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25 Dec

Events of Interest and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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News


Nigeria churches hit by blasts

At least 25 dead bodies removed from church near Abuja, with four other attacks reported in other locations.
Last Modified: 25 Dec 2011 15:58 GMT

Africa

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Suicide attack strikes Afghanistan funeral

At least 20 people, including an MP, killed and 50 injured in bombing in northern province of Takhar.Last Modified: 25 Dec 2011 14:58 GMT

Central & South Asia

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Russian anti-Putin protests draw thousands to Moscow again

24 Dec 2011: Opposition activists claim 80,000 attend demonstration over vote-rigging claims, as Gorbachev calls on Putin to resign

World leaders gather for Václav Havel’s funeral – video

Czechs and world leaders paid an emotional tribute to Václav Havel at a funeral in the St Vitus Cathedral overlooking Prague

Leading article: The goal of freedom that is shared across the
world

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,As he is honoured, and  we unwind for Christmas, we should applaudthe courage of all the ordinary men
and women taking to the streets around the globe.

Christmas is, of course, a celebration far older than Christianity, a
midwinter feast in which people could lift themselves out of the gloom of the
present season and look forward towards the spring to come.

In international affairs one could, at this moment, face either direction.
There is certainly plenty to shiver about as bombers kill some 40 people in
Damascus, the Chinese authorities sentence a leading liberal writer, Chen Wei,
to nine years’ imprisonment for essays urging political freedom, and more than
40,000 Russians sign up for what promises to be the biggest election protest so
far in Moscow tomorrow. And the Arab Spring, it could all-too easily be said,
has turned to barren winter in Egypt and Libya as well as Yemen and Bahrain.

But the alternative view – and, we would argue, the more compelling one –
acclaims the fact that the Arab Spring has happened at all. There were plenty of
experts who said the Arab world never could and never would rise up against
corrupt regimes, let alone that the revolution would be led by ordinary people
taking to the streets out of a simple and deeply felt frustration with the way
the system was. Still fewer would have said that, after a year of uncertain and
differing results, that same spirit would still keep people protesting despite
every effort to crush them, and that the disquiet would spread out to Russia,
China, Central Asia and, if you include recent anti-corruption protests, even to
India.

Of course, all these developments are not alike, let alone part of some grand
global political or social movement. Indeed, one of the extraordinary things
about them is how disparate they are. This is not some kind of disciplined grab
for power, as happened in the communist revolutions of the last century. Nor are
we witnessing the products of economic change. The peasant protests against land
seizures, house demolitions and river damming in China are reactions against
such change, while the uprisings in North Africa are the expressions of people’s
wanting to participate in it.

All these movements, however, do share some themes. First and foremost is the
demand for freedom. It is too easy for those in the West to put this down to a
simple call for democracy. But it is more complex and in some ways more nebulous
than that. A demand for free and fair elections is part of it. But much of the
frustration is also directed against the monopoly of economic power exercised by
authoritarian regimes. “Down with corruption” is the one common cry in the Red
Square of Moscow, the villages of Guandong, and Cairo’s Tahir Square. And
although social networks have played a key part in giving the movements such
logistical organisation as they have, they have not directed them, let alone
disciplined them.

That lack of regimentation has sadly made it easier for determined regimes to
fight back. In Syria, the government has used brute force and fear. In China,
Beijing has split the opposition, clamping down on middle-class intellectuals
who want political freedom while negotiating with the peasantry who demand
freedom from economic suppression.

At this stage, no one knows how the past year’s rash of public protests will
turn out – in the toppling of regimes as in Tunisia, in civil war and Western
intervention as in Libya, or in the brutal oppression of Syria. But, as the
Czechs buried Vaclav Havel, the leader of their Velvet Revolution, yesterday, it
is worth remembering just what people power can achieve. As he is honoured, and
we unwind for Christmas, we should applaud the courage of all the ordinary men
and women taking to the streets around the globe.

 

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