Friday, December 09, 2016 EDITORIAL

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 EDITORIAL 

Enforced disappearances and unrelenting teardrops

Some conjecture the death of a dear one as a subtraction, and some see it as an infinite void; but those who bewail for their dear ones subjected to enforced disappearance are the most awful sufferers as they keep on waiting and hoping against hope if a miracle happens and the vanished one comes back. But that is not to be. A considerable number of opposition BNP senior leaders have become victims of enforced disappearance by law enforcement agencies—-Ilyas Ali, Chowdhury Alam, Salahuddin Ahmed et al. The list is too long.
Hence teardrops keep on rolling down the cheeks of bereaved mothers, wives and children who have been hoping for long that the government and the state law enforcing agencies will act with all due seriousness to find out the victims of enforced disappearance. The delay has been inordinate since they were abducted, but precious little has been done by the government so far. What else can the wretched lot do except wailing and weeping, or again, hoping against hope?
None can perceive or empathize with the torment of the bereaved members of the families who are yet to know whether their ‘disappeared’ loved ones are alive. Worse still, if in a rare stroke of luck they return at all, whether they will be alive.  This year too, bereaved families repeated pleas with the authorities that went in vain after their loved ones had allegedly been picked up by law enforcers in 2012 and 2013. But they have clutch on to the anticipation that the 20 victims of enforced disappearance would return to them if the Prime Minister intervenes in this matter, which is what they demanded at a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka on 05 December 2016.
Sajedul Islam Suman, who was the general secretary of ward-38 of the BNP’s Dhaka city unit, was held along with five others in the Bashundhara residential area in Dhaka on December 4, 2013, said Suman’s family. None of them came back and their families don’t know their whereabouts. Suman’s elder sister Afroza Islam at the conference said the family had gone to government high-ups and law-enforcement agencies, seeking help to get him back. “I no longer want to go anywhere,” said a sobbing Afroza, demanding return of her brother. The authorities should realise the agony the victims’ families have been through since they went missing, she added, reported the Daily Star.
Nineteen of the victims were picked up from different places in the capital and its adjacent areas between November 28 and December 11, 2013, according to their families.  Another person was picked up in 2012. Some of the victims were students while some leaders and activists of the BNP and its affiliated bodies.
Surprisingly, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, “There is no such thing like enforced disappearance.” While addressing an event in the capital, he said guardians made allegations of enforced disappearance but their sons might have gone into hiding. “They have been hiding for many reasons,” he said, adding that it was seen in the past that such “victims” did return.
There is nothing for us to comment.

 
The Santals deserve a fair deal
 
A brazen breach of contract engendered the crisis of over 1,000 families of indigenous Santal community. Following widespread looting and mass arrests in the latest flashpoint of a long standing land dispute, they were forced to abandon their houses in Gaibandha in northern Bangladesh when Shyamol Soren, a Santal, died after sustaining a bullet injury. A news report accompanied the photo of a person setting a house of the Santal community on fire in presence of at least 17 policemen on 06 November 2016.
The mass exodus took place in Shahebganj-Bagda farm areas, which fall under the Rangpur Sugar Mill in Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha district. [Vide Dhaka Tribune, dated 07 November 2016].
Santals are one of the oldest and largest indigenous tribes in northwestern Bangladesh but in Gaibandha the community has been in a long dispute over land since the Rangpur Sugar Mill authorities started leasing plots for cultivation of rice and other crops. This violates the contract agreed under the then Pakistan government, which acquired 1,842 acres of land from Santals for the mill on the understanding that only sugar cane would be farmed there and the land would be returned to the original owners if it was used for any other purposes.
According to the indigenous community leaders, the mill authorities have been allowing tobacco and rice farming on the land “for years”. As the contract was violated, indigenous Santal people and some local Bengali people began four months ago to occupy around 100 acres of land, building makeshift houses there and demanding return of their lands that belonged to their forefathers.
“The mill opened on condition that the leasers will have to harvest at least 10 per cent as sugarcane while other products can be harvested in the remaining 90 per cent of the space. This was a violation of law,” said a source. Leases were reportedly given to local influential political and affluent people, including Katabari No.2 union chairman and the younger brother of former Member of Parliament.
After accepting a report in this regard from Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation, the High Court directed the authorities concerned to harvest paddy from another 15 acres of Rangpur Sugar Mills land within a fortnight for Santals in Gaibandha’s Gobindaganj as the crop was grown by them.
Unlike the Chakma Shanti Bahini guerrillas armed and trained by India who fought a protracted bloody war for over two decades with the nascent Bangladesh Army [Vide Terrorism in India’s North-east: A Gathering Storm, Volume 1, pp 552-3, by Col. Ved Parkash, Kalpaz Publications, August 2008, ISBN-10: 8178356600], the Santals are a peaceable people for centuries. So bottom line is that implementation of the original contract and due compensation to the aggrieved Santal families brook no delay.

Comment

Some conjecture the death of a dear one as a subtraction, and some see it as an infinite void; but those who bewail for their dear ones subjected to enforced disappearance are the most awful sufferers as they keep on waiting and hoping against hope if a miracle happens and the vanished one comes back. But that is not to be. A considerable number of opposition BNP senior leaders have become victims of enforced disappearance by law enforcement agencies—-Ilyas Ali, Chowdhury Alam, Salahuddin Ahmed et al. The list is too long.
Hence teardrops keep on rolling down the cheeks of bereaved mothers, wives and children who have been hoping for long that the government and the state law enforcing agencies will act with all due seriousness to find out the victims of enforced disappearance. The delay has been inordinate since they were abducted, but precious little has been done by the government so far. What else can the wretched lot do except wailing and weeping, or again, hoping against hope?
None can perceive or empathize with the torment of the bereaved members of the families who are yet to know whether their ‘disappeared’ loved ones are alive. Worse still, if in a rare stroke of luck they return at all, whether they will be alive.  This year too, bereaved families repeated pleas with the authorities that went in vain after their loved ones had allegedly been picked up by law enforcers in 2012 and 2013. But they have clutch on to the anticipation that the 20 victims of enforced disappearance would return to them if the Prime Minister intervenes in this matter, which is what they demanded at a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka on 05 December 2016.
Sajedul Islam Suman, who was the general secretary of ward-38 of the BNP’s Dhaka city unit, was held along with five others in the Bashundhara residential area in Dhaka on December 4, 2013, said Suman’s family. None of them came back and their families don’t know their whereabouts. Suman’s elder sister Afroza Islam at the conference said the family had gone to government high-ups and law-enforcement agencies, seeking help to get him back. “I no longer want to go anywhere,” said a sobbing Afroza, demanding return of her brother. The authorities should realise the agony the victims’ families have been through since they went missing, she added, reported the Daily Star.
Nineteen of the victims were picked up from different places in the capital and its adjacent areas between November 28 and December 11, 2013, according to their families.  Another person was picked up in 2012. Some of the victims were students while some leaders and activists of the BNP and its affiliated bodies.
Surprisingly, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, “There is no such thing like enforced disappearance.” While addressing an event in the capital, he said guardians made allegations of enforced disappearance but their sons might have gone into hiding. “They have been hiding for many reasons,” he said, adding that it was seen in the past that such “victims” did return.
There is nothing for us to comment.

 
The Santals deserve a fair deal
 
A brazen breach of contract engendered the crisis of over 1,000 families of indigenous Santal community. Following widespread looting and mass arrests in the latest flashpoint of a long standing land dispute, they were forced to abandon their houses in Gaibandha in northern Bangladesh when Shyamol Soren, a Santal, died after sustaining a bullet injury. A news report accompanied the photo of a person setting a house of the Santal community on fire in presence of at least 17 policemen on 06 November 2016.
The mass exodus took place in Shahebganj-Bagda farm areas, which fall under the Rangpur Sugar Mill in Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha district. [Vide Dhaka Tribune, dated 07 November 2016].
Santals are one of the oldest and largest indigenous tribes in northwestern Bangladesh but in Gaibandha the community has been in a long dispute over land since the Rangpur Sugar Mill authorities started leasing plots for cultivation of rice and other crops. This violates the contract agreed under the then Pakistan government, which acquired 1,842 acres of land from Santals for the mill on the understanding that only sugar cane would be farmed there and the land would be returned to the original owners if it was used for any other purposes.
According to the indigenous community leaders, the mill authorities have been allowing tobacco and rice farming on the land “for years”. As the contract was violated, indigenous Santal people and some local Bengali people began four months ago to occupy around 100 acres of land, building makeshift houses there and demanding return of their lands that belonged to their forefathers.
“The mill opened on condition that the leasers will have to harvest at least 10 per cent as sugarcane while other products can be harvested in the remaining 90 per cent of the space. This was a violation of law,” said a source. Leases were reportedly given to local influential political and affluent people, including Katabari No.2 union chairman and the younger brother of former Member of Parliament.
After accepting a report in this regard from Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation, the High Court directed the authorities concerned to harvest paddy from another 15 acres of Rangpur Sugar Mills land within a fortnight for Santals in Gaibandha’s Gobindaganj as the crop was grown by them.
Unlike the Chakma Shanti Bahini guerrillas armed and trained by India who fought a protracted bloody war for over two decades with the nascent Bangladesh Army [Vide Terrorism in India’s North-east: A Gathering Storm, Volume 1, pp 552-3, by Col. Ved Parkash, Kalpaz Publications, August 2008, ISBN-10: 8178356600], the Santals are a peaceable people for centuries. So bottom line is that implementation of the original contract and due compensation to the aggrieved Santal families brook no delay.

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The Rohingya genocide: No longer a myth

Dr. Habib Siddiqui
 
A genocide is taking place against the Rohingyas of Myanmar. It is not a new one in this Buddhist-majority country and has been an on-going ethnic cleansing national program to erase Muslim presence since Burma emerged as an independent state.
After General Ne Win took power in 1962 in a military coup, the status of Rohingya further deteriorated. His military junta adopted a policy of “Myanmarisation”, which was an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of the Myanma (or more properly Bama) ethnicity and its Buddhist faith.
 
The most persecuted
By 1977, the Rohingyas had witnessed at least 13 pogroms. Their condition turned worse in 1978 when the Naga Min or King Dragon Operation started on February 6 from the biggest Muslim village of Sakkipara in Akyab (now called Sittwe). The purpose of this operation was to scrutinize each individual within the state as either a citizen or alleged “illegal immigrant”. It sent shock waves over the whole region within a short time. The news of mass arrest of Muslims, male and female, young and old, torture, rape and killing in Akyab panicked Muslims greatly in other towns of North Arakan (now called the Rakhine state).
In March 1978 the operation reached Buthidaung and Maungdaw (close to the border with Bangladesh). Hundreds of Muslim men and women were thrown into the jail and many of them were tortured and killed. Muslim women were raped freely in the detention centers. Terrified by the utter ferocity and ruthlessness of the operation and total uncertainty of their life, property, honor and dignity, a large number Rohingya Muslims left their homes to cross the Burma-Bangladesh border. Within 3 months nearly a quarter million Rohingyas took shelter in makeshift camps erected by Bangladesh Government.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized them as genuine refugees and started relief operations. Many of the refugees were later repatriated to Myanmar where they faced further torture, rape, jail and death.
To justify the on-going ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the Burma Citizenship Law (1982), co-authored by a wicked Rakhine academic Aye Kyaw, was passed during the Ne Win era. The Rohingyas were not listed as one of the country’s 135 “national races” entitled to Burmese citizenship, effectively making them a people without a state — even after living for generations in Arakan. They became the most persecuted people in our planet.
 
Discrimination institutionalized
“Stripped officially of their citizenship, the Rohingya found their lives in limbo: prohibited from the right to own land or property, barred from travelling outside their villages, repairing their decaying places of worship, receiving an education in any language or even marrying and having children without rarely granted government permission. The Rohingya have also been subjected to modern-day slavery, forced to work on infrastructure projects, such as constructing ‘model villages’ to house the Myanmar settlers intended to displace them, reminiscent of their treatment at the hands of the Burmese kings of history,” Professor Akbar Ahmed observes.
To further terrorize the already marginalized Rohingya people, the Pyi Thaya Operation (or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation) was launched by the military in July 1991. This major pogrom lasting for nearly a year resulted in the exodus of some 268,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh.  The United Nations Refugee Agency referred to those operations as “ethnic cleansing campaigns led by the military junta itself.”
Dr. Michael W. Charney, a University of London scholar who specializes in Southeast Asian studies, wrote in his paper Buddhism in Arakan:
Theory and Historiography of the Religious Basis of the Ethnonym that the “Rohingya […] are compelled to thrive under really testing conditions where even their personal lives are under strict state scrutiny. Whatever property they inherited from their ancestors have been forcefully taken away from them, and granted to the Buddhist majority under the banner of different national schemes that served to institutionalize and hence legitimize racist discrimination of Rohingya”.
Benjamin Zawacki, Senior Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia at the International Commission of Jurists, in his article Defining Myanmar’s “Rohingya Problem,” this is “a political, social, and economic system – manifested in law, policy, and practice – designed to discriminate against this ethnic and religious minority [which] makes such direct violence against the Rohingya far more possible and likely than it would be otherwise”.
 
MaBaTha’s hate crime
NaSaKa (Nay-Sat Kut-kwey Ye), a border security/military force, was created in 1992 to terrorize the Rohingyas of Arakan on a daily basis.  It was to be found only in North Arakan (Rakhine) state, where they became the main perpetrators of human rights abuse against the Rohingya. Since 1994, it has been illegal for married Rohingya to have more than two children. In the words of Pulitzer-winning journalist and photographer Greg Constantine “almost all aspects of their lives in North Rakhine are controlled or exploited by NaSaKa.”
The persecution and abuses of power by the NaSaKa, terrorizing the Rohingya, continued unabated for decades until it was disbanded with the advent of a so-called reform government that was led by Thein Sein, an ex-military general. He promised democracy and opened the doors of Myanmar for foreign investment. The gesture was reciprocated by the West by withdrawing its economic and military sanctions against the once-pariah government.
During Thein Sein’s time, the old IDs and national cards were all seized from the Rohingya people and banned from participating in the general elections. What is worse, his regime empowered Buddhist terrorist monks who through popular religio-fascist organizations like the MaBaTha continued to spread hate crimes and prepare the groundwork for the latest genocidal crimes against all Muslims. The Rohingyas were portrayed as ‘illegals’ from Bangladesh who are’ threatening’ the Buddhist identity of the country through ‘high birth rates’.  Deliberately omitting the fact that the percentage of Muslims were declining since Burma won independence from Britain.
Shwe Maung, a Rakhine politician, told The Economist that “[Rohingyas] are trying to Islamize us through their terrible birth rate.” Wirathu, the terrorist Buddhist monk, mentioned to Global Post “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent.  They eat their own kind.” Finally, President Thein Sein reiterated that: “the Rohingya were not citizens of Myanmar” and he wished to “hand over the entire ethnic group to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in order to settle them in a different country.”
 
Suu Kyi’s nonchalance
It was in this highly poisonous environment that the 2012 genocidal campaigns against the Rohingya was unleashed. Within weeks in June nearly a quarter million Muslims were internally displaced inside Myanmar in an orgy of Buddhist violence that was participated from top to bottom, enjoying full support from the government, politicians and the Buddhist monks. It was Rwanda all over again in this genocidal crime against the Muslims, esp. the Rohingyas, of Myanmar.
From the Human Rights Watch to the academic experts are also saying Rohingyas are victims of genocide. Phil Robertson, Asia director for Humans Right Watch, wrote nearly four years ago that “the Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today”. Professor William Schabas, former President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, went a step further and cautioned, “we’re moving into a zone where the [genocide] word can be used.”
According to ARNO, after 9 October this year more than 500 innocent Rohingya civilians were killed, hundreds of women raped, about 3,500 houses were burned down, unknown number of people arrested and involuntarily disappeared, and at least 40,000 internally displaced, in addition to systematic destruction of rice, paddy and food products. About 10,000 people had also fled to Bangladesh. Regular humanitarian assistance has been disrupted for many weeks, putting at risk over 150,000 vulnerable people. And yet, Suu Kyi remains nonchalant by such gross violations of her security forces. Like a sly politician who is more interested in solidifying her hold to power, she seems approving of the war crimes of her murderous military who continues to use her as a pawn to carry out their religio-fascist Myanmarism.
The Rohingya predicament underlines a paradox for Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and kindness and yet, we see little evidence of this in its dealings with the Rohingya people.

Comment

Dr. Habib Siddiqui
 
A genocide is taking place against the Rohingyas of Myanmar. It is not a new one in this Buddhist-majority country and has been an on-going ethnic cleansing national program to erase Muslim presence since Burma emerged as an independent state.
After General Ne Win took power in 1962 in a military coup, the status of Rohingya further deteriorated. His military junta adopted a policy of “Myanmarisation”, which was an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of the Myanma (or more properly Bama) ethnicity and its Buddhist faith.
 
The most persecuted
By 1977, the Rohingyas had witnessed at least 13 pogroms. Their condition turned worse in 1978 when the Naga Min or King Dragon Operation started on February 6 from the biggest Muslim village of Sakkipara in Akyab (now called Sittwe). The purpose of this operation was to scrutinize each individual within the state as either a citizen or alleged “illegal immigrant”. It sent shock waves over the whole region within a short time. The news of mass arrest of Muslims, male and female, young and old, torture, rape and killing in Akyab panicked Muslims greatly in other towns of North Arakan (now called the Rakhine state).
In March 1978 the operation reached Buthidaung and Maungdaw (close to the border with Bangladesh). Hundreds of Muslim men and women were thrown into the jail and many of them were tortured and killed. Muslim women were raped freely in the detention centers. Terrified by the utter ferocity and ruthlessness of the operation and total uncertainty of their life, property, honor and dignity, a large number Rohingya Muslims left their homes to cross the Burma-Bangladesh border. Within 3 months nearly a quarter million Rohingyas took shelter in makeshift camps erected by Bangladesh Government.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized them as genuine refugees and started relief operations. Many of the refugees were later repatriated to Myanmar where they faced further torture, rape, jail and death.
To justify the on-going ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the Burma Citizenship Law (1982), co-authored by a wicked Rakhine academic Aye Kyaw, was passed during the Ne Win era. The Rohingyas were not listed as one of the country’s 135 “national races” entitled to Burmese citizenship, effectively making them a people without a state — even after living for generations in Arakan. They became the most persecuted people in our planet.
 
Discrimination institutionalized
“Stripped officially of their citizenship, the Rohingya found their lives in limbo: prohibited from the right to own land or property, barred from travelling outside their villages, repairing their decaying places of worship, receiving an education in any language or even marrying and having children without rarely granted government permission. The Rohingya have also been subjected to modern-day slavery, forced to work on infrastructure projects, such as constructing ‘model villages’ to house the Myanmar settlers intended to displace them, reminiscent of their treatment at the hands of the Burmese kings of history,” Professor Akbar Ahmed observes.
To further terrorize the already marginalized Rohingya people, the Pyi Thaya Operation (or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation) was launched by the military in July 1991. This major pogrom lasting for nearly a year resulted in the exodus of some 268,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh.  The United Nations Refugee Agency referred to those operations as “ethnic cleansing campaigns led by the military junta itself.”
Dr. Michael W. Charney, a University of London scholar who specializes in Southeast Asian studies, wrote in his paper Buddhism in Arakan:
Theory and Historiography of the Religious Basis of the Ethnonym that the “Rohingya […] are compelled to thrive under really testing conditions where even their personal lives are under strict state scrutiny. Whatever property they inherited from their ancestors have been forcefully taken away from them, and granted to the Buddhist majority under the banner of different national schemes that served to institutionalize and hence legitimize racist discrimination of Rohingya”.
Benjamin Zawacki, Senior Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia at the International Commission of Jurists, in his article Defining Myanmar’s “Rohingya Problem,” this is “a political, social, and economic system – manifested in law, policy, and practice – designed to discriminate against this ethnic and religious minority [which] makes such direct violence against the Rohingya far more possible and likely than it would be otherwise”.
 
MaBaTha’s hate crime
NaSaKa (Nay-Sat Kut-kwey Ye), a border security/military force, was created in 1992 to terrorize the Rohingyas of Arakan on a daily basis.  It was to be found only in North Arakan (Rakhine) state, where they became the main perpetrators of human rights abuse against the Rohingya. Since 1994, it has been illegal for married Rohingya to have more than two children. In the words of Pulitzer-winning journalist and photographer Greg Constantine “almost all aspects of their lives in North Rakhine are controlled or exploited by NaSaKa.”
The persecution and abuses of power by the NaSaKa, terrorizing the Rohingya, continued unabated for decades until it was disbanded with the advent of a so-called reform government that was led by Thein Sein, an ex-military general. He promised democracy and opened the doors of Myanmar for foreign investment. The gesture was reciprocated by the West by withdrawing its economic and military sanctions against the once-pariah government.
During Thein Sein’s time, the old IDs and national cards were all seized from the Rohingya people and banned from participating in the general elections. What is worse, his regime empowered Buddhist terrorist monks who through popular religio-fascist organizations like the MaBaTha continued to spread hate crimes and prepare the groundwork for the latest genocidal crimes against all Muslims. The Rohingyas were portrayed as ‘illegals’ from Bangladesh who are’ threatening’ the Buddhist identity of the country through ‘high birth rates’.  Deliberately omitting the fact that the percentage of Muslims were declining since Burma won independence from Britain.
Shwe Maung, a Rakhine politician, told The Economist that “[Rohingyas] are trying to Islamize us through their terrible birth rate.” Wirathu, the terrorist Buddhist monk, mentioned to Global Post “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent.  They eat their own kind.” Finally, President Thein Sein reiterated that: “the Rohingya were not citizens of Myanmar” and he wished to “hand over the entire ethnic group to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in order to settle them in a different country.”
 
Suu Kyi’s nonchalance
It was in this highly poisonous environment that the 2012 genocidal campaigns against the Rohingya was unleashed. Within weeks in June nearly a quarter million Muslims were internally displaced inside Myanmar in an orgy of Buddhist violence that was participated from top to bottom, enjoying full support from the government, politicians and the Buddhist monks. It was Rwanda all over again in this genocidal crime against the Muslims, esp. the Rohingyas, of Myanmar.
From the Human Rights Watch to the academic experts are also saying Rohingyas are victims of genocide. Phil Robertson, Asia director for Humans Right Watch, wrote nearly four years ago that “the Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today”. Professor William Schabas, former President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, went a step further and cautioned, “we’re moving into a zone where the [genocide] word can be used.”
According to ARNO, after 9 October this year more than 500 innocent Rohingya civilians were killed, hundreds of women raped, about 3,500 houses were burned down, unknown number of people arrested and involuntarily disappeared, and at least 40,000 internally displaced, in addition to systematic destruction of rice, paddy and food products. About 10,000 people had also fled to Bangladesh. Regular humanitarian assistance has been disrupted for many weeks, putting at risk over 150,000 vulnerable people. And yet, Suu Kyi remains nonchalant by such gross violations of her security forces. Like a sly politician who is more interested in solidifying her hold to power, she seems approving of the war crimes of her murderous military who continues to use her as a pawn to carry out their religio-fascist Myanmarism.
The Rohingya predicament underlines a paradox for Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and kindness and yet, we see little evidence of this in its dealings with the Rohingya people.

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(0)



 VIEW POINT 
Nearly two million people demand South Korean president’s removal
Ben McGrath
 
Approximately 1.5 million people demonstrated in South Korea’s capital on 26 November 2016, demanding the removal of President Ms Park Geun-hye. Demonstrations in other cities brought the total number of participants to 1.9 million. About 100,000 people took part in Busan, South Korea’s second largest city. An additional 50,000 people gathered in Gwangju and 20,000 in Daegu.    
It was the fifth and largest weekly protest to date since allegations of corruption emerged in September surrounding the president and her personal confidante, Choi Soon-sil. Counting all the protests around the country, the rallies were the largest in South Korea’s history.
In Seoul, the protesters again filled Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul and marched within 200 meters of Cheongwadae, the presidential residence, while chanting “Park Geun-hye, resign!” They also carried placards reading “Arrest President Park” and “Surrender Now.” The protest was organized by 1,500 civic groups, many of which have close ties to the Democrats and other official opposition parties.
The immediate scandal involves accusations that Park allowed Choi Soon-sil, who holds no government post, to be involved in deciding policy matters and to solicit funds from corporations for companies that she effectively controlled. This affair is bound up with rifts in South Korean ruling circles, including Park’s own Saenuri Party.
However, the demonstrations also reflect broader popular opposition to her administration’s attacks on working-class conditions and basic democratic and social rights, including a drive to casualize the workforce, cut jobs, and privatize state-owned industries.
For many people, these are the first protests they have ever attended. Students from middle schools, high schools, and universities continued to take part in large numbers. Chang Hae-jin, an 18-year-old high school senior, told the media: “This is my first time participating in a rally. When I was studying for the (college entrance) exam, I was sorry because I could not do anything. Park should not hide like this. She should be honest about her wrongdoings.”
Parents also continued to bring their children. Jung Young-hoon, a 36-year-old father of two, told the Korea Herald: “It is difficult to take care of my children on the street during the rally, especially because of the weather, but it is peaceful, so it’s okay. I had to come to show them this is democracy.”
Significantly, protestors’ demands are beginning to go beyond the status of the president. As of last Friday, the student unions at 13 universities had decided to boycott classes while an additional 10 are expected to join them this week. Students at Korea University have occupied the school’s main building since Thursday to denounce the chancellor’s future plans, which include eliminating one of the university’s departments and raising tuition fees.
At Seoul National University students have occupied the administration building for a month to oppose privatization plans. The president of the student body, Lee Tak-gyu, said students would join the class boycott on November 30.
Demonstrators are also once more taking aim at the Park administration’s decision to revise history textbooks for middle and high schools. The government is attempting to re-write the books to whitewash the crimes of conservative leaders and dictators, including Park’s father, General Park Chung-hee.
Cho Seong-hun, 21, a student at Myongji University, said: “Students are taking to the streets as they are angry about Park’s policies, including a government-authored history textbook.” He added, reflecting the struggle young people face to find employment: “I am majoring in library and information science. Most graduates become librarians, and it’s getting more and more difficult to get a permanent job.”
According to Lee Jun-hyup of the Hyundai Research Institute, one in three youth, those between the ages of 15 and 29 years-old, could be considered unemployed. The real unemployment rate for all workers stands at 10 percent, including those who have given up looking for work or are in part-time jobs involuntarily.
For now, however, the protests have not gone beyond the confines established by the opposition parties, led by the Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK). These bourgeois parties are attempting to divert the public anger into support for their own campaigns, particularly for the presidential election scheduled for next year, and quell discontent over the growing social crisis.
Democrats and conservatives have the same aim. While Chu Mi-ae and Moon Jae-in of the MPK again took part in Saturday’s rally, right-wing politicians also joined, including Nam Gyeong-pil, the governor of Gyeonggi Province who recently left the ruling Saenuri Party, and former Seoul mayor Oh Se-hun.
The MPK and its allies, the People’s Party and Justice Party, as well as the anti-Park faction of the Saenuri Party have formed a de facto alliance, backing the president’s removal. The opposition intends to propose an impeachment bill this Wednesday, with a vote as early as Friday and no later than December 9. “Saenuri must promptly cooperate with the impeachment move that the three opposition parties have agreed to,” said Representative Chu Mi-ae, the MPK leader, appealing to those who still back Park or who may waver at the thought of breaking with their party.
Nam Gyeong-pil, a potential presidential candidate who openly supports South Korea obtaining nuclear weapons, stated at a recent news conference: “The impeachment motion should be done by December 9. If it pointlessly drags on, the people’s patience will reach its limit.” In other words, if Park is not removed soon, the protestors could begin advancing demands that none of the parties are willing to meet.
For the impeachment bill to pass, it requires a two-thirds vote of the 300-seat National Assembly. Assuming that all opposition and independent lawmakers vote in favor, it would still need the support of at least 28 lawmakers from the Saenuri Party. According to Yonhap News Agency, some 40 Saenuri lawmakers may vote for its approval.
If the bill succeeds, Park would remain president, but her official duties would be transferred to Prime Minister Hwang Gyo-an. The Constitutional Court would then examine the case. If six out of the nine justices support the charges against her, Park would be removed as president and a new election would be held within 60 days. The court proceedings could drag on for weeks. In 2004, the Constitutional Court took 63 days to dismiss impeachment charges against President Roh Moo-hyun (No Mu-hyeon).
According to media polls, Park’s approval rating has fallen to 4 percent, the lowest of any South Korean president. She is expected to deliver another public apology this week, but has shown no signs of willingly giving up her office.
Support for the Saenuri Party has fallen to 12 percent. The pro-Park faction comprises about 68 lawmakers out of the 128 conservative party members in the National Assembly. The faction recently boycotted a party meeting to discuss the impeachment procedures. 
—WSWS

Comment

Ben McGrath
 
Approximately 1.5 million people demonstrated in South Korea’s capital on 26 November 2016, demanding the removal of President Ms Park Geun-hye. Demonstrations in other cities brought the total number of participants to 1.9 million. About 100,000 people took part in Busan, South Korea’s second largest city. An additional 50,000 people gathered in Gwangju and 20,000 in Daegu.    
It was the fifth and largest weekly protest to date since allegations of corruption emerged in September surrounding the president and her personal confidante, Choi Soon-sil. Counting all the protests around the country, the rallies were the largest in South Korea’s history.
In Seoul, the protesters again filled Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul and marched within 200 meters of Cheongwadae, the presidential residence, while chanting “Park Geun-hye, resign!” They also carried placards reading “Arrest President Park” and “Surrender Now.” The protest was organized by 1,500 civic groups, many of which have close ties to the Democrats and other official opposition parties.
The immediate scandal involves accusations that Park allowed Choi Soon-sil, who holds no government post, to be involved in deciding policy matters and to solicit funds from corporations for companies that she effectively controlled. This affair is bound up with rifts in South Korean ruling circles, including Park’s own Saenuri Party.
However, the demonstrations also reflect broader popular opposition to her administration’s attacks on working-class conditions and basic democratic and social rights, including a drive to casualize the workforce, cut jobs, and privatize state-owned industries.
For many people, these are the first protests they have ever attended. Students from middle schools, high schools, and universities continued to take part in large numbers. Chang Hae-jin, an 18-year-old high school senior, told the media: “This is my first time participating in a rally. When I was studying for the (college entrance) exam, I was sorry because I could not do anything. Park should not hide like this. She should be honest about her wrongdoings.”
Parents also continued to bring their children. Jung Young-hoon, a 36-year-old father of two, told the Korea Herald: “It is difficult to take care of my children on the street during the rally, especially because of the weather, but it is peaceful, so it’s okay. I had to come to show them this is democracy.”
Significantly, protestors’ demands are beginning to go beyond the status of the president. As of last Friday, the student unions at 13 universities had decided to boycott classes while an additional 10 are expected to join them this week. Students at Korea University have occupied the school’s main building since Thursday to denounce the chancellor’s future plans, which include eliminating one of the university’s departments and raising tuition fees.
At Seoul National University students have occupied the administration building for a month to oppose privatization plans. The president of the student body, Lee Tak-gyu, said students would join the class boycott on November 30.
Demonstrators are also once more taking aim at the Park administration’s decision to revise history textbooks for middle and high schools. The government is attempting to re-write the books to whitewash the crimes of conservative leaders and dictators, including Park’s father, General Park Chung-hee.
Cho Seong-hun, 21, a student at Myongji University, said: “Students are taking to the streets as they are angry about Park’s policies, including a government-authored history textbook.” He added, reflecting the struggle young people face to find employment: “I am majoring in library and information science. Most graduates become librarians, and it’s getting more and more difficult to get a permanent job.”
According to Lee Jun-hyup of the Hyundai Research Institute, one in three youth, those between the ages of 15 and 29 years-old, could be considered unemployed. The real unemployment rate for all workers stands at 10 percent, including those who have given up looking for work or are in part-time jobs involuntarily.
For now, however, the protests have not gone beyond the confines established by the opposition parties, led by the Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK). These bourgeois parties are attempting to divert the public anger into support for their own campaigns, particularly for the presidential election scheduled for next year, and quell discontent over the growing social crisis.
Democrats and conservatives have the same aim. While Chu Mi-ae and Moon Jae-in of the MPK again took part in Saturday’s rally, right-wing politicians also joined, including Nam Gyeong-pil, the governor of Gyeonggi Province who recently left the ruling Saenuri Party, and former Seoul mayor Oh Se-hun.
The MPK and its allies, the People’s Party and Justice Party, as well as the anti-Park faction of the Saenuri Party have formed a de facto alliance, backing the president’s removal. The opposition intends to propose an impeachment bill this Wednesday, with a vote as early as Friday and no later than December 9. “Saenuri must promptly cooperate with the impeachment move that the three opposition parties have agreed to,” said Representative Chu Mi-ae, the MPK leader, appealing to those who still back Park or who may waver at the thought of breaking with their party.
Nam Gyeong-pil, a potential presidential candidate who openly supports South Korea obtaining nuclear weapons, stated at a recent news conference: “The impeachment motion should be done by December 9. If it pointlessly drags on, the people’s patience will reach its limit.” In other words, if Park is not removed soon, the protestors could begin advancing demands that none of the parties are willing to meet.
For the impeachment bill to pass, it requires a two-thirds vote of the 300-seat National Assembly. Assuming that all opposition and independent lawmakers vote in favor, it would still need the support of at least 28 lawmakers from the Saenuri Party. According to Yonhap News Agency, some 40 Saenuri lawmakers may vote for its approval.
If the bill succeeds, Park would remain president, but her official duties would be transferred to Prime Minister Hwang Gyo-an. The Constitutional Court would then examine the case. If six out of the nine justices support the charges against her, Park would be removed as president and a new election would be held within 60 days. The court proceedings could drag on for weeks. In 2004, the Constitutional Court took 63 days to dismiss impeachment charges against President Roh Moo-hyun (No Mu-hyeon).
According to media polls, Park’s approval rating has fallen to 4 percent, the lowest of any South Korean president. She is expected to deliver another public apology this week, but has shown no signs of willingly giving up her office.
Support for the Saenuri Party has fallen to 12 percent. The pro-Park faction comprises about 68 lawmakers out of the 128 conservative party members in the National Assembly. The faction recently boycotted a party meeting to discuss the impeachment procedures. 
—WSWS

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