Massive Protests On Three Continents Draw Millions Of People Into Streets

The unrest on three continents, and the toxic dysfunction in Washington and London, has raised concerns over whether the liberal international order is failing.

Hundreds of thousands of have Lebanese poured into the streets after the government floated a new tax on WhatsApp on the heels of an austerity package that came in response to an increasingly severe fiscal crisis.

The protests rapidly escalated into an indictment of the entire post-civil war order, in which a sectarian power-sharing arrangement has transformed former warlords and other elites into a permanent political class.

Lebanese anti-government protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Beddawi town, near Tripoli. Image: Getty

In the three decades since the war ended, the same leaders have used patronage networks to get themselves re-elected again and again even as the government has failed to reliably provide basic services like electricity, water and rubbish collection.

READ MORE: Lebanon’s Mass Protests Reach Sydney

A similar story has unfolded in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, where a government that distributes power and top offices among Shi'Ites and minority Sunnis and Kurds has calcified into a corrupt stasis, with parties haggling over ministries as services and infrastructure fall into further ruin despite the country's considerable oil wealth.

Lebanese anti-government protesters stand behind a burning barricade during a demonstration in Beddawi. Image: Getty

The protests in both countries target governments that are close to Iran and backed by its heavily armed local allies, raising fears of a violent backlash. Nearly 200 Iraqis have been killed in recent clashes with security forces, and supporters of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group have brawled with protesters in Beirut.

Rising Up Against A Rising China

Hong Kong's protests erupted in early June after the semi-autonomous city passed an extradition bill that put residents at risk of being sent to China's judicial system.

Pro-democracy supporters take part in a rally of medical professionals. Image: Getty

Authorities were forced to drop the extradition bill, which was triggered by the need to resolve the status of a murder suspect wanted for killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan. But by then, the movement had snowballed to include demands for full democracy in the form of direct elections for the city's top leader.

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READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know About The Violent Protests In Hong Kong

Since China took control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, the city's leaders have been selected by an elite committee made up mostly of pro-Beijing tycoons.

Local councillors and half of the Asian financial centre's legislature are directly elected, but the other half are chosen by representatives from the finance, tourism, catering, accounting and other industries, which adds to the public discontent over stifled promises of democracy.

Riot Police walk past closed shops during an anti-government protest in Yuen Long district. Image: Getty

Underlying the Hong Kong protest movement are rising fears about China's tightening grip on the city and worries that Beijing is reneging on promises not to meddle with Hong Kong's Western-style civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.

Unrest In Wealthy, Democratic Chile

On Friday, an estimated one million Chileans filled the streets of the capital Santiago, more than ever took to the streets during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet or the democratic governments that came after him.

The protests were sparked by the subway fare hike but soon morphed into a mass movement against inequality in one of Latin America's wealthiest countries.

READ MORE: Overnight Curfew Imposed In Chile Amid Violent Street Protests

READ MORE: Chile Declares State Of Emergency As Capital Rocked By Protests

At least 19 people have been killed as protesters have clashed with police in recent days.

Thousands of people attend a demonstration to request the resignation of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in Plaza Italia in Santiago. Image: Getty

Struggling to contain the strife, President Sebastian Pinera's administration announced increases in the minimum wage, raised minimum pensions by 20 per cent and rolled back the subway fare increase. And he put a 9.2 per cent increase in electricity prices on hold until the end of next year.

Catalan Protests Take Violent Turn

For years, Catalan separatists have held peaceful, festive marches, but the movement took a violent turn last week when protests erupted over the imprisonment of nine leaders who led a bid for independence from Spain in 2017.

That failed attempt left the separatist movement rudderless, with 12 of its leaders arrested and most of the rest fleeing the country. New activist collectives have emerged in their place, including one calling itself the Tsunami Democratic, which uses its own app and encrypted messages to call for "civil disobedience."

A man plays the guitar in a street in Santiago, on the seventh day of anti-government protests. Image: Getty

But one of its first calls to protest, after the Supreme Court ruling jailing the leaders, turned into a massive siege of Barcelona's international airport, with rioters clashing with police late into the night.