Mauritanian president leads rally aimed at cooling ethnic tensions

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz headed a rally aimed at dampening ethnic tensions. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019
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Mauritanian president leads rally aimed at cooling ethnic tensions

  • Mauritanians were given the day off with pay on Wednesday to attend the rally
  • Mauritania is wrestling with tensions between communities of Arab-Berber and sub-Saharan African descent

NOUAKCHOTT: Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Wednesday called for the west African country to root out hate speech as he headed a rally aimed at dampening ethnic tensions.
“The people who are behind this speech are a minority, but we have to put an end to their toxic behavior for the sake of the future,” the president said at the march in the capital Nouakchott.
He also warned he would use a law adopted last year to crack down on “hateful, racist or violent speech.”
A conservative desert country with a populaton of 4.4 million, Mauritania is wrestling with tensions between communities of Arab-Berber and sub-Saharan African descent.
Marchers carried banners promoting ethnic cohesion and chanted “no to hate, no to extremism and inciting violence” at the rally, which organizers said was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
Mauritanians were given the day off with pay on Wednesday for the march, the first led by Aziz since he came to power in a coup in 2008.
He called for the gathering in response to ongoing combative disputes on social networks, including Whatsapp, between the country’s Arab-Berber community and the Haratines, former slaves and their descendants.
Slavery remains deeply entrenched in Mauritania, the last country in the world to abolish the practice in 1981, after light-skinned Berber-Arab Moors enslaved local black populations when they settled there centuries ago.
Aziz said he recognized the country had “social and economic disparities, like everywhere in the world where there are rich and poor,” but the “remedy for this lies in education.”
The opposition declined an invitation to the rally, saying “this march cannot not be a solution” to the problems justifying it and calling for a national dialogue to find “sustainable solutions.”


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 20 July 2019
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.