Romania's government on Feb. 4 capitulated in the face of a sustained protest campaign and repealed a decree that had decriminalized corruption offenses. Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters in central Bucharest cheered the announcement. The decree, removing criminal penalties for official misconduct in which the damages are less than €44,000, was enacted Jan. 31—sparking the largest demonstrations in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989. After three days of mounting protests, an estimated 600,000 Romanians marched in Bucharest and other cities the day before the government blinked. Protests have continued since then, demanding the resignation of the government.
A federal judge in Brooklyn issued an emergency stay Jan. 28, temporarily halting the removal of individuals detained after President Trump issued an executive order the previous day that bars entry into the US of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. The stay came as scores of refugees, immigrants and others were stranded at airports across the country. While the ruling blocked the deportation of some arrivals ensnared by the executive order, it stopped short of allowing them into the country, and did not actually weigh in on the constitutionality of the president's order. Large crowds of protesters turned out at several airports, including New York's JFK, to protest Trump's order.
Poland's increasingly authoritarian government capitulated after days of angry protests and agreed to scrap a proposed law that would have imposed harsh restrictions on the media. The announcement came after thousands marched on the presidential palace Dec. 18, chanting "freedom, equality, democracy." President Andrzej Duda admitted the legislation was too controversial, and tellingly made his announcement after consulting with Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of his right-populist Law & Justice Party (PiS). Protests even penetrated the parliament chamber Dec. 19, when opposition MPs blockaded the entrance, forcing PiS MPs into another room to vote on next year's budget. The law, which would have placed restrictions on media access in parliament, is part of a growing centralization of power by the PiS government since it came to power in October 2015. The EU this week issued a formal protest of moves to restrict the independence of the judiciary. But this is not the first victory over the PiS regime. In October, the party withdrew plans for a total abortion ban after huge numbers of women dressed in black protested across the country. (The Guardian, Dec. 21; The Guardian, Dec. 19; BBC News, Dec. 18; The News, Poland, Dec. 16)
Weeks of relentless and massive street protests in South Korea finally succeeded in bringing about the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye Dec. 9 as the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to charge her with corruption and mishandling of state affairs. The country's Constitutional Court has 180 days to uphold or invalidate the impeachment. Protesters pledge they will continue to press for President Park to step down, which would automatically spark new elections. The protests have been ongoing since October, repeatedly mobilizing hundreds of thousands across the country. On Dec. 4, up to 1.7 million filled the streets of downtown Seoul, within sight of the Blue House presidential residence. There have been scattered street clashes, but the tone of the protests is overwhelmingly peaceful, even joyous. University professors have played a leading role. The protests coincided with rolling strikes by public-sector workers over labor demands, with hospitals and transport heavily affected. The impeachment is a victory for transparency; Park is accused of conniving with a crony for illicit enrichment through abuse of government power. (Korea Policy Institute, Dec. 10; WP, Dec. 8; Korea Policy Institute, Nov. 30; Korea Times, Nov. 27)
Hundreds have been detained in protests across Kazakhstan over a new government policy to privatize farmlands and open the agricultural sector to foreign capital. The protest campaign began in early May, when the government announced the new policy, with large demonstrations reported in Astana, Almaty, Karagandy and other cities. City squares have been repeatedly occupied in defiance of an official ban on public gatherings. The crackdown has extended to the media, with several journalists arrested. But video footage posted to YouTube shows police in Kyzylorda charging unarmed demonstrators in scenes reminiscent of the massacre of striking oil-workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.
Striking teachers on May 28 took over the installations of three radio and TV stations in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of Mexico's Chiapas state, in an ongoing campaign against President Enrique Peña Nieto's proposed education reform. Days earlier, state and federal police violently evicted a protest camp ste up by the teachers in Tuxtla's central plaza. The National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) is demanding that the national government cancel the new education reform. Campesinos from rural Chiapas villages have mobilized local marches in support of the teachers. The pending reform would impose strict teacher evalutions, but critics say it fails to address the critical problem of under-resourced schools in poor areas of the country. The pending reform was crafted with the participation of business-friendly groups such as Mexicanos Primero, led by figures including Televisa president Emilio Azcárraga. (Left Voice, May 29; Uno TV, May 28)
Riot police clashed with protesting laid-off workers in Bolivia's capital May 17, during a march against the government's decision to close the country's largest state-run textile company, ENATEX. Three people were hurt, including a protester who lost his hand while preparing to hurl a stick of dynamite. At least 20 were arrested after some 5,000 workers marched on the ENATEX factory in the Villa Fatima district of La Paz. Protesters took over the ENATEX offices, and police used tear-gas to prevent workers from occupying the factory itself. More than 800 people were laid off when President Evo Morales liquidated the foundering parastatal this week. Morales' administration bought the company in 2011 to save it from bankruptcy. The march was organized by COB, Bolivia's general labor federation, which threaetened solidarity actions in other sectors and cities if the arrested workers were not released. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, May 18; AP, TeleSur, May 18)
One day after storming parliament, Iraqi protesters began camping out May 1 within the confines of Baghdad's International Zone, or "Green Zone." The Green Zone, a secured area that includes embassies and government buildings, was breached by protesters mobilized by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A state of emergency was declared for the city and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded arrest of protest leaders. The demonstration was launched to protest alleged corruption within the Iraqi government. Al-Sadr called on the government to speed long-delayed plans for a non-partisan, technocratic cabinet.