges, stood on benches and squeezed into nearby streets, listening as best they could even though the protest was so big that it was impossible for some to hear precisely what was being said.

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A protester with a "No vote" sticker attends a rally in St. Petersburg. Photo: AP

"This handful of people and their media servants are trying to convince us that the falsification of votes in favour of their party of crooks and thieves is a prerequisite if we want hot water in the taps and cheap mortgages," Mr Kashin told the throng. "They have been feeding us that line for the last 12 years. We're sick of it. It is time to break the break the chains. We are not cattle or slaves. We have a voice and we have the strength to get ourselves heard."

The crowd roared with approval. But as flakes of snow swirled in the winter air and the mercury hovered close to zero degrees Celsius, the man who had penned the statement Mr Kashin read was not there to enjoy the moment.

Alexei Navalny, a feisty anti-corruption blogger who is rapidly becoming a leading light in the opposition movement here, was languishing in a Moscow jail where he is serving a 15-day jail term for his part in an earlier opposition protest. Boris Nemtsov, another prominent opposition leader, was there to rally the crowd though, despite being detained himself last week. Following his lead, people began chanting "Putin out!" over and over again as a police helicopter hovered ahead and more than 50,000 interior ministry troops and riot police looked on.

Such scenes, which were repeated in dozens of Russian towns and cities (albeit on a smaller scale), were unthinkable just a week ago. Mr Putin's grip on power seemed rock solid and his ruling United Russia party's dominance unassailable.

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Policemen detain a protester in St. Petersburg. Photo: REUTERS

It is true there had been many opposition protests before but they were usually poorly attended, swiftly and violently broken up by the authorities, and put precious little pressure on the Kremlin. This time it was different. The riot police could only stand and watch apprehensively as tens of thousands of people who had never protested before or even been particularly interested in politics took to the streets.

Yulia, a 29-year-old marketing manager who was there with a group of friends, said she had never been to an opposition demonstration before. "I am just sick of the same old story," she said. "I want my country to change and I want to have a say in how it changes." Older people including Communist party supporters were there too flying the red flag adorned with a hammer and sickle and equally indignant.

The police and organisers squabbled about the precise numbers but one thing was clear: it was easily the biggest protest against Mr Putin's authority since he came to power at the end of 1999 and represents the first serious challenge to his rule. Police estimated that at least 25,000 people had turned up, while the protest's organisers claimed attendance was pushing 100,000. Independent observers put the figure at up to 50,000.

"Things have changed," said Yevgeniya Chirikova, an opposition activist who has become one of the Kremlin's most implacable enemies since she started campaigning against a new Kremlin-backed road that has laid waste to her local forest. "A few years ago Putin really did enjoy popular support. But that is something he can no longer take for granted. He is losing support and there is no public relations campaign that exists which can help him." Russia, she predicted, was on the brink of a new post-Putin era that would ultimately sweep the former KGB agent and his associates from power. "A new Russia will begin," she said. "These are the most civilised protests in the world. There is no broken glass, no broken bottles and no burned out cars. We just want a new election and we will get it."

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Protesters in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. Photo: REUTERS

The election which has got tens of thousands of Russians from Vladivostok in the East to Kaliningrad in the West up in arms was won by Mr Putin's party last weekend in decidedly murky circumstances. The Kremlin, which has all the levers of power at its disposal, has since insisted that there were no significant irregularities and that it won the vote fair and square. Conveniently, the head of the country's central electoral commission is a staunch Putin supporter who is on record as saying that "Putin is always right."

But international election monitors saw things differently, reporting serious ballot stuffing and said the contest was dramatically tilted in the favour of "one player. The opposition has since provided numerous documents and videos which it contends are incontrovertible proof that the poll was massively rigged in the ruling party's favour.

Officially, the United Russia party won just under 50 per cent of the vote, a result which would mean its support base had dropped by 15 per cent in the last four years, something that must have alarmed Mr Putin in itself. But the real figure, experts and the opposition say, is sharply lower.

"Take off 25 per cent and you will be getting near the truth," Leonid Kirichenko, an independent election expert, told The Sunday Telegraph. "They drew in whatever figure they fancied." Mr Kirichenko, who took part in big protests in the 1990s, predicted that the protests would not change anything however. "It will fizzle out. All this will not lead to anything." Protesters took a different view however and endorsed a five-point programme demanding change. Top of their list was a new election, this time with genuine opposition parties like Mr Nemtsov's People's Freedom Party allowed to take part. Another key demand was for all of the more than 1,000 people who have been arrested in recent anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow and elsewhere to be released.

Most analysts believe that Mr Putin, who has announced his intention to return to the presidency for a third term at the election in May, remains safe for now but that he may be forced to make concessions if he is to keep a lid on rising discontent. Battling voter fatigue, stalled living standards, growing intolerance of official corruption and a re-energised opposition, he has his work cut out. Although he has seen his personal popularity rating fall somewhat in recent months, he finds himself in the peculiar position of remaining the country's most popular politician while increasingly becoming a lightning rod for the protesters' anger.

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Riot police stand guard during a rally in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. Photo: REUTERS

The Kremlin clearly did not expect such a backlash and has implausibly blamed the United States for stirring social unrest on Russian streets. Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, admitted his boss was temporarily speechless on Saturday, explaining that the government was still in the process of formulating its position towards the protesters.

Andrei Isaev, a top official in Mr Putin's party, promised the protesters' voice would be heard but was conspicuously careful not to promise any specific changes. "Of course people who protest against the election results or against how the election was held have a right to do so," he said. "We live in a democratic country and a democratic society," he added without irony. Expressing such a point of view is really important and it will be heeded by the media, by society, and by the state." Some state media did report the protests, something they largely avoided doing before Saturday for fear of angering the Kremlin. One of the country's main news anchors had reportedly threatened not to go on air yesterday evening if his channel refused to report the protest. But in the end he did not have to make good his threat.

As darkness fell in Moscow and the protesters began to disperse, a cult Soviet-era song Changes by a group called Kino began to blare out of loud speakers. The song was an anthem for people protesting against the Soviet regime in the 1980s but has now been adopted by the anti-Putin protest movement. The protesters said they would give the Kremlin two weeks to announce changes or be back on the streets as early as Christmas Eve. The Kremlin must now decide whether it blinks or runs the risks that the protests will gather momentum and evolve into something akin to the Arab Spring.

Asked whether events here could become a new Arab Spring-style Russian revolution Ilya Ponamaryov, an MP for the Fair Russia party and one of the protest's organisers, said: "We are not there yet. But we are going in that direction."

Source: Telegraph UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:28 am 
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Manila, Philippines: Police try to push back protesters who are attempting to occupy a historic bridge in protest against poverty and inequality
Photograph: Bullit Marquez/AP

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:53 am 
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Protesters rally in St Petersburg, some placing ‘No voice’ stickers over their mouths.
Photograph: Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters

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People gather to attend a sanctioned rally in Bolotnaya Square to protest against alleged fraud in parliamentary elections
Photograph: Reuters

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Moscow: Participants rally in Bolotnaya Square against violations at the parliamentary elections
Photograph: Alexander Aleshkin/Epsilon/Getty Images

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Activists in central Moscow hold posters showing Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, and Putin, with text that reads: "Boys, it's time to go!"
Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2011 7:50 am 
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Immigrant cleaner leads revolt against Spanish mortgage trap

Aida Quinatoa leads the fightback as Ecuadoreans struggle to escape 'impossible' home loans in their adopted homeland

by Giles Tremlett
Sunday 11 December 2011

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Aida Quinatoa says Spanish banks have left thousands of her Ecuadorean countrymen facing ruin. Photograph: Olmo Calvo Rodríguez for the Observer

Aida Quinatoa is a tiny, soft-spoken Ecuadorean woman who still wears the colourful, ribbon-trimmed hats of the Quechua-speaking people of Bolívar province as she wanders the streets of Madrid, her new home city.

A dozen years after emigrating to Spain, where she works as a cleaner, Quinatoa is leading a rebellion against banks that have left hundreds of thousands facing destitution. Her latest move is to have a bill in the Ecuadorean parliament that will declare punitive Spanish mortgages illegal and allow her countrymen to escape the debt collectors by returning home. "Most Ecuadoreans arrived here between 1998 and 2002, fleeing an economic crisis at home," she said. "We found work but we couldn't find places to live. Landlords wanted six months' payment up front and a Spaniard to guarantee payment, so we ended up packed together in tiny flats with whole families in single rooms."

But as Spain's immigrant population increased fivefold with the arrival of almost five million people over the first decade of the 21st century, the banks identified a new source of income. "The savings banks began inviting us to free cultural events," she said. "They would also tell us how to get mortgages, telling us that property was a good investment. They offered loans of 120% of the value of a home."

Banks and estate agents were in league, talking immigrants into taking out vast loans with terms they often did not understand. Quinatoa saw a "lovely big apartment" and was told to put down a deposit. But then she was told it was no longer available. Rather than return the money, the agency offered a much smaller apartment. In the end, she borrowed €164,000, including a €14,000 personal loan to pay the agency's fee. In the meantime, she was told that she must also offer her home as collateral for another Ecuadorean family. "We just went to the notary, or to the bank, and signed," she said. "It was a way to find somewhere decent to live."

Then Spain's vast property bubble burst and unemployment surged to 23%. The pyramid of loans and guarantees shoring up some €3.5bn of debt collapsed. Now only 29% of Spain's 400,000 Ecuadoreans are up to date on their repayments, but those who cannot pay fall foul of a Spanish law that means banks can repossess homes while only cancelling half of the mortgage and charging repossession "costs".

Eduardo, a 43-year-old builder from Quito, will lose his Madrid flat in May but will still be heavily indebted to the bank. "I'd leave now, but I am worried about the people who put up the guarantee," he said. "We are honourable people," said Quinatoa. "And we like to pay our debts. But this system is impossible and unfair."

The leader of Madrid's Ecuadorean immigrant association, Quinatoa represented groups who blocked access to homes due to be repossessed, forcing bank officials to back off and negotiate. When a bank rang Quinatoa to say it wanted to repossess her flat to cover the debts of the family for whom she had stood as guarantor, she led a march to the Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo (CAM) bank that had sold many immigrants their mortgages. "They just rang and said, 'We are going after your house," she said. "But banks don't like people protesting at their doors, so they accepted the keys to the other flat in return for cancelling the debt."

In the end it was not Quinatoa who went bankrupt, but CAM – one of several savings banks to have folded because of reckless property loans.

Getting money back from immigrants can be difficult, especially if, as many homeless Ecuadoreans and a lot of British buyers on the "costas" have done, they just run home. However, Spanish banks have other ways to recover money. British law firms are, for example, being hired to go after those owing money on holiday homes. With Ecuadoreans, though, they simply package up the loans and sell them on to others.

One eager buyer has been Banco Pichincha, an Ecuadorean bank that has set up in Spain. "The bank is asking people to put up properties in Ecuador as collateral," Quinatoa explained. "That means if you can't pay here, they can take your property there." Pichincha has denied it will go after those who return home, but Ecuador's parliament looks set to act anyway.

Last year Quinatoa travelled to Quito with the draft of a new law which will declare Spanish mortgages to be "illegal and unenforceable" and allow her countrymen to free themselves from an otherwise inescapable debt trap.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:32 am 
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Thousands of Poles protest against new EU treaty
13 December 2011

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People carry a sign as they take part in a march organized by PiS (Law and Justice) party commemorating the 30th anniversary of the introduction of Martial law in Poland near the Belweder Palace in Warsaw December 13, 2011. REUTERS/Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta

(Reuters) - About 5,000 Poles protested in Warsaw on Tuesday against closer European integration after the government agreed to a new EU treaty for closer fiscal cooperation to tackle economic crisis.

The protesters waved Polish flags and at one point chanted "Disgrace!" during the rally organized by the main opposition, the conservative, euro-skeptic Law and Justice (PiS) party. The peaceful demonstration took place on the 30th anniversary of a crackdown by communist authorities against the pro-democratic opposition lead by the Solidarity trade union.

As he addressed the crowd, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski drew a parallel between the 1981 Poland's subjugation under the Martial Law to the Soviet Union and the current government's support for deeper EU integration. "PiS will lead the fight for a truly sovereign Poland where Poles themselves can decide on what is most important for them, can build their prosperity on their own, because we can afford that," he said.

Poland, the largest former communist state in the EU, is still outside the euro zone and has so far avoided the recession engulfing much of the 27-nation bloc. Kaczynski accused Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government of betraying the nation's interests by giving Germany whip hand in the EU, to the cheers of the crowd. Tusk, at the helm of a centrist, pro-business party, believes deeper EU integration is essential to Poland's security and prosperity. PiS and other euro-skeptic parties have accused him of surrendering the country's hard-won independence.

But, partially thanks to Poland's still-resilient economy, PiS and other euro-skeptic parties have, until now, failed to make political capital from the current European malaise. "This is not the appropriate time for some Poles to play people off against each other," Tusk told a news conference on Tuesday, referring to the still-divisive Martial Law issue.

Some 44 percent of Poles believe declaring the state of emergency was right, while 34 percent believe it was wrong, according to a recent survey by CBOS pollster. "This is an anniversary that should make us reflect on the obligations and the limits of power, both in the communist times as well as today," he said. "The memory of these events should unite us."

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2011 5:26 am 
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Time names "The Protester" 2011 Person of the Year
14 December 2011

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In this undated publicity photograph released to Reuters December 14, 2011, ''The Protestor'' was named 'Time' magazine's Person of the Year. REUTERS/Courtesy Time Magazine/Handout

(Reuters) - From the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movement, "The Protester" was named Time magazine's 2011 Person of the Year on Wednesday.

Time defines the Person of the Year as someone who, for better or for worse, influences the events of the year. "Is there a global tipping point for frustration? Everywhere, it seems, people said they'd had enough," Time Editor Rick Stengel said in a statement. "They dissented; they demanded; they did not despair, even when the answers came back in a cloud of tear gas or a hail of bullets. They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change," he said.

On almost every continent, 2011 has seen an almost unprecedented rise in both peaceful and sometimes violent unrest and dissent. Protesters in a lengthening list of countries including Israel, India, Chile, China, Britain, Spain and now the United States all increasingly link their actions explicitly to the popular revolutions that have shaken up the Middle East.

Admiral William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command and overall commander of the secret U.S. mission into Pakistan in May that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, came in at second place on the Time list.

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, whose 81 day secret detention by authorities earlier this year sparked an international outcry, came in at No. 3, followed by U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who married Prince William in April, rounded out the Time short list.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Doina Chiacu)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2011 4:47 pm 
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Portugal: vandalism and violence against motorway toll
15 December, 2011

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Facebook page ‘Não queremos portagens na A22 Via do Infante’ (we don’t want tolls on the A22) published a photograph of a billboard from the now ruling PS political party during an election campaign in 2004 which said ‘paying tolls is not an alternative’.

MADRID - An official of the company that manages the motorway was injured by a rifle shot, tollgates have been vandalised, many number plates have been stolen to deceive the cameras.

The introduction of toll at the A22 in Portugal, crossing the Algarve in the direction of Ayamonte (Huelva) in Spain, known as the 'Via do Infante', has triggered serious protests that started on December 8.

An official of the company that manages the motorway in question was injured by a rifle shot at km43, direction Agoz-Guia, in Albufeira. Yesterday at dawn he approached a tollbooth while vandals were trying to set fire to it. Local police sources, quoted today by the Portuguese media, report arson at the tollgates in Boliqueime, on the same motorway, as well. And public security officials in Olhao, in the Algarve, have linked the wave of number plate thefts to the start of toll payments on the A22 on December 8. The police think these plates are used to pass the gates without paying toll, so that the fines are sent to the owners of the plates.

The introduction of electronic motorway toll collection on the four Portuguese motorways is part of the package of cuts that were approved by the previous socialist government, led by José Socrates, but the conservative government of Pedro Passos Coelho has implemented the measure. There have been serious protests against the move, because it has raised the costs of driving substantially. Portuguese residents in fact have to get an electronic device that reads the number plate and costs 27.5 euros, and is connected to a current account. As an alternative, they can also pay toll in one of the Correios de Portugal post offices within five days after using one of the motorways.

Electronic booths have been set up for foreign tourists, where they can buy prepaid cards that are valid for three or five days. However, the media have described many cases in which the devices failed to function correctly during the first days of toll payments. The high prices and complexity of payments, in a time of deep economic crisis and strict austerity measures taken by the Portuguese government to contain the country's deficit, have triggered protests which are spreading rapidly. There have been slow marches on the motorways and appeals for boycotts by associations and citizens. But the alternative to using the A22 motorway is a national road that is completely blocked by traffic, now that lorries are using it again to avoid the high cost of toll payments.

Source: ANSAMed.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:44 pm 
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Oil town clashes kill 10 on Kazakh independence day
By Raushan Nurshayeva
16 December 2011

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Protesters kick a fallen Christmas tree in the Kazakh town of Zhanaozen in this still image taken from video acquired by Reuters TV, December 16, 2011. REUTERS-Stan TV via Reuters TV

(Reuters) - Ten people were killed when sacked oil workers clashed with riot police in Kazakhstan on Friday, a rare violent protest in the tightly controlled Central Asian state that has overshadowed celebrations to mark 20 years of independence.

Several people were also wounded after protesters stormed a stage in the oil city of Zhanaozen and set fire to the city administration building and the local headquarters of London-listed oil firm KazMunaiGas Exploration Production. "Ten people were killed as a result of mass disorder. There are also some wounded, including police officers," Kazakh Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbayev told a news conference, citing preliminary data. He did not say who had been killed or how.

Daulbayev said a group of investigators led by the interior minister had flown to the city on the orders of President Nursultan Nazarbayev "to take all necessary measures to preclude further criminal acts, identify and punish organizers of the disorder and restore public security in the town."

Violent protests scarcely occur in Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest economy and oil producer, where 71-year-old Nazarbayev has ruled with a firm hand for more than 20 years. He has overseen massive foreign investment, mainly in oil and gas. In a speech on Thursday, Nazarbayev stressed the need to preserve stability in the country of 16.6 million people, which has also witnessed an unprecedented spate of attacks by Islamist militants this year.

The clashes in Zhanaozen, a city of 90,000 people about 150 km (95 miles) inland from the Caspian Sea, marred celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union. A triumphal arch was unveiled in the capital Astana as part of lavish celebrations held nationwide. But in Zhanaozen, protesters -- some wearing red-and-blue overalls with a KazMunaiGas logo -- stormed a stage in the central square.

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People walk past a destroyed stage in the Kazakh town of Zhanaozen in this still image taken from video acquired by Reuters TV, December 16, 2011. REUTERS-Stan TV via Reuters TV

Video footage broadcast by privately owned television channel K+, and later on state television, showed a crowd of men breaking through barriers and toppling speakers from the stage. "The lawbreakers attacked policemen, toppled the New Year tree, destroyed yurts (tents) and a scene laid out for the holiday and set a police bus on fire," Daulbayev said. "As a result of the mass disorder, the buildings of the town administration, a hotel and the administration building of Uzenmunaigas were torched. Property of private persons and companies was also destroyed. Cars were burned and ATMs plundered."

Uzenmunaigas is the local unit of KazMunaiGas Exploration Production (KMG EP). The company said in a statement that its oil-producing facilities were working as normal, but that it had stepped up security. KazMunaiGas EP, a unit of state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas, was hit this year by a three-month strike at its Uzenmunaigas unit near the city. Uzenmunaigas sacked 989 workers and the company has said full-year production will fall 8.5 percent short of its target.

"OUTRAGED" WORKERS

A local government worker said protesters had destroyed the traditional felt tents, known as yurts, near the concert stage. "They were outraged that the administration was preparing a holiday for the town's residents ... and they started pelting stones at people walking by," Zhanna Oishibayeva, an aide to the governor of the local Mangistau region, said by telephone.

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A protester runs from a police vehicle on fire in the Kazakh town of Zhanaozen in this still image taken from video acquired by Reuters TV, December 16, 2011. REUTERS-Stan TV via Reuters TV

The short clip of video footage showed a few men chasing a policeman away from the stage. Police cars were seen driving fast through the crowd and one policeman fired pistol shots into the air while standing in a group of officers facing a crowd. Social networking websites said that some local people had heard shooting in Zhanaozen. These claims could not be verified independently and staff at the local central hospital declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, said his office was "very concerned" that at least 10 people had been killed. "We call on the Kazakh authorities to investigate the incident promptly and to ensure that law-enforcement agencies do not use excessive force in maintaining public order," he said. Daulbayev, the prosecutor-general, said "a group of hooligans" attacked peaceful residents and smashed parked cars. "Responding to demands by law-enforcement bodies to stop their unlawful actions, a group of hooligans attacked law-enforcers, attempting to seize their weapons. They were using firearms and cold steel," he said. "The prosecutor-general's office warns the organizers of mass disorder about their accountability to the law and calls on them to stop their unlawful actions."

A local hotel receptionist said all mobile and Internet communication had been switched off in Zhanaozen. A spokeswoman for Kazakhtelecom, the country's main operator of digital services, said the firm had nothing to do with the outages.

(Additional reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva and Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Robin Paxton and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 17, 2011 3:20 pm 
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Bahraini police fire tear gas at protesters: witnesses
16 December 2011

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Anti-government protesters run away from tear gas smoke fired by riot police during clashes in Abu-Saiba, west of Manama, December 16, 2011. REUTERS-Hamad I Mohammed

(Reuters) - Bahraini police fired tear gas and clashed with Shi'ite Muslim protesters on Friday, a day after a man was run over and killed as he fled security forces chasing protesters near Manama, the opposition and a rights group said on Friday.

Tensions have been high in Bahrain since security forces crushed weeks of pro-democracy street protests by the Gulf kingdom's majority Shi'ite Muslims in March. The police fired tear gas and sound grenades to disperse protesters, and several people were injured during the clashes which went on for several hours in different Shi'ite villages outside the capital Manama, said Matar Matar, a member of the Shi'ite al Wefaq political bloc.

Doha-based Al Jazeera television aired footage of riot police firing tear gas at protesters. "Many were injured because of excessive force," Matar told Reuters over the telephone. "Many have head injuries which indicates there is an intention to hurt them."

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) said demonstrator Ali-Ahmed al-Qassab was trying to flee intelligence officers during clashes between hundreds of mainly Shi'ite protesters and riot police on Thursday when a speeding car hit him. His funeral will be held on Saturday. "The regime prefers using force and killing people instead of instituting reforms that the people are asking for," Nabeel Rajab, the head of BCHR, told Reuters.

An interior ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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Anti-government protesters run away from tear gas smoke fired by riot police during clashes in Abu-Saiba, west of Manama, December 16, 2011. REUTERS-Hamad I Mohammed

TALKS STALLED

Protesters took to the streets in February demanding a bigger role for elected representatives and less power for ruling al-Khalifa family, who are Sunni Muslims. Some Shi'ite groups sought an end to the monarchy altogether. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and faces Shi'ite giant Iran on the other side of the Gulf. Iran has denied Bahraini government accusations it has incited the protests. A government-appointed commission of international jurists found evidence of systematic abuses against detained protesters.

There has been no progress on talks between the government and opposition groups on political reform, and sectarian tensions continue to dog the Gulf Arab island state. Also on Thursday, police detained Zainab al-Khawaja, a human rights activist and daughter of a prominent opposition leader, after she joined the protesters, many of whom chanted slogans against King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Rajab said.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2011 8:12 pm 
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China villagers in revolt demand dead man's body
17 December 2011
By GILLIAN WONG

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In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, villagers hold placards chanting slogans as they march around their village during a protest in Wukan village, in China's Guangdong province.

BEIJING (AP) - Thousands of residents of a southern Chinese village staging a rare revolt are calling on authorities to return the body of a local representative whose death in police custody helped sparked the rebellion.

The villagers, who have driven local authorities from the area, gathered at a square outside a local temple Saturday to shout slogans calling for the return of farmland they say has been sold to developers without their consent and to urge the central government to intervene, said resident Qin Zhuan, a woman contacted by phone.

"We have been wronged," the villagers chanted, according to Qin. "Long live the central government! Strike down corrupt officials." The villagers will also hold a march in the village to demand that police return the body of Xue Jinbo, a village representative who died in police custody last Sunday, she said.

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In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, villagers hold a poster with a Chinese word for "injustice" as they march around their village during a protest in Wukan village, in China's Guangdong province.

Police have set up checkpoints around Wukan, a village of 20,000 that has for months been the site of simmering protests, and have blocked transportation of food in a bid to choke off the weeklong revolt. Since last weekend, villagers have kept police out with barricades made of tree trunks. Young men are guarding the barricades and patrolling the village roads, sometimes armed with wooden clubs, said Huang Jinqi, another resident reached by phone. Food is smuggled in by other routes, he added.

"Some people from neighboring villages have been bringing us vegetables and rice using the small roads so we are currently all right, there's no need to worry about food," Huang said.

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Villagers wear white ribbons on their arm attend a memorial ceremony for Xue Jinbo, a local butcher who died in police custody while negotiating with officials over land seizure, in Wukan village, in China's Guangdong province, Friday, Dec. 16, 2011.

Calls to police in Shanwei, the city that oversees Wukan village, rang unanswered. Protests against official misconduct are increasingly common in fast-developing China, but Wukan residents have taken things a step further, erecting barricades a week ago to keep police out and posing a challenge to the authoritarian government. On a near-daily basis, thousands of villagers gather for rallies, shouting slogans for the return of their land and pumping their fists in the air.

But signs of a split in the community have emerged in the last couple of days. Protesters estimate that dozens of villagers have joined government supporters who were offering food in exchange for their support.

Source: Breitbart.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:40 am 
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Nigeria protest over toll roads turns violent
December 17, 2011

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Occupy Lekki: Lagos Protests Against Lekki Toll Gate

LAGOS, Nigeria—Police shot rifles and fired tear gas at protesters who were demonstrating against toll roads on Saturday, and witnesses said at least one person was seriously wounded by gunfire.

Police officers also used batons to assault an Associated Press photographer who was covering the event. His camera equipment was taken before he was thrown into the back of a police truck. The photographer was released several hours later without charge, and was treated for blunt-force trauma injuries to his neck, shoulder and knee.

Saturday's protest focused on anger over the state government allowing a private company that built a major road in Lagos to collect tolls there. Lagos State police spokesman Samuel Jinadu told The Associated Press that 18 protesters were arrested. "Initially, the protest was peaceful, but it later went bad and the police had to make arrests," Jinadu said.

Witnesses said at least one person was shot at the demonstration, but Jinadu said he could not immediately comment on that report.

Source: boston.com.

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