Protests return to Ferguson streets, state of emergency declared


Police in riot gear clashed with protesters who had gathered in the streets of Ferguson, Mo., early on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the police shooting of an unarmed black teen whose death sparked a national outcry over race relations.

About 200 demonstrators, some waving flags, beating drums, and shouting anti-police slogans, marched along a street that was a flashpoint of riots that erupted last year after white police officer Darren Wilson shot dead 18-year-old black teen Michael Brown.

Police made several arrests, including nine people on Monday evening after a group of protesters briefly blocked the roadway.

Police carrying shields rushed into a crowd of protesters around midnight, many of whom started screaming and running from the area. Some protesters threw water bottles and rocks at officers, who used bullhorns to order people out of the street or face arrest.

Authorities declared a state of emergency on Monday for the St. Louis suburb and surrounding areas after police officers shot and critically wounded a man in an exchange of gunfire Sunday night, marring what had been a day of peaceful demonstrations.

Ferguson resident Roberta Lynch, 51, was among the demonstrators on Monday evening. She said relations between police and the community had improved little over the past year.

“They are doing the same old stuff, taking our rights,” Lynch said. “They need to give us our space.”

Monday's demonstrations capped a day of civil disobedience called by activists to protest against the shooting of Brown and other unarmed black men by police across the United States.

Clergy and civil rights groups led a series of protests, staging a demonstration at a courthouse in St. Louis where 60 people were arrested, including Princeton University professor emeritus and activist Cornel West, according to a protest organizer.

Police arrested dozens of protesters who blocked rush-hour traffic on Interstate 70 a few miles from Ferguson hours later, according to a Reuters witness.

The death of Brown and a grand jury's decision to spare the white officer from criminal charges led to a wave of demonstrations that boiled over into rioting and arson at times and spawned sympathy rallies across the country.

Brown's death also prompted greater scrutiny of racial bias within the U.S. criminal justice system, giving rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that gained momentum from similar incidents in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and, most recently, Arlington, Texas. .

'MARRED BY VIOLENCE'

Tensions increased after darkness fell on Monday, with some demonstrators throwing objects at officers who pushed back with shields and threatened arrests. Others urged protesters on the street to maintain order.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters police would give protesters leeway to march, but said the authorities also had to maintain public safety.

“We are going to let them vent and we are going to manage it the best we possibly can,” Belmar said.

“Last night was pretty out of control at times. Unfortunately, all the good work that's happening on both sides of the street has been marred by violence,” he said.

The violence, according to Belmar, erupted Sunday when two groups of agitators apparently began shooting at each other, disrupting what had been peaceful demonstrations. At one point, a gunman darted across a parking lot and was confronted by four officers who pulled up in an unmarked vehicle.

The officers wounded the suspect in an exchange of gunfire, according to police.

Prosecutors charged the man, Tyrone Harris, who was in critical condition in a hospital, with four counts of assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of shooting at a vehicle.

His bond was set at $250,000.

Harris's father said his son did not have a gun.

“He was running for his … life because someone was shooting at him,” Tyrone Harris, Sr., said in a telephone interview from his St. Louis-area home.

The younger Harris was out on bail awaiting trial on charges of stealing a motor vehicle, theft of a firearm and resisting arrest. He was charged with those crimes on Nov. 5 and released after posting a $30,000 bond on Dec. 19, records showed.

Activist groups, meanwhile, said the plain clothes officers who shot Harris should never have been deployed to the scene.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called Sunday's violence “a sad turn of events.” Nixon, who deployed the National Guard to quell violence last year, did not make any mention of additional security for those rallies.

Michael Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr. said on Facebook that peaceful weekend protests were “meaningful, inspiring and successful.”

“With your support, we properly honored your friend and my son's memory,” he said.

Protester Rayna Martin, 17, who lives in the neighborhood where Brown was shot, said the violence within her community has been made worse by the actions of police.

“They kill us, they get away with it. It's crazy,” she said.

West Bank riots flare up after Palestinian baby’s funeral


An Israeli policeman was lightly wounded in one of several riots and attacks by Palestinians following the funeral of a baby who died in a fire near Nablus allegedly started by Jewish extremists.

The officer was wounded in eastern Jerusalem when he was hit by a stone hurled at him by a Palestinian during a riot near the Temple Mount Friday, Army Radio reported. Security forces arrested a suspect in connection with the incident.

Separately, unidentified individuals opened fire on an Israeli vehicle near the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashachar. The car was hit by bullets, but the people inside were not hurt.

In a third incident, rioters in the Jerusalem-area Palestinian village of Isawiya threw firebombs and stones at police officers, resulting in no injuries.

The attacks occurred hours after the burial of Ali Saad Dawabsha, an 18-month-old baby who died in a fire started by unidentified individuals at his home in the Nablus-area village of Duma. The arsonists left Hebrew-language graffiti about revenge at the site, and Israeli police suspect Jewish extremists caused the fire.

Several of Dawabsha’s relatives, including his parents, were injured in the fire. His older brother has burns in 60 percent of his body. The arson occurred amid a string of violent attacks by Jewish extremists, including a near-fatal stabbing at the Jerusalem gay pride parade Thursday and the torching last month of a church in the Galilee.

In a statement to Palestinian media, Hamas said that “now every Israeli is a legitimate target” following the arson, according to Ma’ariv. The terrorist group also called for “a day of rage” to protest the killing and to “defend the Al Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited the Dawabsha family at the Israeli hospital where several of them are recovering, spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the phone Friday and said that everyone in Israel was shocked by the “reprehensible terrorism against the Dawabsha family,” his office wrote in a statement.

“We must fight terrorism together regardless of which side it comes from,” said Netanyahu, adding that he had ordered the security forces to use all measures to locate the murderers.

Abbas’ spokesperson has blamed Israel’s settlement policy for the killing and vowed to bring the case to the International Criminal Court.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement released in both Hebrew and Arabic that Israel had not done enough to combat Jewish extremists:  “I feel a sense of shame, and moreover a sense of pain. Pain over the murder of a small baby. Pain that from my people, there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism, and have lost their humanity.”

Anti-Israel rioters torch cars, throw firebomb at Paris-area synagogue


PARIS (JTA) — Anti-Israel protesters hurled a firebomb at a synagogue during an unauthorized demonstration in a heavily Jewish suburb of Paris.

The riot broke out on Sunday afternoon in Sarcelles after a few hundred people assembled at a local metro station to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as the decision by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve to ban rallies against Israel following the staging of riots last week outside several synagogues in the Paris region.

The firebomb was hurled at the Synagogue of Garges-Les-Gonesse at a smaller rally that splintered off the main demonstration. It hit the building but did not cause serious damage, the daily online edition of Le Figaro reported.

In addition, rioters torched at least two cars as they clashed with police near the synagogue.

Organizers of the protest rally at the metro station urged the crowd not to resort to violence, but a few dozen demonstrators confronted police as others were leaving the demonstration, the online edition of the Le Nouvel Observateur weekly reported. Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators and surrounded a synagogue nearby, blocking the entire street.

Approximately 30 young Jewish men were standing at the synagogue entrance holding sticks; one was holding an Israeli flag. The French Jewish Defense League, or LDJ, said on Twitter that it was guarding the synagogue along with police.

Protesters also smashed the windshield of several parked cars and at least one shop.

Sarcelles has a large Sephardic Jewish population.

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators protesting Israel’s military operation in Gaza confronted police in central Paris. Fourteen police officers were lightly wounded and 38 protesters were arrested.

After draft riot, Jerusalem Charedim charged with assaulting police


Israeli prosecutors indicted two Charedi Orthodox men for assaulting police officers called to the scene of a mob attack on a Charedi soldier in Jerusalem.

The two men, Joseph Braun and Jacob Krischavski, were charged on Thursday with attacking several police officers on Tuesday during a riot that erupted in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Meah Shearim. If convicted, the defendants could face at least three years in prison.

The attack came two days after Israel’s Knesset approved a proposal to draft haredi men into the Israeli Defense Forces. A small number of haredi leaders have allowed and in some cases encouraged enlistment, but the majority have resisted the draft. The proposed law has sparked numerous protests.

Another haredi soldier was assaulted in Jerusalem on Thursday, this time in the neighborhood of Shmuel Hanavi, situated north of Meah Shearim. Assailants threw objects at the soldier from a van, according to NRG, the news site of the Maariv daily.

On Tuesday, officers were called to Meah Shearim after dozens of haredi men intimidated a haredi soldier. The men gathered outside the office of the uncle of the soldier, who came to visit his uncle during a short leave from the army, according to the indictment filed on Thursday by the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office with the city’s Magistrate’s Court.

The soldier, who does not live in Jerusalem, was wearing a uniform and a black kipah. Several dozen men gathered around him and hurled garbage as he was walking to the office. He entered the office, changed to civilian clothes and called police as the crowd chanted insults outside.

The two defendants and several other individuals hurled stones, metal bars and water buckets at the police. Braun and Krischavski, both in their early 20s, were charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, obstructing a police officer and rioting.

Gezi Park rebuilds, digs in for more clashes


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

By nightfall the Gezi Park protesters had cleaned up the trampled tents and trash left behind from crowds fleeing police during clashes in adjacent Taksim Square.

Thousands joined together again in song as a local musician played the piano, vendors were back selling cheap protective masks against tear gas and smoke from grilled meat filled the air.

But it was a very different atmosphere from previous long nights of demonstrations – the dark sky was empty of the hundreds of rising red glowing Chinese lanterns that symbolized hope, police water cannons were trained on Gezi Park protesters waiting for any flare ups and several hundred riot police stood ready behind a wall of plexiglass shields just feet away in Taksim Square.

Protest leaders said they will not let police and government officials pressure them into leaving, despite new calls Wednesday by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to clear out the park—which has become the last stronghold for anti-government demonstrators.

“We are staying here while we wait for police,” protest leader Nail Ocal told The Media Line. “It will continue. There is no limit.”

But Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is determined to end the protests that have spread across his country, including to his doorstep in the capital of Ankara.

Turkish media reported Erdogan has instructed his interior minister to quickly end the protests in Gezi Park.

It may be easy for authorities to clear out the park with tear gas and stun grenades, but protesters say the call for change has become too large to dampen.

The movement has grown to include more than just college students and artists, entertainers and doctors in dozens of cities and villages have joined the ranks of the protestors.

Earlier this week, thousands of lawyers dressed in black robes stormed out of Istanbul's main courthouse protesting the arrest of their colleagues in a similar demonstration just the day before.

Gezi Park protesters told The Media Line they expect demonstrations to continue, despite any anticipated police action against them.

“People have put their lives on the line for this,” 60-year-old Sibel Bulay told The Media Line. “So you can't just say: 'we're tired, let's go.'”

While many political groups opposed to the government have called on members to join the protests, there is no clear leader.

However, there may be one demand, according to Bulay.

“Ultimately, what people want is to have a say in how we're being governed. And the biggest thing is: don't tell me how to live my life.”

Protesters said they will not leave until they see some element of change in how their government operates.

Of course, many are still demanding an end to plans for development of Gezi Park. It was those government plans that sparked the demonstrations more than two weeks ago.

In what may be viewed as an “olive branch,” the AKP has said it will consider holding a referendum on the future of the park.

But one protester, who this reporter first met while the middle-aged man was dodging a police water cannon and shielding himself from clouds of tear gas earlier this week, told The Media Line the protests are not about Gezi.

“People just want freedom here, because the government is pushing laws against the people,” said the man who refused to give his name.

A law banning advertising of alcohol, and its sale during certain hours, is among the concerns of protesters. Proposed changes to the constitution and restrictions on the freedom of the press also remain worrisome. 

Defiant Erdogan denounces riots in Turkish cities


Anti-government protesters responsible for Turkey's worst riots in years are “arm-in-arm with terrorism,” Prime Minister Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, in a defiant response to four days of unrest in dozens of cities across the country.

Hundreds of police and protesters have been injured since Friday, when a demonstration to halt construction in a park in an Istanbul square grew into mass protests against a heavy-handed police crackdown and what opponents call Erdogan's authoritarian policies.

The demonstrations showed no sign of abating on Monday with protesters returning to Taksim Square. Barricades of rubble hindered traffic alongside the Bosphorus waterway and blocked entry into the area. Leftist groups hung out red and black flags and banners calling on Erdogan to resign and declaring: “Whatever happens, there is no going back.”

In Ankara, police charged mostly teenage demonstrators and scattered them using teargas and water cannon. Protesters had erected a barricade in the Kizilay government quarter and lit a fire in the road as a helicopter circled overhead.

Erdogan has dismissed the protests as the work of secular enemies never reconciled to the election success of his AK party, which has roots in Islamist parties banned in the past but which also embraces centre-right and nationalist elements. The party has won three straight elections and overseen an economic boom, increasing Turkey's influence in the region.

“This is a protest organised by extremist elements,” Erdogan said before departing on a trip to North Africa. “We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism.”

On arrival in Rabat, flanked by Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, Erdogan blamed parties that had lost elections for the violence, which he predicted would be short-lived: “In a few days the situation will return to normal.”

Turkey's leftist Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK), which represents 240,000 members, said it would begin a two-day “warning strike” on Tuesday to protest at the police crackdown on what had begun as peaceful protests.

The unrest delivered a blow to Turkish financial markets that have thrived under Erdogan. Shares fell more than 10 percent and the lira dropped to 16-month lows on Monday.

The United States called for restraint in a rebuke to its NATO ally. “We are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington.

WIND OF CHANGE

Since taking office in 2002, Erdogan has curtailed the power of the army, which ousted four governments in the second half of the 20th century and which hanged and jailed many, including a prime minister.

Hundreds of officers, as well as journalists and intellectuals have been jailed over an alleged coup plot against Erdogan. The wind of change has swept also through the judiciary. Where Erdogan was jailed in the late 1990s for promoting Islamism by reciting a poem, a musician was recently jailed for blasphemy after mocking religion in a tweet.

Erdogan said the protesters had no support in the population as a whole and dismissed any comparison with the 'Arab Spring' that swept nearby Arab states, toppling rulers long ensconced in power with the help of repressive security services.

His own tenure in office, with its economic and political reforms, was itself the “Turkish Spring”, he suggested.

He gave no indication he was preparing any concessions to protesters who accuse him of fostering a hidden Islamist agenda in a country with a secularist constitution.

Some object to new restrictions on alcohol sales and other steps seen as religiously motivated. Others complain of the costs of Erdogan's support of rebels in neighbouring Syria's civil war. Still others bear economic grievances, viewing the disputed development project in Taksim Square as emblematic of wild greed among those who have benefited from Turkey's boom.

SAFE FOR NOW

Walls around Taksim were plastered with posters of a policeman spraying tear gas at a young woman in a red summer dress, her hair swept upwards by the draught of the spraygun.

“The more they spray, the bigger we get,” read the caption.

Western governments have promoted Erdogan's administration as a democratic Islamist model that could be copied elsewhere in the Middle East after the fall of authoritarian leaders. They have expressed concerns about human rights standards discreetly, but last weekend's events prompted the United States and the European Union to openly criticise police action.

Erdogan appeared to reject accusations of heavy handedness, saying authorities were “behaving in a very restrained way”.

With strong support, especially in the conservative religious heartland of Anatolia, Erdogan remains Turkey's most popular politician and seems safe for now.

He said plans would go ahead to re-make Taksim Square, long a rallying point for demonstrations, including construction of a new mosque and the rebuilding of a replica Ottoman-era barracks.

The protests have involved a broad spectrum in dozens of cities, from students to professionals, trade unionists, Kurdish activists and hardline secularists who see Erdogan seeking to overthrow the secularist state set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Additional reported by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Rabat; Writing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Giles Elgood

Riots break out in Jerusalem, West Bank over Palestinian prisoners


Palestinian protesters reportedly fired flares and hurled stones at Israeli troops in the Old City in Jerusalem amid violent protests in the West Bank.

Several dozen Palestinians began hurling rocks at troops stationed outside the Mugrabi Gate after Friday prayers, Ynet reported on Feb. 22.

When the troops pursued the men into the Temple Mount compound, other men fired flares at them. None of the Israeli soldiers was injured.

The Temple Mount, the site of Judaism's ancient temple which overlooks the Western Wall, is home to two mosques considered among the most holy in Islam. Clashes there have sparked extended conflict in the past.

In parallel, riots broke out in Hebron as dozens began to march int he direction of Beit Hadassah, an area inhabited by Israeli settlers. Protesters also hurled stones outside Ofer Prison near Jerusalem, where dozens of Palestinians prisoners are held, some under administrative detention.

The protests, according to Ynet, were over the detention of Samer Tareq al-Essawi, Ja’far Ibrahim ‘Izz-al-Din and Tareq Husein Qa’dan and Ayman Isma’il Sharawna.

Ynet quoted unnamed officials in Israel’s General Security Service, or Shin Bet, as saying that Sharawna and Essawi were released along with 1,025 in 2011 in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier abducted by Hamas, but “returned to practice terrorism.”

Israel radio said the protests also marked the 1994 anniversary of the massacre of 29 Muslims at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, by Baruch Goldstein, a settler from Kiryat Arba.

Protests were also held on Thursday in which several Palestinians and two Israeli journalists sustained light injuries, Ynet reported.

Obama expresses deep concern to Egypt’s Morsi about violence


U.S. President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Thursday to express his “deep concern” about the deaths and injuries of protesters in Egypt and said dialogue between opposing sides should be held without preconditions, the White House said.

“The president emphasized that all political leaders in Egypt should make clear to their supporters that violence is unacceptable,” the White House said in a statement.

“He welcomed President Morsi's call for a dialogue with the opposition, but stressed that such a dialogue should occur without preconditions. The president noted that the United States has also urged opposition leaders to join in this dialogue without preconditions.”

Morsi called on Thursday for a national dialogue after deadly clashes around his palace.

“(Obama) reiterated the United States' continued support for the Egyptian people and their transition to a democracy that respects the rights of all Egyptians,” the White House statement said. “The president underscored that it is essential for Egyptian leaders across the political spectrum to put aside their differences and come together to agree on a path that will move Egypt forward.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason, editing by Stacey Joyce

Clashes erupt in Egypt despite proposal to end crisis


Islamists fought protesters outside the Egyptian president's palace on Wednesday, while inside the building his deputy proposed a way to end a crisis over a draft constitution that has split the most populous Arab nation.

Stones and petrol bombs flew between opposition protesters and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi who had flocked to the palace in response to a call from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two Islamists were hit in the legs by what their friends said were bullets fired during the clashes in streets around the compound in northern Cairo. One of them was bleeding heavily.

A leftist group said Islamists had cut off the ear of one of its members. Medical sources said 23 people had been wounded in clashes.

Riot police deployed between the two sides to try to stop the confrontations which flared after dark despite an attempt by Vice President Mahmoud Mekky to calm the political crisis.

He said amendments to disputed articles in the draft constitution could be agreed with the opposition. A written agreement could then be submitted to the next parliament, to be elected after a referendum on the constitution on December 15.

“There must be consensus,” he told a news conference, saying opposition demands had to be respected to reach a solution.

Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, Morsi has shown no sign of buckling, confident that Islamists can win the referendum and a parliamentary election to follow.

Many Egyptians yearn for an end to political upheaval that has scared off investors and tourists, damaging the economy.

Egypt's opposition coalition blamed Morsi for the violence around his palace and said it was ready for dialogue if the Islamist leader scrapped a decree he issued on November 22 that gave him wide powers and shielded his decisions from judicial review.

“We hold President Morsi and his government completely responsible for the violence happening in Egypt today,” opposition coordinator Mohamed ElBaradei told a news conference.

POLARIZATION

“We are ready for dialogue if the constitutional decree is cancelled … and the referendum on this constitution is postponed,” he said of the document written by an Islamist-led assembly that the opposition says ignores its concerns.

“Today what is happening in the Egyptian street, polarisation and division, is something that could and is actually drawing us to violence and could draw us to something worse,” the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog added.

Opposition leaders have previously urged Morsi to retract the November 22 decree, defer the referendum and agree to revise the constitution, but have not echoed calls from street protesters for his overthrow and the “downfall of the regime”.

Morsi has said his decree was needed to prevent courts still full of judges appointed by ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak from derailing a constitution vital for Egypt's political transition.

Rival groups skirmished outside the presidential palace earlier on Wednesday. Islamist supporters of Morsi tore down tents erected by leftist foes, who had begun a sit-in there.

“They hit us and destroyed our tents. Are you happy, Morsi? Aren't we Egyptians too?” asked protester Haitham Ahmed.

Mohamed Mohy, a pro-Morsi demonstrator who was filming the scene, said: “We are here to support our president and his decisions and save our country from traitors and agents.”

Mekky said street mobilization by both sides posed a “real danger” to Egypt. “If we do not put a stop to this phenomenon right away … where are we headed? We must calm down.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed into Egypt's political debate, saying dialogue was urgently needed on the new constitution, which should “respect the rights of all citizens”.

DIALOGUE

Clinton and Morsi worked together last month to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.

“It needs to be a two-way dialogue … among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution,” Clinton told a news conference in Brussels.

Washington is worried about rising Islamist power in Egypt, a staunch U.S. security partner under Mubarak, who preserved the U.S.-brokered peace treaty Cairo signed with Israel in 1979.

The Muslim Brotherhood had summoned supporters to an open-ended demonstration at the presidential palace, a day after about 10,000 opposition protesters had encircled it for what organizers dubbed a “last warning” to Morsi.

“The people want the downfall of the regime,” they chanted, roaring the signature slogan of last year's anti-Mubarak revolt.

The “last warning” may turn out to be one of the last gasps for a disparate opposition that has little chance of scuttling next week's vote on the draft constitution.

State institutions, with the partial exception of the judiciary, have mostly fallen in behind Morsi.

The army, the muscle behind all previous Egyptian presidents in the republic's six-decade history, has gone back to barracks, having apparently lost its appetite to intervene in politics.

In a bold move, Morsi sacked Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the Mubarak-era army commander and defense minister, in August and removed the sweeping powers that the military council, which took over after Mubarak fell, had grabbed two months earlier.

The liberals, leftists, Christians, ex-Mubarak followers and others opposed to Morsi have yet to generate a mass movement or a grassroots political base to challenge the Brotherhood.

Investors have seized on hopes that Egypt's turbulent transition, which has buffeted the economy for two years, may soon head for calmer waters, sending stocks 1.6 percent higher after a 3.5 percent rally on Tuesday.

Egypt has turned to the IMF for a $4.8 billion loan after the depletion of its foreign currency reserves. The government said on Wednesday the process was on track and its request would go to the IMF board as expected.

The board is due to review the facility on December 19.

Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that if Egypt was to find a compromise solution to its crisis, it would not be through slogans and blows.

“It will be through quiet negotiation, not through duelling press conferences, street brawls, or civil strife.”

Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Tamim Elyan and Edmund Blair; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Andrew Roche

Vatican steps up condemnation of Libya violence


The Vatican significantly sharpened its condemnation of the violent attack in Libya that killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. State Department personnel.

The comments came as Pope Benedict XVI began a two-day visit to Lebanon on Friday.

“The very serious attack organized against the United States diplomatic mission in Libya, which led to the death of the ambassador and of other functionaries, calls for the firmest possible condemnation on the part of the Holy See,” said a statement Thursday by Vatican chief spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

“Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence. Along with our sadness, mourning and prayers for the victims, we again express the hope that, despite this latest tragedy, the international community may discover the most favorable ways to continue its commitment in favor of peace in Libya and the entire Middle East,” the statement added.

The remarks update a Vatican statement that had not mentioned the murders of the diplomats and had come under criticism for not having condemned the violence in firm enough terms.

The violence broke out in Libya and other countries after reports of an American-made anti-Islam film trailer on YouTube. The Libyan attack was likely a spontaneous one followed by an organized attack a few hours later that was possibly led by anti-American infiltrators into the country, the New York Times reported on Friday.

In the Vatican’s initial statement, Lombardi had decried the “tragic results” of “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslim sensitivities.

The Pope’s visit is aimed at promoting dialogue and peace in the region. Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a particular concern of the Vatican.

Opinion: Riot/Ride


Last Sunday, my wife, our daughter and I hitched our bikes to our car, drove toward downtown and parked just across from MacArthur Park, otherwise known as Langer’s Deli adjacent.

There, we hopped on our bikes and joined more than 100,000 other bicyclists, walkers, stroller-pushers and roller skaters for the latest CicLAvia.

I’ll try to describe it, but, trust me, you had to be there.

Ten miles of L.A. streets from southeast Hollywood to Boyle Heights were closed to automobile traffic. We were able to leisurely ride toward downtown on Seventh Street, turn onto Spring, through El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Little Tokyo, and then over the Los Angeles River.

A sea of L.A. humanity flowed with us — of all colors, shapes and sizes. Occasionally we’d pass DJs blasting trance music, or mariachi bands, and even groups playing giant games of street chess. For several hours we got to take in the unhurried beauty of L.A.: the boat-like Coca-Cola Building, the art deco Oviatt Building, the view of the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains from atop the Fourth Street Bridge. 

If the Los Angeles Riots, whose 20th anniversary we mark on April 29, realized the darkest vision of what L.A. could become, CicLAvia represents the brightest.

“Twenty years ago, we were rioting in the streets,” Aaron Paley, president of Community Arts Resources (CARS, ironically) and a founder of CicLAvia told me, “and now we’re riding bicycles through them. It is radically different. That’s why I am so inspired by how things have changed in 20 years.”

The idea for CicLAvia originated in Bogota, Colombia, where Ciclovia (Spanish for “bike path”) is now a weekly event that takes over some 80 miles of city streets and draws a million people. Paley first heard of it in 2008 and joined forces with another group to try to bring it to Los Angeles.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got behind the project after one meeting, and his support smoothed the way for the ultimate car city to host the first CicLAvia on Oct. 10, 2010. Today, it is the largest open-street, car-free event in America.

For Paley, it was the realization of a lifelong dream to find the one event that would bring together the city he loves. For years he imagined calling on all Angelenos to gather by the Los Angeles River. Then, he realized, “The river is just one place, but the streets are everywhere.”

Yes: The streets that so often divide us, annoy us, frustrate us — on CicLAvia, they entertain and connect and amuse us.

“We proved that we can all come together,” Paley said.

That, in a sentence, is the story of post-riot L.A.

In our compelling panel discussion put together by Executive Editor Susan Freudenheim and excerpted in these pages, Joe Hicks and David Lehrer cite a study that named Los Angeles the least-segregated city in America.

But most of the other panelists argued that while that may be factually true, L.A. often doesn’t feel that way. Our lives butt up against one another, but they do not intersect.

“It depends on where you’re talking about,” countered civil rights attorney Connie Rice. “It’s gotten more complex. Have we desegregated? Yes, we’re probably the best-desegregated big city, other than New York — but there are very few what I would call integrated communities.”

One possible solution, Rice suggested, is for the private and public sectors to engage schoolchildren in drama, arts and music together, across geographic boundaries:

“You learn music at symphony hall or the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion,” Rice said. “But you have a school from Granada Hills, a school from El Segundo, the South Bay, from Watts, and those four areas learn music together.

“When kids learn together something that’s fun — art, theater or they do sports together or mix up the debating teams, the decathlon teams, by income and by neighborhood — you naturally get a mix that exposes them to one another, and a lot of the walls come down.

“I’ve never understood why we don’t use the rich civic and arts infrastructure that we have to help our kids learn about one another and really achieve integration.”

In other words, a kind of educational CicLAvia.

Meanwhile, Paley and the organizers of the street-level one plan to build on its success to make it a monthly event, rotating among different L.A. neighborhoods. 

Paley, by the way, is also the organizer of Yiddishkayt LA, the annual citywide festival celebrating all things Yiddish. What’s the connection between bicycles and Yiddish?

“Me,” Paley said.

That, I suppose, and the idea of connection itself: a people to its past, and people to one another. 

At the end of CicLAvia, I rode back to where our car was parked on Alvarado.

People really need to wake up to the possibilities of this city, I thought. They just need to wake up.

As if my little reverie had an Elmer Bernstein soundtrack, I suddenly heard the blast of a shofar. I thought it must be a weird car horn, but there it was again — definitely a shofar.

I looked around and saw a man not 20 feet away, on the sidewalk. He was Latino, short and squat, and dressed in a too-large cheap blue suit. And he was blowing a long, twisted Yemenite shofar. He let loose a chain of staccato bursts, sounding more Herb Alpert than Yom Kippur, then he let the thing fall to his side and shouted in Spanish, “Wake up! Jesus is coming. Wake up!”

Except for the Jesus part, I had to agree with him. We do need to wake up, and CicLAvia is a great beginning. Let it be only the beginning.

The next CicLAvia is Oct. 14. For video and more information, visit this column at jewishjournal.com.

Soccer fans on the frontline of revolution


Sprinting down a side street in downtown Cairo, the group of young men are outrun by a hissing tear gas canister careening through the air, slamming into the ground beside them. They quickly raise their arms to their mouths in a futile attempt to avoid inhaling the gas. But one of the group turns in the direction of his pursuers, staring at them defiantly as he breathes in the gas as a show of strength.

In case anyone is wondering who the courageous young man is and whom he represents, look no further than the red, black and white flag of Al-Ahly waving to and fro amid the tumult and white clouds.

Al-Ahly is not a political or religious movement, but the legendary Cairo soccer team. And the man who is defying the security forces is an “Ultra,” a hardcore fan of the team. Like thousands of other Ultras, he has been putting forth his street smarts and penchant for confrontation with the police to join opposition activists in their fight against the generals ruling Egypt.

The Ultras and their role in the revolution came to the world’s attention earlier this month when two groups of them clashed at a Port Said soccer match between the visiting Al-Ahly team and the local squad, Al-Masry. At least 75 people were killed in the violence as security forces stood by, fueling a new round of protests against the interim military government.

Sitting and recovering from the sprint down the street, dodging birdshot and rubber bullets, a group of three teenagers sits off to the side. They dab their eyes with a vinegar mixture and peer slowly back down the street. Mahmoud is the eldest of the three and the leader. He holds an Al-Ahly flag in his left hand. The determination in eyes belies the reality of the clashes. The 17-year-old points to his leg, lifting up his pants to reveal wounds suffered in the past few days of clashes.

“They shot me five times,” he told The Media Line as he waited for his friends—also Ultras—to recover before heading back down the street. “We are here because our friends were killed and the police and military are responsible.”

In many ways, the Ultras have become the face of the most recent round of clashes with police that erupted following the soccer riot amid accusations that the government did little to discourage the violence or perhaps even encouraged it as a means of justifying continue military rule.

The Ultras’ flags and the fireworks they like to set off when they protest have become a common sight in downtown Cairo. On the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street and Mansour Street – the flashpoint of the recent battles between protesters and police – are graffiti memorializing the “martyrs” killed in Port Said.

Last Thursday, tens of thousands of Ultras arrived in Cairo to protest. The police were ready and waiting. They fired barrage upon barrage of tear gas canisters at the protesters, who in return threw rocks at the shielded and masked police. The clashes that followed in subsequent days have left Cairo in yet more chaos, with at least 13 people dead in the capital and Suez to the east.

Leading the protests have been the Ultras, football fans angered at the violence at the Port Said match. This isn’t the first time these football fans have taken to the streets. In fact, their presence in downtown Cairo has become common; their arrival marking an upsurge in confidence and determination among protesters.

Ahmed, a 41-year-old handyman from Aswan, arrived in Cairo on Thursday in the late afternoon to join the protests. “I get a lot of strength by seeing the young people determined to change this country for the better,” he told The Media Line during one of the truces on Mansour Street.

Once devoted wholly to soccer and street fighting, the Ultras have become politicized since the uprising to oust President Hosni Mubarak began last year. They were a major presence downtown during the six days of street battles in November. Their fireworks have become a mark of their will and strength. The rattle of rocks on metal pipes signals their readiness to battle. The Ultras’ motto is: “All Cops Are Bastards.”

In December, their strength became apparent after one of their fellow members was brutally beaten as the military cleared out a peaceful sit-in at the cabinet building in downtown Cairo. The Ultras responded with force, taking to the streets and throwing rocks, which turned into three days of bloody clashes that left at least 17 people dead.

The Ultras of Al-Ahly were founded in the late 1990s by a group of hardcore football fans who traveled around the country following their beloved club to matches. They were known for their virulent chants, feuds with other teams in the stadiums; and clashes with police. Historically, they confined their activity to sports stadiums.

That is, until January 25, 2011, when Egypt exploded in protest against Mubarak. They led the vigilante groups that guarded the entrances to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak protests. When Mubarak backers attacked the rally on camels a year ago in the so-called Battle of the Camel, it was the Ultras who fought back. As time went on, the Ultras became an integral part of the protest movement, taking the lead in many of the marches and showing their fearlessness in the face of violence.

Their political power, while ostensibly outside the mainstream of opposition movements, is unmatched by any group in the country. When the Ultras take to the street, the police are fearful.

One of their downtown Cairo leaders, a man named Gamal, led chants during the latest round of clashes, urging fellow protesters to remain strong and not back down in the face of police violence. He was at the Port Said match, he told The Media Line, and says the people he has spoken with are as angry as ever.

“We have been at the front of these protests for the last few battles with the police. Football is not political, but when the police allow—even push—for fans to attack others, we can no longer sit back and permit this to happen to Egypt,” he says.

“I want to go to a match and have fun. We are not a violent people, but the police and military want violence and we will protest for them to leave,” he says, resting on the sidewalk as he recovers from teargas. There was no let-up for Gamal and his followers. When the Ultras come out, he says, “We should be noticed for our power and strength. It’s others who want us to stop protesting, but what does that serve?”

Police and Los Angeles protesters skirmish, eviction delayed


Police in riot gear held back on clearing out anti-Wall Street protesters who defied a deadline to abandon their 8-week-old encampment outside Los Angeles City Hall on Monday but opened streets for morning commuters before pulling back.

About 2,000 demonstrators remained at the Los Angeles site after a tense morning face-off with police.

Four demonstrators were arrested on suspicion of being present at an unlawful assembly during the brief confrontation. Police cleared the intersection where protesters had gathered to accommodate morning traffic and then withdrew from the immediate vicinity of the City Hall park.

Across the country, a Sunday deadline set by Philadelphia officials for Occupy protesters there to move out of a municipal plaza to came and went without incident.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had given protesters until 12:01 a.m. local time/0501 GMT to dismantle their tents and clear out of the park or face a forcible removal.

But about two hours after the eviction deadline, police commanders said they would permit the Occupy LA encampment to stay until at least daybreak. Police Commander Andrew Smith later said he thought it “highly unlikely” that the camp would be forced to shut down on Monday.

Dozens of people heeded the evacuation order but many tents and other structures stayed put. Police sources said authorities hoped the rest of the protesters would relocate voluntarily and that no major actions are expected before Tuesday.

SUPPORTERS RALLY TO BOLSTER CAMP

The Los Angeles encampment is among the largest on the West Coast aligned with the 2-month-old national Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic inequality, high unemployment and excesses of the U.S. financial system.

Staking its place since Oct. 1 on the grounds surrounding City Hall, the Los Angeles compound grew to roughly 400 tents and 700 to 800 people, organizers and municipal officials said. At least a third of the people were believed to be homeless.

By Sunday night the size of the crowd outside City Hall swelled as supporters from organized labor, clergy, civil rights and other groups streamed into the area, answering a call for an 11th-hour show of support for the campers.

The overall number of protesters, some wearing gas masks, had grown to at least 2,000 by late Sunday, police estimated.

As the eviction deadline came and went, the protesters’ mood turned from calm and festive to rowdy. Demonstrators and police confronted each other but except for some debris thrown by protesters at one point, there was no violence.

The face-off grew tense when police ordered the protesters to clear the street and dozens of helmeted officers with night sticks and special shotguns for firing “bean-bag” projectiles enclosed the intersection and forced their way into the crowd.

Most in the crowd quickly retreated into the park, as onlookers chanted “Whose street? Our Street!”

Los Angeles has been relatively accommodating to its Occupy group compared to other major cities, with Villaraigosa at one point providing ponchos to campers when it rained.

But after the collapse of negotiations aimed at persuading protesters to relocate voluntarily, the mayor said last week the encampment would have to go.

In a statement released Sunday evening, the mayor complimented the protesters for staying peaceful but added, “It is time for Occupy LA to move from focusing their efforts to hold a particular patch of park land to spreading the message of economic justice and restoration of balance to American society.”

He said he hoped to avoid the sporadic violence that erupted in other cities when police used force against Occupy protesters.

A number of protesters early Monday credited the police with showing restraint, including Clark Davis, an Occupy LA organizer, who said to Smith and a group of other officers standing by, “You guys have been fantastic.”

Writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Lucy Nicholson and Dave Warner in Philadelphia; Editing by Greg McCune and Bill Trott

Why I went to Occupy L.A. instead of synagogue


A little more than a month ago, I became a Bat Mitzvah. In Judaism, that means I am now an adult and have pledged to keep the traditions of my faith. And yet it was for those very reasons that I decided to spend Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish year – joining the protesters of Occupy L.A. instead of going to synagogue.

No, my parents weren’t thrilled when I first brought up skipping services on this important holiday, but since my Mom marched on Washington for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, I think she at least understood where I was coming from. Also, my mother knows first-hand what it’s like to lose her job in this recession. She was laid off from the newspaper where she worked for 18 years before she got hired by the Huffington Post and AOL.

Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, a day where we reflect on how we could be better people and apologize to anyone who we may have hurt. I think it’s time for the big corporations and banks in America to say they are sorry too.

And it certainly is time for people to stop ignoring the pain of others. We need to stand up for one another and against those who are doing us harm. That’s what Occupy L.A. is doing. It is part of a nationwide protest against corporate greed and the hardships that have fallen on families across the country.

There is a saying that goes, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” If you are standing by and not doing anything, you are part of the problem.

Too many people are out of work and are losing their houses in foreclosure. Too many people are sleeping in their cars or living on the street after the banks take everything. The banks, meanwhile, are still giving their executives bonuses.

I live in Malibu, a city that everyone thinks is a place filled with rich people. Trust me, there are people in Malibu who are hurting too. I know kids at school who have had to move out of their homes. I know families who are starting to fall apart because of all the stress. Our schools have one fundraiser after another and people feel bad because they can’t afford to give anymore. Our eighth grade class is collecting cans of food to help feed people. In my synagogue, we are also collecting food for food banks. The need is so great and people are just being squeezed too hard. It is time for the government to pitch in.

I believe that by joining the protesters, I am not just taking a stand, but I am fulfilling my role of being an adult. Only kids get to ignore problems. I am also fulfilling my role as a Jew, which is to help people who need my help. I want my voice to be heard. I am joining those kids whose parents have lost their jobs and lost their homes and I want to be counted among the people who are trying to change America back to being a place we can all be proud of living in.

I hope G-d understands my choice. I know He will because He planted the idea in my head.

As London burns, riots spread to Jewish communities


While some Jews in London marked Tisha b’Av on Tuesday by lamenting the burning of the Holy Temples on that day some two millennia ago, other London Jews watched as their city burned amid widespread rioting.

“Everyone is shocked,” Joel Braunold, a lifelong Londoner, told JTA in a phone interview just after leaving Tisha b’Av services Monday night. “People are angry and scared.”

Violent protests that broke out last Saturday following a deadly police shooting in the North London neighborhood of Tottenham quickly turned into riots, arson attacks and looting in neighborhoods this week all over the city in the worse civil unrest that London has seen in 25 years.

In some cases, the Jews reportedly weren’t just bystanders.

The Guardian reported that some members of Tottenham’s small Chasidic community—all that remains of a once-substantial Jewish community that earned its local soccer team the nickname “the Yids”—gathered to jeer police. A video posted on YouTube shows Orthodox men laughing and then scattering as a crowd of mounted police officers move in.

In another video, young Orthodox men can be seen handing out challah.

“When I saw Jewish people out tonight I was happy,” one protester told the Socialist Worker newspaper. “I thought, it’s not just us. They gave us bread.”

Most Jews, however, appear to be eager for a return to law and order. Local rabbis and the Shomrim Orthodox security service have warned Jewish community members to stay away from the riots, the UK Jewish Chronicle reported.

As the riots spread to Jewish areas of Stamford Hill and Golders Green, several Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked. Joelle Selt told JTA that her father’s general store was robbed at knifepoint by masked men, and a 71-year-old Jewish-owned store in Tottenham was looted Sunday morning, the Chronicle reported.

“They are tearing up their own community,” the store’s owner, Derek Lewis, said of the rioters, as reported in the Chronicle. “It’s tragic.”

At least two stabbings were reported Monday night in Stamford Hill, and clashes between rioters and police were reported in Golders Greer and Camden.

Linda W., a mother of three daughters who lives in London, contrasted the rioters disparagingly with the massive but nonviolent protests in Israel over high housing prices.

“It’s evident who raises the better man,” she wrote in an e-mail to JTA.

Linda said the Riot Act—a 1715 law that made it a felony for groups of 12 or more to refuse to disperse after being ordered to do so—should be returned to the books. The law was repealed in 1973.

“People want to enforce the law by any means necessary,” Braunold said. “They don’t care anymore; they just want the riots off the streets.”

The rioting began following the police shooting Aug. 4 in Tottenahm of a suspected drug dealer named Mark Duggan, and spread to young people in poorer neighborhoods. Many analysts have linked the riots to the weak economy, widespread unemployment and deep budget cuts that have hurt Britain’s poor.

“There are underlying causes,” Braunold said, “but first the rioting and hooliganism needs to stop. This brings out the worst characteristics in people, and they need to face the consequences.”

Egyptian police confront protesters [VIDEO]


Protesters in the Egyptian capital were met with tear gas and water cannons as police tried to control the crowd Tuesday, the ” title=”NYTimes.com” target=”_blank”>NYTimes.com.