2019 - a year of lengthy protests

  • 31 Dec 2019

From climate change to India's complete take over of disputed Kashmir to massive anti-Beijing demonstrations in Hong Kong, here are some of the global protests that dominated headlines in 2019.

Alaa Salah, who quickly became known as Sudan's Nubian protest queen, can be seen protesting in Khartoum against the regime. ( @lana_hago / Twitter )

Globally: Fridays for future protests

"Skolstrejk för klimatet" are the three words that mobilised millions of children to demand that the adults in charge wake up to the climate crisis.

Greta Thunberg, then 15, skipped school on August 20, 2018 to protest outside the Swedish parliament, holding a banner which translated to “school strike for climate”. 

Her actions triggered a mass movement that overtook 2019 with "Fridays for future" protests, in which millions of young people skipped class to strike, armed with placards sporting dire warnings from scientists. 

The  Swedish wunderkind – unknown outside of her homeland a year ago, now a global force with a Nobel nomination – made the climate crisis real and relatable for millions.

Greta Thunberg (C) joins activist outside the UN during a protest against climate change on September 6, 2019 in New York.(AFP)


Hong Kong: anti-Beijing protests

Ongoing protests first fuelled by plans to allow extradition to mainland China snowballed into mass anti-Beijing protests. 

The often-violent protests have been propelled by fears that China is stamping out the autonomous city's liberties.

Two dead, many jailed and thousands wounded so far. 

A university student runs from riot police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, China. November 12, 2019.(Reuters)

Kashmir: protests over loss of autonomy

The nearly five-month-long civil disobedience movement in Indian-administered Kashmir began on August 5 when India unilaterally scrapped Article 370, which allowed the Indian-administered portion of disputed Kashmir to govern itself and have its own flag and constitution.   

In the aftermath, New Delhi placed Kashmir under curfew, cut off all telephone and internet communication and imprisoned thousands of people, including political leaders.  

With the lockdown in week 22, the economy has lost nearly $2.5 billion.

After the law was spiked, Kashmiris protested in cities across the region, defying curfews.

At least one person has been confirmed dead (with several other fatalities reported but unconfirmed), thousands wounded, mostly in pellet-firing or torture, and nearly 5,000 have been arrested thus far.

Protesters shout slogans at a rally against the Indian government's move to strip Kashmir of its autonomy and impose a communications blackout, in Srinagar on August 16, 2019.(AFP)

India: citizenship law protests

Since December 11, Indians have come together to rally against a new citizenship law, the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government.

Modi denies accusations that the law, which eases naturalisation procedures for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring nations, is part of a master plan to reshape India as a purely Hindu nation.

At least 27 people killed, thousands arrested and scores of properties sealed since the protests erupted.

Indians participate in a torch light procession to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Gauhati, India on December 9, 2019.(AP)

Multiple countries: protests in defence of Uighurs

Dissident and diaspora Uighurs continue to protest China's illegal detention of over 1 million Uighur Muslims in vast internment camps. The biggest protests were held in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Protesters hold a demonstration in front of the World Bank's Headquarters in Washington DC, on December 20, 2019, to protest the World Bank’s $50 million funding of Chinese “vocational training centres” in which Uighurs are being held involuntarily.(AFP)


Sudan: anti-Bashir, anti-military rule

It started over bread. 

Protests in Sudan in December 2018 over the price of bread transformed into an uprising against then-president Omar al Bashir. The movement reached its pinnacle in early April when the Sudanese occupied the area outside the defence ministry in Khartoum. 

Not satisfied with Bashir's removal, the protesters remained camped in front of the defence ministry for months, demanding civilian rule. At the height of the unrest, on June 3, troops opened fire on protesters, killing scores in an instant. 

Protests continued full steam against the army-ruled establishment until August when a transitionary military-civilian council was agreed upon.

More than 100 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in police and army action.

Civilians hold their national flag as they celebrate the signing of the Sudan's power-sharing deal that paves the way for a transitional government, and eventual elections following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al Bashir, in Khartoum, Sudan. August 17, 2019.(Reuters)

Algeria: 'revolution of smiles' 

Algeria's protest movement, also called the 'revolution of smiles', erupted in February as veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika prepared to stand for another term in an election. 

While Bouteflika stepped down, demonstrations continue against the old members of the ruling elite who remain in place, including the new President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The massive street protest movement regarded Tebboune's election this month as illegitimate and it seems unlikely to accept any government he appoints.

Some reports suggest less than 10 people were killed, but hundreds were wounded or arrested. 

In this file photo taken on March 15, 2019, Algerians march under a giant national flag during a protest in Algiers against longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika.(AP)

DRC: anti-UN protests

In late November, thousands in the Democratic Republic of the Congo protested against UN peacekeepers.

The protests took place in the Beni area, where a notorious militia has targeted ordinary villagers and Ebola health workers. 

Locals say UN peacekeepers have failed to protect them.

While militia attacks have killed dozens, a peacekeeper is being probed for killing a civilian protester. 

This frame grab taken from video footage shows crowds as they confront UN peackeepers in a UN compound on the outskirts of the eastern DRCongo town of Beni on November 25, 2019.(AFP)

South Africa: xenophobic riots

The country was shaken by a spate of deadly riots and attacks in September that targeted African immigrant populations. 

The attacks sparked a reprisal, leaving many foreigners afraid to live in the country. 

At least 10 people were killed and hundreds wounded. 

A man runs away from tear gas after making off with goods from a store in Germiston, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. September 3, 2019.(AP)


France: the Yellow Vests

The Yellow Vest protests have rocked France since November 2018, with mass demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron's "pro-rich" policies.

They recently joined forces with the French trade unions.

The labour and trade unions spearheaded nationwide strikes since early December in an outcry over Macron’s pensions overhaul, disrupting schools, railways and roads, while lending support to regular protests.

At least 11 people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded. Activists say 24 protesters lost an eye and five lost a hand. At least 8,400 people arrested.

A protester holds a banner on Place d'Italie in Paris on November 16, 2019, during clashes on the sidelines of a demonstration marking the first anniversary of the "yellow vest" (gilets jaunes) movement.(AFP)

Spain: Catalonian independence

Protests swept Catalonia in October after an apex Spanish court sentenced nine separatist politicians and activists to lengthy prison terms. 

The government of the region organised an independence referendum in 2017 and was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence.

It was declared illegal by Madrid. 

No report of deaths. Hundreds wounded or arrested.

A Catalan demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back to the riot police during Catalonia's general strike in Barcelona, Spain. October 18, 2019.(Reuters)

United Kingdom: pro and anti-Brexit protests

More than three years since Britain voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU, the country remains divided. 

Demonstrators who back England's exit from the EU by January 31, 2020 and others who want to remain became a fixture in the gardens opposite to the British parliament. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won approval for his Brexit deal in parliament on December 19, the first step towards fulfilling his election pledge to deliver Britain’s departure after his landslide victory.

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain on October 21, 2019.(Reuters)

Russia: anti-government protests

Beginning in early July, thousands protested in Moscow targeting elections for the city's council and Russia's broader political system, capturing national and international headlines. 

More than 3,000 people were detained by Russian police then. 

Another spell of protests began in September when demonstrators, including several opposition groups, demanded the release of those detained in previous protests.

More than 2,600 people were detained and dozens of peaceful protesters were beaten by police officers.

Protesters take part at a rally calling for opposition candidates to be registered for elections to Moscow City Duma, the capital's regional parliament, in Moscow, Russia. July 27, 2019.(Reuters)

Czech Republic: protests against the prime minister

Czechs have been holding massive marches against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. 

Some of the major rallies were held in June and November, with the one in June considered the largest of its kind since the fall of Communism in 1989.

The June 23 rally at Prague's Letna Park was said to be the Czech Republic's largest protest since the fall of communism in 1989.(AFP)

Italy: 'Sardine' movement against the far-right

Some of the massive protests in Europe took place in Italy this year. 

Organised by the new, youth-driven 'Sardine' movement, some of the rallies saw tens of thousands participating against the far-right the politics of populist opposition leader Matteo Salvini.

Several thousand demonstrators of the Sardines movement gather to protest against the League's Matteo Salvini, in front of Milan's gothic cathedral, Italy. December 1, 2019.(AP)


Chile: protests over living costs

Chileans have been demonstrating since October over social inequality. 

Protests that began over a hike in metro fares have grown to encompass other themes such as violence against women.

The Chilean feminist chant “a rapist in your path” has been performed by activists across the world.

The lyrics criticise the state for not doing enough to stop rapists and denounce the idea that women are responsible for assault.

At least 26 dead, 13,000 wounded and 7,000 detained. 

An anti-government demonstrator is sprayed by a police water cannon during a protest in Santiago, Chile on December 9, 2019. Student protests have become a nationwide call for socio-economic equality and better social services, so far forcing Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to increase benefits for the poor and disadvantaged and start a process of constitutional reform.(AP)

Colombia: anti-government policies

Colombia's ongoing protests began in November against the policies of right-wing President Ivan Duque. 

Strikers want the government to withdraw proposed tax reforms, fully adhere to the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas and dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police.

At least four people have died and 500 have been arrested.

Anti-government demonstrators march during a nationwide strike in Bogota, Colombia. November 21, 2019.(AP)

Bolivia – Protests against president's rule

Bolivia's ex-president Evo Morales resigned on November 10 following swelling protests and military intervention over what political opponents said was his rigging of October 20 elections. 

He fled to Mexico, claiming to be the victim of a coup. 

The country faced counter-protests for Morales, largely by indigenous Bolivians.

More than 30 people were killed and some 1,500 were arrested.

Coca growers, supporters of former President Evo Morales, run away from tear gas as one of them kicks a tears gas canister during clashes with riot police in Sacaba, in the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia. November 15, 2019.(Reuters)

Ecuador: protests against the cancellation of fuel subsidies 

The 2019 Ecuador protests and riots continued for nearly two weeks, resulting in President Lenin Moreno striking a deal with indigenous protest leaders to cancel a controversial austerity package. 

At least eight people were killed and over 1,300 were detained.

Anti-government protesters, a majority of whom were indigenous, reached Ecuador's capital Quito in a bid to enter the country's legislative National Assembly. Protests and violence in Ecuador began on October 3 after the government abolished fuel subsidies. October 12, 2019.(AA)

Venezuela: anti (and pro) Maduro protests

Since the beginning of the year, Venezuela has remained embroiled in political unrest as President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido engage in a struggle for leadership amid a dire economic crisis in the Latin American nation. 

Nearly 20 people have been killed and hundreds have been wounded and arrested. More than four million have fled the country.

Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a pro-government demonstration in Caracas, on November 16, 2019.(AFP)


Iraq: protests against government corruption

Iraq's mass anti-government protests broke out on October 1 over jobs, demanding an overhaul of a political system accused of being corrupt and keeping most of the population in poverty. 

The ongoing protests resulted in the resignation of premier Adil Abdul Mahdi. 

The country has not been able to agree on a replacement. 

Iraq's president refused to designate a prime minister candidate nominated by the Iran-backed parliamentary bloc and offered to resign, plunging the country into further political uncertainty.

More than 450 demonstrators killed so far and more than a dozen members of the security forces have died.

A protester holds an Iraqi flag next to burning tires during ongoing anti-government protests in Karbala, Iraq on November 27, 2019.(Reuters)

Iran: petroleum prices fuel demonstrations

Iran's unrest began on November 15 after the government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300 percent.

The demonstrations spread to more than 100 cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down. 

Tehran gives no official death toll, but Amnesty International documented the deaths of more than 200 protesters.

People protest against increased gas price, on a highway in Tehran, Iran on November 16, 2019.(Reuters)

Lebanon: wrath against political corruption

Lebanon was hit by mass protests after the government announced new tax measures on October 17. 

Protesters accuse the political leadership of corruption and call for social and economic reforms. 

Demonstrations diminished after PM Saad Hariri's resignation. 

At least seven people were killed and hundreds were wounded. 

A demonstrator carries the national flag as riot police officers stand guard during the ongoing anti-government protest, in Beirut, Lebanon.(Reuters)

Palestine: 'right to return' protests

For nearly 20 months, Palestinians have held weekly demonstrations dubbed the "Great March of Return", which have often turned violent as people throw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops who respond by shooting with live fire.

The protests call for an end to a crippling blockade imposed by Israel, and for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel's 1948 occupation.

Factions in the Gaza strip were announced on December 26 to scale back protests in a sign of a lasting detente between Israel and Gaza's Hamas along the volatile frontier.

More than 270 protesters have been killed and thousands have been wounded since March 2018.

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 71st anniversary of the 'Nakba', or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's independence in 1948, near the Israel-Gaza fence, east of Gaza City May 15, 2019.(Reuters)

Data on deaths and arrests was compiled on December 28, 2019 and is subject to change.