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December 8, 2009
Iran’s student day vigils turn into regime change rallies

Every year, December 7 commemorates the deaths of three students who were killed by police during protests against a 1953 visit by then-U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon.

Amateur videos culled from YouTube show that this year’s events quickly transformed into a demonstration opposing their government.

The following video from Dec. 7 shows a large group of passionate high school protesters demanding a change in Iran’s government. Many of the young women are wearing green masks indicating their support for the “green movement.”

The students are chanting: “Teachers with pride – we need your support! / I will kill, I will kill whomever kill my brother! / All political prisoners must be free! / Death to the dictator! / Death to this regime that kills its own people!”

In the video below from Dec. 7th, student protesters from Tehran Polytechnic University demand regime change: “You traitor Mahmoud (Ahmadinejad). We hope that you become a wanderer. You destroyed our homeland! You killed the youths of this country! You sent thousands into the graves! Death to you, death to you! Death to the dictator.”

In the next video, also from Dec. 7th, a massive gathering of student protesters waves pre-Islamic Revolution Persian flags outside Tehran University and chants: “Death to the dictator” and “What has happened to the oil revenue? It has gone to the pockets of Basijis.”

The last video, from Dec. 8th, displays students from Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman demanding a new government, as well as the release of the 204 activists arrested during the Dec. 7th protests.

– Michael Ramirez

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

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December 8, 2009
Guinean military on prowl for suspected Camara shooter

According to news reports, the ruling junta in Guinea is continuing its manhunt for Lt. Aboubacar “Toumba” Diakite, who allegedly shot military ruler Moussa Camara in the head last week.

During the past several days, security officials have rounded up at least 60 people suspected of involvement in the assassination attempt.

Under the sub-headline “In search of Toumba Diakite, the army imposes a reign of terror,” French-language Afrik.com writes:

Roadblocks, vehicle searches, armed raids, arrests and summary executions…The loyalist forces are resolute in their efforts to put their hands on Lt. Diakite, who left the the Guinean junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara with serious head wounds. This is a manhunt that has thrust the population into fear.

Idrissa Cherif, the junta spokesman, said that one of the men responsible for the attack, Mohamed “Begre” Camara, was arrested this morning as he tried to flee the country. Kenya’s NTV has more on the arrest:

Worldfocus blogger Ayo Johnson offers his analysis on the recent turn of events in Guinea:

It is time that elections scheduled for January 2010 go ahead without fail. The shooting of Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara only seems to confirm the lengths to which Guinean soldiers will go — in masking their acts of violence against civilians, solidifying their hold on power and plans to ignore the ballot box all together.

It was exactly a year ago that the death of ruthless dictator Lansana Conte sparked an opportunistic coup by a relatively unknown captain. Moussa declared himself leader of Guinea despite repeated calls from the international community for him to stand down…

A United Nations panel’s visit to Guinea in November to investigate the killing of scores of civilians by Moussa’s troops was the final straw on the camel’s back for this ragtag army.

Moussa’s insistence that he should be included in next year’s elections spelled the end of this so called revolution. Moussa’s credibility was compromised, as he refused to take responsibility for his army. He decided instead to blame Abubakar “Toumba” Diakite, the officer in charge of the operation during the massacre. It is not surprising that a fire fight ensued, leaving Moussa with a bullet wound to the head.

Split elements within the army are now protecting Diakite, who is now in hiding. A second coup is very likely, as Moussa seeks medical attention in Morocco for his injuries. Whenever Moussa recovers from his injuries, he may find it difficult coming back into his country. What is clear is that an internal struggle is imminent, as the military fights an internal war with various top dogs trying to take control of this West African country.

The stakes are high as foreign companies, especially China who have only recently signed a $4.4 billion mining deal. The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) will have to take a far tougher line against the military regime and ask for the regime to leave office immediately. The future and stability of fragile neighboring countries can be easily undermined if Guinea were to become unstable.

Gen. Sekouba Konate, the vice president of the military, is now in charge of the country. Diakite is now on the run and has been sighted heading for the Sierra Leone border area, covenanting in a heightened state of alert from the Sierra Leone border agency.

Watch Ayo Johnson’s interview about the situation on Al Jazeera English:

– Ben Piven

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December 3, 2009
The view from Afghanistan: corruption, illiteracy and loss

Merchants at fabric shop in Afghanistan. Photo: Khushbu Shah

Worldfocus contributing blogger Khushbu Shah lives in Kabul and conducts research for a consulting firm. She writes here about the pervasiveness of corruption in the war-torn nation.

While waiting for my driver outside my friend’s house in Kabul the other night, I had a short but intense conversation with a friend who works in the security sector.

I recounted  a recent trip to twelve different Afghan provinces to monitor survey on a corruption, or rather, as we have tactfully summarized the topic, “public and private services.” Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming response from the urban population was to write corruption off as a social norm, a permanent cultural fixture. One police officer’s response to our corruption query was, “If my commander asks me to go pick up the bribes he has been offered, what do you think I am going to do?”

My experienced friend scoffed at my naïveté and proceeded to tell me about the reality on the ground. As a security officer, he has had to acquire weapons over the course of the past few months, but the procedure is not as simple as going into a shop and registering a weapon. Apparently, weapons come through the black market via the Taliban and must be registered to the government. When asked if the government knows where most of these weapons come from, he said, “What? You think there is a Wal-Mart in Afghanistan where people go to buy guns?”

He then offered more disturbing examples. Even the bases that security companies construct in certain provinces are built with the approval of contractors who have ties to the Taliban.

Just a few months prior to my arrival, the only flight in from Dubai was with a ticket through Ariana Airlines, the Afghan national carrier, even if one had booked with another company. The CEO of Ariana Airlines has strong ties to the Taliban, and essentially, purchasing a plane ticket with Ariana was the only way to receive a visa for Afghanistan.

What I really find disturbing is that the insurgents battling with the international coalition are deeply enmeshed in the corruption. They have ties to reconstruction efforts.  And the same insurgents also sell weapons to individuals and companies.

My last question to my friend — as my driver stood outside in the pouring rain — was one that might be better left unasked: then what are we doing here?

Worldfocus contributing blogger “K” — who was with a U.S. Marine Embedded Training Team in Kunar Province between November 2008 and August 2009 — posted an entry this week about his experiences with Afghan villagers who had suffered at the hands of the Taliban. Here’s an excerpt:

The average Afghan has seen a lot of tragedy in his or her life. They usually don’t feel compelled to share stories that are personal in nature, but I do recall one time when it happened. The mission was to visit a particular village, known for having a huge white house. The village was not far up the valley from our base. In fact, we could see the white house from the base, though it would take a good 30 minutes to walk over there.

Afghan women wait outside a market. Photo: Khushbu Shah

Upon getting into the village, we did the usual – looked around at the terrain and figured out how we were going to set up security with our sparse forces (two Marines and perhaps a dozen ANA) before looking around for the village elder to talk to.

We eventually got ourselves set up and found an elder, who invited me, my terp, and the ANA leader inside “The White House” for tea, nuts, and candies. No matter how poor, down and out an Afghan is, they’ll always have some small provisions for guests. It was a pretty gloomy, rainy day and the old fella seemed kind of down, though it’s never easy to really read people when you can’t understand a word they are saying.

Eventually, his nephews, young men in their 20’s, came out and proceeded to show us pictures of their father, who apparently had been the head man in the village, but had been killed by the insurgents just a few months before. At that point, the older gentlemen teared up and had to leave the room. The story was that the Taliban killed him because he had been a powerful figure in the local area, and wasn’t showing enough support to them. It’s those moments where you really realize how alone those people are. They may have had each other, living in a huge house built of stones fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, but once we left the area that day they were really on their own.

Our base may have been less than a mile away, but we didn’t really know what went on in that village at night. “Protecting the people” in Afghanistan is a tough thing to do.

Writer P.J. Tobia at True/Slant, who lives in Kabul, reacted with extreme skepticism to President Obama’s speech. Tobia helped edit a report filed last month about young, illiterate teens who join Afghan security forces – an account that Afghan officials deny.

After listening to the President’s speech, I’m still not sure what he thinks Afghanistan will look like by the time US forces withdraw in 2011.

Most of those security forces he wants to increase and train are illiterate and undisciplined. Afghan military and police leadership is corrupt, some of them having bought their ranks in order to get in on lucrative bribes from narco-traffickers.

The US and NATO have had eight years to train these men, what could possibly be done in 18 months to seriously professionalize them? Magic?

When the US withdraws from Afghanistan it will leave behind 400,000 well armed men with no education, lousy paychecks (that they sometimes don’t receive), suspect leadership and very few options. This is not a recipe for stability.

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November 30, 2009
Obama’s gracious bow receives thumbs-up in Japan

Obama’s popularity is high in Japan. Photo: Flickr user showbizsuperstar

Conservative columnists and bloggers in the U.S. castigated President Obama for bowing to the Japanese Emperor during his visit to the island nation earlier this month.

Yet, a recent editorial in the English-language newspaper The Japan Times argues that the gesture was seen positively in Japan:

American diplomacy is never without controversy, but who would have imagined that the standard protocol of a bow to the Japanese Emperor from U.S. President Barack Obama would have caused such a fuss?

Apparently, many right-wing critics in America complained that Mr. Obama bowed too low to the Emperor. Those America-centric conservatives took Mr. Obama’s bow as a signal of America’s weakness. Japan and most of the rest of the world saw that bow for what it was — a sincere gesture of respect and a step toward healthier relations.

Those who know Japanese culture even a little would not interpret this type of bow as subservience, much less as any indication of America’s low status on the world stage. In Japan, bowing is as natural as taking off one’s shoes when entering a home, though with more profound meanings. The conservative American critics of Mr. Obama would surely have found fault no matter how deep he bowed.

The arrival of a U.S. president who is aware of the importance of symbolic meanings and diplomatic gestures comes as a relief to most countries after the Bush administration’s scarcity of interaction on any but its own terms.

As Mr. Obama well knows, a bow could have many different meanings within Japanese culture. It can be an everyday greeting, a simple thanks or a deep apology. Mr. Obama’s bow carried less of these meanings than it did a sense of engagement. Stepping into another country’s cultural complexities shows strength of character and self-assurance. Unlike the “cowboy diplomacy” of the former Bush administration, Mr. Obama clearly recognizes cultural realities…

In fact, Mr. Obama’s gesture was not delivered as smoothly as are most of his speeches, which have become popular English-language study materials in Japan. Shaking hands at the same time as bowing nearly 45 degrees combines East and West in an uneasy single gesture. Usually, when East meets West, a bow precedes a handshake, or vice versa, or one is simply dispensed with.

No matter, most Japanese probably would not know the correct way to bow to the Emperor either, and the politeness inherent in his gesture is the key point. Mr. Obama’s bow also indicated recognition that Japan is a unique and sovereign country that holds a large proportion of U.S. government bonds.

Another momentous stop on his Asian tour was the world’s other massive economy, and another major holder of U.S. bonds — China. Mr. Obama’s bow, then, certainly demonstrated a pragmatic element that extends to Asia more broadly. Mr. Obama brought a practical agenda to the tour and a desire to reaffirm connections with Asian governments and Asian economies. The way forward in Asia will only come through sustained and fair-minded negotiations that involve all the region’s countries.

The Bush administration’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, undertaken with blind disregard for those cultures’ realities, are unlikely to serve as a model for economic revitalization or cultural exchange, much less for spreading democracy. More important than small gestures is the harder work of concrete decisions and sensible actions. Finding common agreements that mutually benefit all countries in the Asian region is now the main focus. Bowing was the easy part.

Blogger Brad Rice reports that the Japanese were so enamored of the U.S. president that they coined a new Japanese verb obamu — to proceed optimistically despite challenging obstacles.

News footage on YouTube of President Obama’s bow to the Japanese Emperor

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November 9, 2009
U.S. presidents seize political spotlight in symbolic Berlin

Berlin lies at the center of the German political imagination and was the focal point of the Iron Curtain that separated Eastern and Western Europe during the Cold War.

So, Berlin has also played host to some of America’s greatest presidential speeches. In June 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” address:

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered his “Tear Down This Wall” speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, imploring the Soviet leader to end the Cold War:

And most recently, in July 2008, Barack Obama spoke to 200,000 Europeans about re-establishing transatlantic bonds in one of his most memorable campaign addresses:

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November 9, 2009
The view from abroad on the end of the Berlin Wall

On the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Worldfocus staffers report on some of the reactions from around the world.

Ivette Feliciano translated the following blog posts from Venezuela and Cuba:

From Profeballa, a Venezuelan blogger: “It’s been 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, when will Venezuela’s wall come down? As I’ve said before, it will fall once more Venezuelans become aware of their rights and knock it down. When they destroy the mental wall that keeps us underdeveloped…”

From Elías Amor Bravo, an anti-communist political writer: “The fall of the Berlin wall 20 years ago is a very important event for all Cubans. We shared in their optimism and were happy to see how families were reunited after decades of communism that separated them. The fall also forced the Cuban government to make changes it never intended to make, due to the absence of political, ideological, and financial resources that formerly came to the Island from the USSR. The period after the fall of the wall allowed for the free circulation of money, the authorization of private activity, although it was under rigorous control, foreign investment, and tourism…It also allowed for Cubans on the island to have more contact with family members abroad, and in turn mobilized many to organize themselves as dissidents and opposed to the government, something formerly unheard of….”

A Berlin Wall commemorative stamp.

The Argentinian website INFOBAE makes note of the Cuban government’s reaction to the date: “The official press in Cuba will ignore the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. They only recognized and celebrated the 92nd anniversary of the October Lenin revolution…”

Gizem Yarbil notes an interesting story from The Wall Street Journal about a red deer called Ahornia refusing to cross the old Iron Curtain. Ahornia inhabits the area along the border that once separated West Germany from Czechoslovakia. This area is now part of Europe’s biggest nature preserve thriving with a lively combination of wild animals that roam freely across the once fortified border. But according to the article, Ahornia is the only species that stops and turns back once it reaches the barrier zone where once an electrified fence and barbed wire used to stand. It quotes a German producer of nature films who has worked in the area says, “The wall in the head is still there.”

Contributing blogger Vadim Nikitin writes about where nostalgia is the strongest for the former Soviet Union — the Global South. Read the full post here:

According to a BBC poll published on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, “Opinion about the disintegration of the Soviet Union is sharply divided. Europeans overwhelmingly say it was a good thing: 79% in Germany, 76% in Britain and 74% in France feel that way. But outside the developed West it is a different picture. Almost seven in 10 Egyptians say the end of the Soviet Union was a bad thing and views are sharply divided in India, Kenya and Indonesia”.

This despite the fact that India and Indonesia, as well as Russia, have experienced unprecedented levels of economic growth since 1991.

What could explain such nostalgia? One factor might be a general disenchantment with free-market capitalism:

“More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands. Almost a quarter – 23% of those who responded – feel it is fatally flawed. That is the view of 43% in France, 38% in Mexico and 35% in Brazil”.

Much of the global dissatisfaction with capitalism, the report suggests, stems from that system’s production and exacerbation of income inequality. While economies based on high growth models may produce more wealth as a whole, its distribution is skewed overwhelmingly in favor of a small minority.

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November 4, 2009
Debating the shape of a neighborhood in Tokyo

Global Voices: The World is Talking, Are You Listening?

Tokyo’s neighborhoods straddle between the need for modern development and the desire to maintain historical buildings and structures.

For instance, Fujiizaka, affectionately named “the slope for seeing Mount Fuji,” in the Nippori neighborhood, has been increasingly blocked by tall buildings that obstruct its view. Residents have banded together to push for preservation. The neighborhood cause is slowly gaining support as a growing desire to preserve historical places takes hold in Tokyo, reported the New York Times.

The city of Tokyo is geographically complex, with 8.5 million people living in 23 districts that span 620 kilometers.  The history of the city’s development is characterized by a continual process of restructuring and growth. It is a city that is renewed on average every twenty years, with few buildings surviving from the past.

This is due in part because as the capital of Japan since 1868, it has been used as a showcase for the Japanese modern age. It has also seen major development because of the need for new construction after World War II, earthquakes and the Olympics, according to the Goethe-Institut.

Chris Salzberg, a writer/translator living in Tokyo, Japan discusses the reaction to the recent development plan for the neighborhood of Shimokitazawa for Global Voices Online.

Tokyo has no lack of small, winding streets. Shibuya has its maze of criss-crossing shōtengai, Roppongi its club-lined back alleyways, Ueno its open-air street markets. But no neighborhood in Tokyo packs more complexity per square foot than Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood whose layout bears closer resemblance to a ball of thread than to anything an urban planner would come up with.


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Shimokitazawa’s spaghetti-like mess of streets and train lines evoke passion among some, frustration among others. The area has earned a name for itself as a breeding ground for creative young artists with its dozens of small theaters, art galleries and music venues. While eccentric characters like Rikimaru Toho fit perfectly into this urban environment, others see the maze of narrow streets as a dangerous fire hazard and a giant urban congestion knot in need of unwinding.

The entire area happens to lie in the path of a would-be thoroughfare running through Shimokitazawa to Shibuya, originally set forth in a “War damage revival plan” drafted all the way back in 1946. After several changes, that plan was brought back to life in 2003 and demolition and construction work has been slated to start in 2010. Should it be executed, the plan will split Shimokitazawa apart with a 26-meter wide expressway, Subsidiary Route 54 (補助54号線).

While the basic shape of those redevelopment plans had been known for some time, it was only a few weeks ago that the first glimpses of the new design finally emerged on the blog of Kuniyoshi Yoshida, a local landowner and head of the Shimokitazawa South [ja] shopowners’ union. Comments which began to appear on the blog, blasting the new design for its failure to respect the Shimokitazawa atmosphere, were swiftly deleted, but hostility against the plans only grew.

See this video of the streets of Shimokitazawa neighborhood below:

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October 16, 2009
Maldives underwater meeting to address climate change

Small island nations have much at stake at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

The Maldives, along with other islands such as Seychelles and Tuvalu, is organizing a series of activities and events to pressure the international community to take action. On Saturday it will hold an underwater cabinet meeting designed to highlight the danger Maldives faces from rising waters and rising temperatures.

Global Voices Online posted a roundup of blogs from Maldives explaining what the small island nation is doing to publicize the urgency of the issue.

One of the first major events, run by Avaaz.org, was a Global Climate Wake-Up Call on Septemer 21 in Malé, the capital of Maldives.

The International Day of Climate Action, coordinated by 350.org, will be on October 24. Among the events of that day: 350 grounded motor vehicles and a 350 kilowatt reduction in energy consumption in Malé.

“350” signifies the safe upper limit (in parts per million) for carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. The current level is 389 ppm. Vroomfondel explains the movement’s goals:

By having actions all around the world that day, 350.org plans to send a clear message to the world leaders (who will be meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark this December to craft a new global treaty on cutting emissions) that ‘the solutions to climate change must be equitable, they must be grounded in science, and they must meet the scale of the crisis.’

In addition, the Maldives Photographers Association together with the Maldives Science Society is planning to send 350 unique postcards to 350 world leaders and personalities who will be attending the Copenhagen conference (COP15).

350Postcards distributed a compelling YouTube promotional video for the photo campaign:

Zim, a blogger and diving instructor, describes the underwater rally and subsequent underwater cabinet meeting:

One of the key events on the international day of action is the 24 hour Underwater Rally organized by the Divers Association of Maldives (DAM). 350 divers, diving in teams are going to spend 24 hours underwater. The message DAM is giving is that Maldives is sinking and it’s more than just a country being lost to the sea. A unique heritage is gone. An irreplaceable ecosystem is being destroyed…

The President of Maldives along with all the cabinet ministers are going to meet underwater while using scuba. Using hand signals and slates they are going to endorse and sign a message from the people of Maldives to the world leaders meeting at Copenhagen this December for the Conference of Parties (COP 15)…

We are on the edge. With just a couple of steps forward Maldives along with a number of other vulnerable countries will be lost beneath the waves. We ask everybody not to sign our suicide pact.

Climate change NGO Bluepeace explains in a blog why the world should pay attention to “Vulnerable,” a photo exhibition in Maldives:

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, Maldives is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The proliferation of images in today’s internet age is such that Maldives is known the world over as a stunning holiday destination. While Maldives has been the subject of many documentaries and news articles regarding climate change, to date no documentary has been produced by Maldivians for an international audience. This is a chance for Maldives to show vulnerability to the world as seen through our eyes.

Lastly, a Maldivian blogger Fenfulhangi asks some key questions about the December conference:

Will the new [Maldividan] President Mohammed Nasheed attend the [Copenhagen] summit with the talks of lack of funding in the government budget?

As one of the major contributors to Climate Change and its adverse effects, will the USA sign onto the new document that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol that USA previously refused to sign onto?

Will there be same or harsher penalties for developing countries that emit large amounts of CO2 or will it be the richer countries who pay?

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October 8, 2009
Violence in Guinea shocks international community

Victims of the September 28th events in Conakry.

A number of Western governments have stepped up their condemnations of recent violence and brutality in Guinea.

An estimated 157 died last week as government troops shot demonstrators who were voicing their disapproval of military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara’s decision to become a candidate in January’s elections.

On Monday, a senior U.S. diplomat arrived in Guinea to scold the embattled regime for cracking down on the massive September 28th political protest in Conakry, the capital.

The U.S. envoy met with Captain Camara for two hours, blaming him personally for the violence and instructing him not to run in the upcoming elections.

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has urged international intervention and said that France would no longer work with the dictator.

But, for his part, Captain Camara defended the actions of his soldiers in an interview with a dozen foreign journalists yesterday night.

The government blames the opposition for the large death toll.

Senegalese French-language daily newspaper
Le Messager described Camara as having “responded to the reporters’ questions…with pleasure.” The article gives a detailed account of Camara blaming the opposition for the riots and subsequent deaths:

He placed responsibility for the killings on the political leaders who organized the demonstrations, despite the protest ban. [Camara] declared that the protesters “attacked police buildings…and burned cars. These are leaders who have told children to go take up arms.”

[Camara continued], “That was a plot against me. It failed. The opposition believed that their protest would provoke the security forces to crack down on the civilian population, and that afterward, I would be overthrown. It was premeditated.”

But the photo evidence may be stacked against Guinea’s leader. An article in Monday’s New York Times describes three cellphone snapshots of the sexual violence committed against women:

One photograph shows a naked woman lying on muddy ground, her legs up in the air, a man in military fatigues in front of her. In a second picture a soldier in a red beret is pulling the clothes off a distraught-looking woman half-lying, half-sitting on muddy ground. In a third a mostly nude woman lying on the ground is pulling on her trousers.

According to human rights groups, the rape toll was staggering, and Guinea’s women seem to have borne the brunt of the military’s repression.

Blogger Laura Sjoberg, a political scientist at the University of Florida, analyzes the riots from a female perspective:

There’s an obvious point for those who would see [international relations] through gendered lenses here: women’s rights. What happened to the women who were raped in Guinea is terrible, fraught with gender subordination, violent, and should never happen to anyone ever again.

It would be a mistake for gender analysis of this situation and the news stories portraying it to stop there, however.

Through gender lenses, I’m interested in the question of how it came to be that “rape is a fairly common tool of military repression” (the article adds “in Africa,” but most research on wartime rape shows that the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war is not geographically or culturally limited). What is it about rape that makes it an effective tool of repression and war-fighting?

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September 29, 2009
Guinea security forces crack down, kill more than 100

Conakry residents load a minibus. Flickr photo: martapiqs under a Creative Commons license.

Almost one year after a bloodless coup in December 2008 — during which Captain Moussa Dadis Camara took power several hours after the death of Guinea’s 24-year leader — violence has begun to rock the West African nation’s capital city of Conakry.

The regime’s forces stormed a political rally held on Monday at a football stadium and dispersed the crowd of some 50,000 using tear gas and gunshots. Human rights groups have called for security forces to halt its violent crackdown on political dissidents.

The authoritarian military ruler had pledged to restore civilian rule 60 days after seizing power, but elections have been delayed until 2010.

Protesters are demonstrating against Captain Camara’s presumed candidacy in the elections. A recent announcement proclaimed that the current ruling military council also intends to run.

Human Rights Watch quotes one witness describing the actions of security personnel:

I saw the Red Berets [an elite unit within the military] catch some of the women who were trying to flee, rip off their clothes, and stick their hands in their private parts. Others beat the women, including on their genitals. It was pathetic –- the women were crying out.

Blogger Konngol Afirik (translated here from the original French) also blames the elite Red Beret units for the violence:

Though the junta banned all demonstrations, the “Forces Vives” decided to have it anyway…The Red Berets are known for blind cruelty. Most of the dead and wounded fell at the hands of this elite unit better equipped and paid than the regular army…

Two of the main opposition leaders, Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sydia Toure, are among the wounded. Once again, the African Union and CEDEAO and their international partners are revealed as ineffective against this putsch leader, who is ready to walk on corpses to remain in power.

Worldfocus contributing blogger Ethan Zuckerman writes in his blog, My heart’s in Accra, that the African Union, which refuses to recognize military governments, should encourage Guinea to hold elections as soon as possible:

What’s been interesting for me, in the short term, is watching the few comments mentioning #Guinea on Twitter are focusing on media coverage. Nasser Weddady, outreach director for HAMSA [Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance], offered this tweet a couple of hours ago: “In plain English: screw #Polanski, I am more interested in what’s happening in #Guinea than that fugitive pervert.” It’s been retweeted several times, reflecting either a frustration at media coverage, or simply that lack of any other news out of Guinea at this point…

How Guinea could have emerged as a major power based on its (bauxite) mineral wealth is a sad, familiar, important and insufficiently understood story.

– Ben Piven

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