A look at protests that shook the world in 2019

Anti-government protesters hold up their mobile phones during a “United We Stand” rally in Hong Kong, China, December 12, 2019. (Reuters photo)

The year 2019 has seen several volatile protests across the globe. Even though they had varying triggers, all of them somehow amalgamated to one common idea that a change can be brought about if things were done differently. While all protests didn’t see a clear outcome or suggest a definite solution, here's a look at protests that shook the governments significantly:

Global Climate protests

Participants and the trigger | Six million people across the globe took to the streets over the week of September 20 to 27, 2019 to demand immediate action against the rising climate emergency. It took place across 4,500 locations in 150 countries, inspired by a Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg who staged a protest in August 2018. 

Demands | The main motive was to compel governments around the world to take urgent action against the worsening climate conditions. 

Degree of violence | Although many protestors had to go to extraordinary lengths to carry out their protest, the protests were mostly peaceful with people marching down the street with placards, messages, and slogans. 

Impact |  While most countries have set up climate goals to achieve by 2020, no significant decisions have been taken to tackle the lingering climate emergency urgently.

Hong Kong protests 

Participants and the trigger | Initially, started by university and secondary school students, the protest against the Extradition Bill, saw thousands joining it since June. The Bill allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China and tried in the Communist Party courts. 

Demands | They demanded the withdrawal of the Bill, investigation into alleged police brutality, the release of arrested protesters, for protests to not be termed as “riots”, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation along with the implementation of complete universal suffrage.

Degree of violence | It rolled out to be violent with intense standoffs between protesters and the police. Tear gas, rubber bullets, blue-dyed water cannons laced with pepper solution, and live rounds were used on the protesters. Clashes between protesters and counter-protesters became frequent. Over 4,500 people were arrested.

Impact | Despite the demonstration, on June 9, the government proceeded with the bill. Post a massive outrage to stall the bill’s second reading on June 12, Lam suspended the extradition bill on June 15 and declared it “dead” on 9 July. The bill was finally withdrawn on October 23. 

Lebanon protests

Participants and the trigger | On October 17, around 1.3 million people, or 20% of the Lebanese population demonstrated on the streets to protest a corrupt government and taxes on gasoline, tobacco, and online (WhatsApp) phone calls. Although the wastage of public money, a sectarian rule, endemic corruption, and biased legislation were the underlying trigger. 

Demands |  The protesters have been calling for the formation of a competent government and the resignation of the entire political class, including Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and President Michel Aoun.

Degree of violence |  Initially, the non-violent protests have been allowed to flourish peacefully even though it has blocked roads and aided in open-air dance parties. The army, however, used tear gas and chased down protestors in Beirut. 

Impact | Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced the resignation of his government in the aftermath, on October 29.

Iraq protests 

Participants and the trigger | It started on October 1, 2019 by civil activists to protest against 16 years of a crippled and corrupted government to prevent Iranian intervention. They were later joined by people from all strata of the Iraqi society. 

Demands | Protesters demanded a stable and just government.

Degree of violence |  Peaceful daytime protests turned violent when youths from the suburbs sought to violent methods such as using petrol bombs, burning tyres, etc. which the state security forces answered with tear gas, rubber bullets, and snipers. Riots broke out.

Impact | Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced resignation on November 29.

Chile protests 

Participants and the trigger | Initially started as a youth-led mutiny, with students at the movement’s heart, the rebellion managed to seep into the towns and cities outside Chile. Citizens of all ages and social classes joining in to protest a rise in the Santiago Metro’s subway fare, privatisation of government sectors and inequality in the society.

Demands |  They demanded the immediate reversal of public transport fares, reforms in education, healthcare, pension and wage, the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera, and finally drafting of a new constitution.

Degree of violence | Bands of protesters have been vandalising the city’s infrastructure, burning down stations of the Santiago Metro network and disabling them with extensive damage. The government then announced a state of emergency and deployed Chilean Army forces. Nineteen people have died, nearly 2,500 were injured, and 2,840 were arrested as of October.

Impact | On October 28, President Piñera changed eight cabinet ministers and dismissed Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick. On November 15, most National Congress parties agreed on calling a national referendum in April 2020 for a new constitution.

Iran protests 

Participants and the trigger | People across 21 cities took to the streets on November 15 to protest against the 200% increase in fuel prices which later stemmed into a protest against the government and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Demands | They demanded the immediate removal of Ali Khamenei, removal of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and stabilisation of the socio-economic conditions.

Degree of violence | The non-violent protest was made violent by crude government resistances like nationwide internet shutdown, shooting protesters dead with machine-gun fire, and confiscation of dead bodies to conceal casualty count. Protesters, in turn, destroyed 731 government banks and attacked 50 military bases.

Impact | The aftermath saw plans of distribution of using the savings from the price hike to 18 million low-income families, representing 75% of Iran’s population. 

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