30 Oct

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


  • Activists released after arrest treated ‘like we’re not human beings’
  • Standoff with law enforcement continues with peaceful Saturday rally
Tires burn as soldiers and law enforcement officers stand in formation to force Dakota Access pipeline protesters off private land.

Tires burn as soldiers and law enforcement officers stand in formation to force Dakota Access pipeline protesters off private land. Photograph: Mike McCleary/AP

Native Americans protesting against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) on Saturday accused law enforcement officers of cruel and inhumane treatment in jail, but said mass arrests and violent confrontations with police would not deter them from fighting construction of the oil project.

Activists were reunited at the Sacred Stone camp in North Dakota after their release from local jails. Some told the Guardian police aggressively detained them, crowded them into vans, wrote numbers on their arms to track them, conducted invasive body searches and showed a lack of respect for native culture.

“They treat us like we’re not human beings,” said Russell Eagle Bear, a member of the Rosebud Sioux, who was one of 141 people arrested on Thursday when protesters tried to block pipeline construction. “We’re simply numbers to them.”

In tears, Caro Gonzales, a member of the Chemehuevi tribe who was one of the first arrested, said police temporarily detained her and three other women in a large cage that she described as a “dog kennel”.

“We were all crying in pain, saying we needed medical attention,” said Gonzales, 26, who also goes by the name Guarding Red Tarantula Woman.

Caro Gonzales

Caro Gonzales Photograph: Sam Levin

The release from jail of the protesters came after a week of increasingly tense conflict between Native American activists and a growing police force seeking to thwart protests against the $3.8bn pipeline.

The project, which would transport crude oil from the Bakken oil field to a refinery near Chicago, first sparked demonstrations in April, when members of the Standing Rock Lakota and other Native American nations rode on horseback and established the Sacred Stone “spiritual camp”.

Thousands of activists have since traveled to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, including members of tribes from across the US, launching a massive and ongoing protest that has become a rallying cry for indigenous rights, climate change activism and environmental conservation.
Leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux say the pipeline, a project of the Texas-based corporation Energy Transfer Partners, threatens water supply and cultural heritage and would destroy sacred lands. Over the last week, activists have repeatedly attempted to occupy the property where pipeline construction is beginning, leading to daily standoffs that have ended in arrests and violence.

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Park Geun-hye under growing pressure after admission that she let a friend and daughter of a religious cult leader interfere in important state affairs


Citizens hold placards during a protest, demanding that President Park Geun-hye step down. Photograph: YONHAP/EPA

Thousands of South Koreans took to the streets of the capital on Saturday calling for increasingly unpopular president Park Geun-hye to step down over allegations that she let an old friend, the daughter of a religious cult leader, interfere in important state affairs. The evening protest came after Park ordered 10 of her senior secretaries to resign over a scandal that is likely to deepen the president’s lame duck status ahead of next year’s election.

Holding candles and signs reading “Who’s the real president?” and “Park Geun-hye, step down”, the protesters marched through downtown Seoul after holding a candlelight vigil near City Hall. Police estimated that about 12,000 people turned out for the biggest anti-government demonstration in Seoul in months.

Park ordered 10 of her senior secretaries to resign after she admitted letting an old friend and the daughter of a religious cult leader to interfere in important state affairs.

Park has been facing calls to reshuffle her office after she admitted on Tuesday that she had provided longtime friend Choi Soon-sil drafts of her speeches for editing. Her televised apology sparked huge criticism about her mismanagement of national information. She had already become unpopular for what some saw as a heavy-handed leadership style and lack of transparency.

There has also been media speculation that Choi, who holds no government job, meddled in government decisions on personnel and policy, and exploited her ties with the president to misappropriate funds from nonprofit organisations.

The saga, triggered by weeks of media reports, has sent Park’s approval ratings to record lows and the minority opposition Justice party has called for her to resign.

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Booby traps hidden in brightly coloured children’s toys are among the terrorist group’s many ploys

Improvised explosive device on show at a training centre for bomb dispoasal engineers in Iraq

Improvised explosive device on show at a training centre for bomb dispoasal engineers in Iraq Photograph: Alessandro Rota for the Observer

The teddy bear, garish but cuddly, is propped on top of the explosives it was designed to hide and detonate. An adult would probably have walked by, but to a child the wide eyes and fuzzy orange fur would have been irresistible.

“Why would Isis use something nice, like a bear or a rabbit? They used this toy because they know the peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] will not touch it, but children will,” said Colonel Nawzad Kamil Hassan, an engineer with the Kurdish forces, who says his unit has cleared more than 50 tonnes of explosives from areas once controlled by the militants.

As a broad coalition of forces tries to push Isis out of Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq, Hassan has decided to preserve some of the most creative, cruel and unusual of those homemade bombs to use as training aids for new recruits to one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The homemade explosive devices provide a lesson in the depths of ingenuity, intelligence and resources that Isis devotes to spreading murder and fear even when its fighters can no longer terrorise in person.

In the areas where it rules for long enough to seed them with bombs, the group has created a dark, parallel universe, where even the most mundane object can kill. A toy, a playing card and an abandoned watch are all detonators designed to spark the acquisitive curiosity of a returning civilian, who would be maimed or murdered by the explosion.

An ordinary hose lying across a road is another simple but ingenious detonator. A bundle of old clothes, which a dog or cat could step across without harm, would have exploded if someone had picked it up to reclaim or throw away. A pile of mud and stones is a concealed mortar. A discarded piece of plywood would have activated a bomb when it was picked up or kicked aside, as a ball bearing rolled down a tube to complete the circuit. Duct tape, a lever and a trip wire turn a door into a deadly weapon.

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Marchers in swimsuits, wedding dresses and sumo loincloths call for Taiwan to legalise same-sex marriage

Participants in Taipei’s gay pride parade on Saturday.

Participants in Taipei’s gay pride parade on Saturday. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Taipei on Saturday for Asia’s biggest gay pride parade, calling on Taiwan’s new government to legalise same-sex marriage.

Supporters waved placards with slogans such as “How long will tongzhi have to wait?” – referring to the Chinese term for someone who is gay. Among the outfits on display were swimsuits, wedding dresses and loincloths usually worn by Japanese sumo wrestlers.

Many of the attendees hoped that same-sex marriage would soon become a reality under the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is in control of parliament for the first time.

“The call for marriage equality feels stronger than last year,” said Corinne Chiang, a 34-year-old IT worker. “We hope same-sex marriage can be realised as soon as possible so our child can have two legal mums.”

Taiwan is one of the region’s most progressive societies when it comes to gay rights, but legal reform on marriage equality has remained stagnant due to resistance from the Kuomintang (KMT) party, which dominated politics for decades before being unseated by the DPP in May.

As a result, previous attempts to pass a same-sex marriage bill have stalled, but parliament is soon expected to deliberate fresh proposals on the issue.

President Tsai Ing-wen has openly supported marriage equality and said she would respect any decision reached by parliament. “Even though my role has changed, my values remain unchanged,” she wrote on her official Facebook page on Saturday.

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The Clinton campaign is hinting at skulduggery after the bureau publicly declared it was reopening its emails inquiry

The FBI director James Comey says he does not know if the emails are significant.

The FBI director James Comey says he does not know if the emails are significant. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic party outrage at the FBI’s shock revelation, almost on the eve of the US presidential election, that it is resuming its controversial investigation of Hillary Clinton after declaring in July that the matter was closed, has been fierce.

Donna Brazile, chairwoman of the Democratic national committee, was one of many to cry foul. “The FBI has a solemn obligation to remain neutral in political matters. Even the faintest appearance of using the agency’s power to influence our election is deeply troubling,” she said.

John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chief, also hinted at skulduggery: “It is extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election.” Podesta said the FBI statement left it unclear whether there was anything remotely new to investigate.

This may well be true. In his letter of notification to Congress, James Comey, the FBI director, said he did not know whether a batch of newly discovered emails bore any relation to previous claims that Clinton acted illegally in sending private emails containing classified information when she was secretary of state from 2009-13.

Comey said the new emails “appear to be pertinent”, but he and his officials had not yet examined them. In a later statement, he admitted “we don’t know the significance” of the emails, but said he felt obliged to investigate and make his decision public. It is not even certain that the emails came from Clinton’s private server.

Comey’s move is either extremely naive or extremely cynical. FBI investigations are routinely conducted behind closed doors. Only when a decision to prosecute has been taken, based on persuasive evidence, is an inquiry made public or suspects named.

For a respected, ostensibly independent figure like the FBI director to tip his hand at this extraordinarily sensitive moment amounts to an overtly political, partisan act. Since it must be assumed that Comey is no fool, it must also be assumed that he knew what he was doing.

A less damning explanation is that he was clumsily attempting to save the FBI (and himself) further criticism from the Republican right, which denounced his earlier investigatory efforts as a pro-Hillary cover-up. But if that is the case, why did Comey not have a confidential word with the relevant congressional oversight committees? Nobody could then subsequently accuse him of a cover-up. And he would not have triggered the firestorm in which the FBI’s impartiality is again being questioned, and this time from the left.

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