Tag Archives: protest

China, the Tiananmen tragedy and the ‘Tank Man’ – 25 years on

tank man

The anonymous ‘Tank Man’ bringing an armed column to a halt on 5 June 1989

On 5 June 25 years ago, a lone man stood on Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue and brought a column of tanks to a halt. It has become an enduring symbol of individual bravery to the world and possibly the most censored image in the People’s Republic of China.

This famous stand, which can be viewed here, came after the bloody crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 3 and 4 June, in which hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators died after the military used lethal force to disperse the crowds. The “Tank Man” is believed to have not been a student protester or intellectual activist but merely a working citizen of Beijing horrified by the massacre (which had occurred throughout the city) and betrayed that the ‘People’s Army’ could have committed such atrocities against its own countrymen.

The Chinese Spring

The Tiananmen Square Massacre and the protests preceding it shook the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) to its core and redefined China for over a quarter century. The resulting existential fear has continued to permeate the CPC, which remains terrified of dissent and, despite claims to the contrary, still opts for a policy of suppression. Unfortunately this fear has blinded party officials to addressing the issues which underpinned the protests in 1989 and which continue to plague the middle kingdom to this day.

The ’89 protests began following the death of Hu Yaobang on 15 April, a former CPC General Secretary who was ousted by party hardliners. Protests initially began as commemorative demonstrations by students among which Hu was a deeply popular figure associated with political and economic reform. These demonstrations quickly began to change into protests over corruption within China’s ruling elite and subsequently became a pro-democracy campaign calling for reform. Although the protests rapidly spread to over 400 cities around China, the heart and centre of those heady days was to be found in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, where at the peak of the protests over 1 million demonstrators were gathered, thousands of which occupied the square on a permanent basis. The square lies in the centre of the capital, flanked by both the former imperial headquarters, the Forbidden City and the Hall of the People, headquarters of the CPC, making the square the geographical centre of China’s soul and a powerful symbol in its own right.


Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests

As the protests grew and attracted support from liberal academics, workers and eventually party members, the CPC central committee grew impatient and jittery. In May of that year, USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev travelled to Beijing for an official state visit; however, the mass occupation of Tiananmen Square forced China’s leadership to relocate the official reception at the last minute from the Hall of the People to the airport. This greatly embarrassed CPC leadership, causing a loss of face in front of a world power during an important time in geopolitics, namely the détente between the USA and the USSR in the final days of the Cold War.

Massacre of ‘89

By June of 1989, China’s ruler, Deng Xiaoping, and the rest of the CPC leadership decided that the protests needed to end and ordered the army to clear the square. However, when army leaders were summoned before China’s leadership and given their order, one refused. Maj. General Xu Qinxian, leader of the powerful 38th Group Army based in the Beijing Military Region, refused, claiming that the demonstrations were a political problem and not the military’s responsibility. This instilled a new fear in the CPC: that the military might not support the party and could even revolt if the protests grew in strength. Gen. Xu was soon arrested and the order to end the protests by any means necessary was enforced.

On the evening of 3 June, tanks rolled into Beijing. At approximately 22:00, soldiers began firing on protesters as the army marched towards Tiananmen Square. By the time the sun rose on Beijing on 4 June, thousands were left dead (although the government claims the figure is in the low hundreds) and hundreds imprisoned. Tiananmen Square had been cleared.

25 years on – Everything’s changed, nothing is different

Fast forward 25 years and the scars of the Tiananmen Massacre remain. The CPC has attempted to scrub the 1989 protests from China’s history; they are not taught in schools and are censored from all media, including internet searches. Yet shades of the massacre still permeate modern-day China. Tiananmen Square is now one of the most heavily protected, if not the most strictly guarded place in the world, with a 24/7 armed police presence and the highest concentration of security cameras on the planet. In the first week of June every year, China embarks on an unrivalled censorship campaign; this year, the majority of online Google services were rendered inaccessible from the mainland.  The square has become a symbol of dissidence in the People’s Republic, which to the ruling caste remains unconscionable.

The ’89 protests were the closest that the CPC has come to losing power in China, and the memory of that time still haunts the leadership. While China has had a spectacular economic rise since then, dissent is not tolerated. The vast majority of China’s defense budget is spent on internal security apparatus; the country employs over 2 million internet censors and the People’s Armed Police (a separate paramilitary branch of the armed forces, not to be confused with the conventional police service) is believed to number almost 1.5 million

Yet despite this expenditure, China still experiences well over 100,000 protests every year, focusing on everything from environmental issues to labour disputes, and most notably the continued corruption within the political elite. There has also been a marked increase in separatist activities stemming from the country’s restive Xinjiang and Tibetan provinces.

Furthermore, in the special administrative region of Hong Kong, 3 /4 June 2014 saw the largest Tiananmen Massacre memorial demonstration thus far, with over 180,000 people attending the candle-lit vigil.


Annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong remembering those killed in the Tiananmen Massacre

Tiananmen of Tomorrow

With the rise of the internet and China’s increased economic clout resulting in Chinese nationals travelling, studying and working abroad, the CPC is facing ever-increasing challenges in maintaining the status quo, as increasing numbers citizens are able to circumvent the party’s control of the flow of information. While it is currently believed that fewer citizens of China are aware of the 1989 massacre than ever before, the government is under increasing pressure to reform, root out corruption, adapt to the contemporary age and provide China’s rising middle class with the trappings of the West. Furthermore, as the nation’s economy slows, the excessive expenditure on internal security apparatus becomes increasingly difficult to justify. With these issues, which mirror the grievances of ‘89, creating cracks in the CPC’s facade of social harmony, whether the People’s Republic will be able to maintain the status quo without being doomed to repeat the mistakes of history remains to be seen.

Analysis by Brendan von Essen, follow him @AsiaPacRisk

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Pele fears protests could ruin World Cup; but what do the analysts say?


Security at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil

The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be held in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July.  In a recent interview, Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), the retired Brazilian football legend, stated that as a Brazilian, the ongoing civil unrest in the country not only saddens him but could also sour the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pele is one of the most lauded players in the history of football and is frequently ranked the best player ever. However, does his expertise carry over to the field of political and security risk analysis, and will the protests, as he believes, spoil the World Cup?

Brief background on protests

Sporadic protests over socio-economic and labour concerns have been affecting Brazil since June 2013. Although the largest of these corresponded with the FIFA Confederations Cup (FCC) period (15 to 30 June), related gatherings have been ongoing in recent months. The civil unrest was initially motivated by an increase in public transport fares in Rio de Janeiro; however, the campaign soon garnered significant support and momentum. It formed a convenient platform for various civil society groupings to voice their respective grievances, including issues regarding service delivery, concerns over the World Cup, corruption, etc. Despite significantly reduced support for the protest movement following the FCC period, periodic protests continue in the country and violence still remains a considerable concern at related events. Most recent socio-economic demonstrations have focused on Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It should be noted that police forces often resort to heavy-handed tactics to disperse protesters (as seen in the video below):

(WarningVideo contains scenes of violence some viewers may find disturbing )

Will there be protests?

Yes, protests by a variety of disparate groups are expected in host cities during the World Cup. These groups have already indicated their intention to disrupt the tournament if their demands are not met. Pele’s views are therefore based on credible concerns. However, it should be noted that disruptions caused by potential protests are anticipated to be largely minimised by government security operations in the 12 host cities. It is red24’s position that these events will not reach the magnitude of those witnessed during the FCC period. This is due, in roughly equal measures, to the large-scale increase in security aimed at limiting disruptions caused by potential protests (the government has invested over US$2.2 billion into World Cup security in 2013 alone) and the placating options that are available to President Dilma Rousseff so as to counter any burgeoning protest movement. Nevertheless, gatherings will still likely be planned in areas that allow for maximum exposure; these include sites associated with the tournament. Further details on planned protests and city-specific protest hotspots can be found at red24.com. These events have the potential to turn violent, as these are often infiltrated by disruptive elements, such as members of the anarchist Black Bloc. A great source for additional views from Brazil, specifically related to the World Cup, can be found on the “A Brazilian Operating in This Area” – blog, by the local journalist, Mauricio Savarese.

What should Pele be concerned about?

According to the red24 2014 Threat Forecast, despite the media focus on protests, the most apparent risk during the World Cup is the high threat from crime in Brazil, particularly in major urban centres. Already-high petty crime rates will likely be elevated, particularly near stadiums, popular tourist areas and transport hubs; violent crime will remain an ever-present concern, mainly in lower-income areas and within cities at night. The government will attempt to reduce this risk through increased surveillance and an overall heightened police presence; however, official efforts are likely to fall short of significantly reducing the risk of crime in host cities.

A further concern is that of express kidnapping. This form of kidnapping involves victims being held temporarily while they are forced to withdraw money or hand over PIN details so that money can be withdrawn from ATMs. Although the use of bogus taxis or rogue taxi drivers is a primary modus operandi of express kidnappers, incidents are also perpetrated near outdoor and isolated indoor ATMs. In recent years, there have been a number of instances of this short-term form of abduction affecting foreign nationals in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other cities that are set to host World Cup matches. Although somewhat mitigated by an increased security force presence, there is still a credible concern of express kidnapping facing those visiting host cities.

It should also be noted that there is a risk of terrorism at the World Cup that is associated with all international events. Lastly, those visiting host cities are not immune from the prevailing kidnapping for ransom risk.

Brazil security Overview of risks in Brazil

Pele’s concern over protests in Brazil is therefore valid, but it is unlikely at this stage that these gatherings will ruin the World Cup. As seen above, there are various other concerns of which visitors to Brazil should be made aware. However, by adopting a number of commonsense precautions, these risks can be greatly mitigated.

red24 has launched a tailored package of services for visitors to the 2014 World Cup. This has been designed to provide travellers with detailed advice, security updates and 24/7 telephone support during the event. For more information about this package, please click here

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

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Libya’s militia conundrum: Violent unrest in Tripoli’s Ghargour

Anti-militia sentiment generated by a militia skirmish in Tripoli on 7 November led hundreds of people to gather in the Ghargour area of the capital on 15 November. What was meant to be a peaceful protest ended in violence and the death of 47 people when militia in the area opened fire on the protesters.

The militia are from Misratah, a highly independent city 192km east of Tripoli, which achieved global fame for its resistance against the Gaddafi regime during the 2011 Libyan civil war. Following the conflict, the Misratah militia and rebel groups from around the country, remained in Tripoli despite strong opposition from locals for them to relocate. These militias have presented the authorities with numerous challenges as they have been frequently implicated in clashes with rivals and disruptive protests.

The 15 November violence will add pressure on the government to deal with the issue. However, a simple removal of militias is not immediately anticipated. The Misratah militia, like the Zintan militia, which guards the Tripoli International Airport, are politically connected and take orders from their brigade commanders, not the central government. Moving them will take time and further conflict is anticipated.

For an interactive map of the 15/16 November clashes in Tripoli, click here.

By Andre Colling, Chief Analyst MENA region

Follow him on Twitter @andrecolling

Also check out his blog, The Roving Eye.

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Barend Lutz on Student Protests in Chile

Barend Lutz on Student Protests in Chile

red24′s regional analyst for the Americas, Barend Lutz, writes on the re-escalation of Chile’s Student Movement and the upcoming 2013 elections.

Since April 2011, student groups in Chile have conducted a series of countrywide demonstrations as part of an ongoing campaign against education privatisation and exclusive policies. The movement was particularly active in 2011 and early 2012; however, the activity of involved groups subsided significantly between September 2012 and April 2013. There has been a renewed momentum in recent months, as evidenced by an increase in the frequency and intensity of protests; further protests are expected in the coming weeks.

Follow Barend Lutz on Twitter – @LutzBarend

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