December 20, 2019 / 2:35 PM / a month ago

Wider Image: Portraits from the frontlines of global protests

(Reuters) - Protests swept the globe in 2019, with millions of people taking to the streets from Catalonia to Colombia, Haiti to Hong Kong.

Umm Mahdi, 66, an Iraqi demonstrator poses for a photograph during the ongoing anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq November 25, 2019. "I come to protest for rights and against illegitimacy. The government is illegitimate, there are no jobs, no housing, no services and the protesters have a good cause. I should be with them because I am like a mother to them," Mahdi said. "If the government provided jobs or housing or services to citizens the youth would not be protesting and sacrificing their lives." "My message to the protesters is: 'I am with you until the last day of my life, I support you - keep your peaceful protests going until you get your rights,'" she continued. "I will not back down from participating in protests until our youth get all their rights from the corrupt and unjust. Any people who protest do so because they have been oppressed." she said REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

Each movement had its own trigger. Some were fed up with corruption and entrenched elites. Others wanted democracy or independence.

Some called for reforms and others opposed them. Worries over climate change and environmental destruction also galvanized activists worldwide. The frustrations were sometimes similar, from inequality to powerlessness.

Often the protests turned violent, with security forces killing several hundred people in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere. Volleys of tear gas became a familiar sight in traditionally peaceful and stable Hong Kong.

Yet amid the gunfire and clouds of tear gas, there was a global solidarity as demonstrators drew on each other’s determination and strength.

Reuters photographers in more than a dozen countries documented the depth of feeling that linked disparate movements.


“Right now we are in a stage of awakening and we have to take advantage of that,” said Andres Felipe Vargas, a professor joining an anti-government strike in Bogota, Colombia.

“What is happening in our country, and these injustices that generate inequities, are the same injustices that are destroying the planet,” he said.

In Algeria, Amiri Yacine, who joined rolling demonstrations since February in opposition to the elite that has controlled the country since independence in 1962, likewise feels his demands are universal.

“I am protesting against injustice and dictatorship,” said Yacine, 26, holding a poster depicting the world’s protests as a blossoming flower, packed amongst hundreds of mostly young demonstrators in Algiers. “We want to build a new Algeria.”

“My message to protesters is just be peaceful - be wise and keep calm. Fight the system with good ideas, because they don’t have ideas.”


Summer has turned to winter in Hong Kong, where demonstrations against a controversial extradition bill turned into a push for greater democracy.

The Beijing-backed government has refused to yield, while the protesters have gathered in vast numbers, turning shopping districts into a sea of black-clad people.

“This is a universal demand for democracy and fairness,” said Jasper, a 27-year-old bank worker, who joined a downtown protest at lunchtime. He cut a suave figure, in a suit, red-and-blue striped tie and pocket square, standing on Pedder Street in the city’s central district.

Like many protesters he declined to give his surname and wore a surgical mask to conceal his identity.

“Every country in the world faces the same situation. This will not be an easy road, but we all know we are doing the right thing.”

The movement has invited comparisons with protesters pushing for independence for the Spanish region of Catalonia, where the sentencing of separatist leaders to long prison terms led to renewed and sometimes violent protests.

“We’re here, mainly young people, outraged by the sentences and the inability of politicians to talk,” said Barcelona student Axel Buxade, 18, holding a Catalan flag at a demonstrators’ camp on a city street.

“There have been acts of mutual support, if they reach their goal we’ll be very happy,” he said, referring to Hong Kong.

Economics, and in particular inequality has also proved potent fuel for protests in Lebanon, Chile, Ecuador and Iraq.

“People in the world are tired of injustice,” said Chilean Alex Munoz Fuentes, a 47-year-old accountant, standing before a burning barricade on a Santiago street.

Slideshow (14 Images)

“I don’t want anything given for free,” he said, the national flag in one hand and a pair of goggles to protect him from the effects of tear gas in the other.

“But I know that in Chile the institutions, the law and the constitution are made to abuse the working classes. I want a new deal.

“Hong Kong is similar, the authorities are not thinking about people’s well-being. I have a fraternal hug for them, and all my solidarity from Chile. Please don’t give up.”

Editing by Angus MacSwan

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