They have different causes and aims but mass protests from Iran to Hong Kong accelerate

Anti-government unrest in Iran following a decision by authorities to dramatically raise gas prices spread to a reported 100 cities and towns Monday as Tehran became the latest nation around the world to see mass protests, sometimes violent, that have broken out in recent months from Lebanon to Hong Kong.

The global protests – in Bolivia, Chile, Spain and elsewhere – are not connected and have different causes and aims. However, they are loosely linked thematically in that they concern inequality, political freedoms, corruption and climate change. 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei late Sunday backed his government’s decision to raise gas prices by 50% and called protesters there who have been setting fire to public property over the hike “thugs.” Iran also imposed a near total Internet blackout over the weekend, according to NetBlocks, a group that monitors international Internet access.

By Monday, Iran’s Internet connectivity stood at 7%, NetBlocks said. 

The gas-price hike is especially controversial in Iran because it is home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves and gas has long been inexpensive despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Problems for Iran’s economy have been compounded by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimpose crippling economic sanctions on the Middle East country. 

Crisis ahead: Iran announces nuke deal violations 40 years after hostage crisis

Demonstrators have abandoned cars along major highways and ransacked some 100 banks and stores, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.

The Internet blackout has made it difficult to know how many people have been arrested, injured or killed. Iranian authorities on Sunday raised the official death toll to at least three. It said about 1,000 protesters have been arrested. 

Iran’s government cracked down hard on large-scale economic protests in late 2017 into 2018, as well as those connected to its disputed 2009 election. 

The White House said in a statement that the U.S. “supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them.”

In Hong Kong, where protesters have been clashing with police for months over fears China’s central government in Beijing is undermining the territory’s judicial independence, a group of demonstrators barricaded themselves inside a university campus to keep police from getting in. They are now cornered and trying to get out.

The protesters were met by tear gas and rubber bullets Monday fired by police. 

Bows, arrows: Protesters battle police for control of university, dozens arrested

Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University has turned into a battleground and it is the third time in recent days the protesters have tried to flee the surrounded campus. 

“These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts,” Cheuk Hau-yip, a police commander for Hong Kong’s Kowloon West district, told reporters at a daily briefing on Monday. “Other than coming out to surrender, I don’t see, at the moment, there’s any viable option for them,” he added. 

Riot police detain protesters amid clouds of tear gas at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Photo: Ng Han Guan, AP)

Hong Kong’s protests began peacefully in early June.

They were sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, where the legal system is far more opaque. When the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened, and broadened, into a resistance movement against the territory’s government and Beijing.

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill that could pave the way for sanctions on Hong Kong’s city government over its response to the protests, but such a move may not easily pass through the White House, which is pursuing a trade deal with China. Trump has shown little interest in supporting human rights in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China that enjoys a high degree of autonomy. 

Senior China adviser: Trump to blame for delays in securing final trade deal

In India, hundreds of students from a New Delhi university on Monday were in a stand-off with police, who stopped their march toward parliament to protest increased student housing fees. The students from Jawahar Lal Nehru University chanted slogans and attempted to cross police barricades. Several students were arrested, part of demonstrations that have been going on for more than two weeks. 

One month on from protests in Lebanon that have seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in anger over a ruling class that is seen as corrupt and incompetent the country’s political crisis has intensified. 

Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, who resigned over the protests three weeks ago, severely criticized Monday the party of the country’s president, Michel Aoun, for its failure to establish an interim Cabinet. Aoun has yet to start the parliamentary process for appointing a new prime minister.

Hariri and Aoun have pointed the finger at each other for the stalemate as Lebanon experiences its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. The small Arab country is one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world and was already dealing with a severe fiscal crisis before the protests, one rooted in years of heavy borrowing and expensive patronage networks run by entrenched political parties.

Security forces in Iraq have killed at least 320 people and wounded thousands as part of resistance to anti-government protests linked to corruption and inequality. The unrest began in October. Protesters, who have blocked roads and called for national strikes, want a complete overhaul of Iraq’s inexperienced government.

Bolivia has been rocked by weeks of protests following last month’s disputed presidential election that led to the resignation of President Evo Morales.

Bolivia: Evo Morales resigns amid election-fraud allegations, deadly protests

In Chile, at least 20 people have been killed and 2,500 injured since protests began in October in relation to student protests over an increase in subway fares. The protests have since expanded to include a range of issues from spiraling living costs to the impact of climate change on their daily lives.

Tens of thousands of Catalan pro-independence protesters in Spain have been out in the streets of Barcelona and nearby areas since a Spanish court in October imposed stiff prison sentences on the group’s separatist leaders. 

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