Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

A woman poses for a photo in front of graffiti at the Saadoun tunnel, in Baghdad, Iraq. Nov. 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 22 November 2019

Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

  • The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement
  • Haydar Mohammed said, “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”

BAGHDAD: The images are both haunting and inspiring, transforming a once dreary, grim underpass into a vivid, colorful wall of art.
“We want a nation, not a prison,” says one painting that depicts a man bursting free from behind bars. “Plant a revolution, and you will harvest a nation,” reads another showing a hand flashing the victory sign over protesters heads.
Some of the messages are less sentimental. “Look at us, Americans, this is all your fault,” declares one.
The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement. Along its walls, young artists draw murals, portraits and graffiti that illustrate the country’s tortured past and the Iraq they aspire to.
The tunnel passes under Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests where thousands of people are camped out in a giant sit-in that has taken on the feel of a vibrant mini-city.
Almost daily, clashes erupt with security forces not far away firing tear gas, live rounds and stun grenades to prevent protesters from crossing bridges over the Tigris River to the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Tuk tuks — three-wheeled motorcycle transports — often zip back and forth through the Saadoun Tunnel, rushing wounded protesters from the front lines to medical clinics.
Saadoun Tunnel, the tuk tuks, the square and a nearby 14-story Saddam Hussein-era building on the Tigris that protesters took over have all become symbols of what has become the largest grassroots protest movement Iraq has seen. The protests erupted Oct. 1 over longstanding grievances at corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services and quickly escalated into calls to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system imposed after the 2003 US invasion and its entire political elite.
Young protesters, men and women, throng the tunnel — actually a long underpass, most of which is open to the air except for enclosed portions directly beneath Tahrir — and pass time there hanging out or taking selfies in front of the murals. Caricatures on the walls mock Iraqi politicians; other paintings praise the tuk tuks; a woman with an Iraqi flag on her cheek flexes her bicep, recreating the famed US “We Can Do It” poster; faces in drawings shout in anger or pain.
Haydar Mohammed said he and a group of other medical students were partly responsible for the murals. They met in Tahrir and saw the tunnels walls were a perfect medium to send a message to those who are suspicious of the protesters, he said.
“We are life-makers not death-makers,” he said. “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”
Many of the murals carry calls for anti-sectarianism, peace and a free Iraq. In one painting, a little girl cries, declaring “They killed my dream,” referring to the group of men behind her, some in religious clothes.
Another shows an Iraqi protester wearing a helmet against tear gas with the Arabic words: “In the heart is something that cannot be killed by guns, which is the nation.” Nearby is scrawled, in English, “All What I want is life.”
“Sitting in front of these portraits, people and candles is better than being in any coffeeshop. Every time I look at them I am hopeful that the revolution will not end,” said Yahya Mohammed, 32, smoking a hookah in the tunnel and observing the scene.
“This tunnel gives me hope.”


In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

Updated 12 April 2021

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

MOSCOW: Sixty years after he became the first person in space, there are few figures more universally admired in Russia today than Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
His smiling face adorns murals across the country. He stands, arms at his sides as if zooming into space, on a pedestal 42.5 meters (140 feet) above the traffic flowing on Moscow’s Leninsky Avenue. He is even a favorite subject of tattoos.
The Soviet Union may be gone and Russia’s glory days in space long behind it, but Gagarin’s legend lives on, a symbol of Russian success and — for a Kremlin keen to inspire patriotic fervor — an important source of national pride.
“He is a figure who inspires an absolute consensus that unifies the country,” says Gagarin’s biographer Lev Danilkin.
“This is a very rare case in which the vast majority of the population is unanimous.”
The anniversary of Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12, 1961 — celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day — sees Russians of all ages lay flowers at monuments to his accomplishment across the country.
The enduring fascination comes not only from his story of rising from humble origins to space pioneer, or even the mystery surrounding his death.
Gagarin, says historian Alexander Zheleznyakov, was a figure who helped fuel the imagination.
“He transformed us from a simple biological species to one that could imagine an entire universe beyond Earth.”

Humble beginnings
The son of a carpenter and a dairy farmer who lived through the Nazi occupation, Gagarin trained as a steel worker before becoming a military pilot and then, at age 27, spending 108 minutes in space as his Vostok spacecraft completed one loop around the Earth.
He was lauded for his bravery and professionalism, an example of the perfect Soviet man, but his legend was also imbued with tales of camaraderie, courage and love for his two daughters and wife Valentina Gagarina.
Long a secret, Gagarin wrote his wife a poignant farewell letter in the event that he died during his mission.

People watch the launch of a model rocket during a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Russia's Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight into space, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

“If something goes wrong, I ask you — especially you — Valyusha, not to die of grief. For this is how life goes,” he wrote, using a diminutive for Valentina.
In an interview with AFP in 2011, cosmonaut Boris Volynov recalled a man who, despite sharing privileges of the Soviet elite, spent hours on the phone to procure medicine or a spot in a hospital for his less well-off friends.
On his return to Earth, Gagarin found himself at the center of a propaganda campaign on the superiority of the Soviet model.
Biographer Danilkin says Gagarin was used by authorities as an example to the rest of the world, but also to convince Soviet citizens, who had endured World War II and Stalin-era repressions, “that the sacrifices of the previous decades were not in vain.”
President Vladimir Putin, he said, has co-opted that legacy to cement his own hold on power, promoting Soviet victories to encourage support for his 20-year rule.
“The current authorities methodically appropriate popular cults: first that of victory during World War II, then the conquest of space,” Danilkin says.

Tragic figure
Like all great Russian heroes, Gagarin is a tragic figure.
His death during a training flight in 1968 at the age of 34 remains a mystery because authorities never released the full report of the investigation into the causes of the accident.
Partial records suggest his MiG-15 fighter jet collided with a weather balloon, but in the absence of transparency, alternative theories abound.
One holds that Gagarin was drunk at the controls; another that he was eliminated by the Kremlin which feared his popularity.
More than 40 years later, many Russians have yet to come to terms with his death.
“How could the top cosmonaut, such a young and kind man, die like that so suddenly?” says historian Zheleznyakov.
“People are still trying to get over it.”


Saudi FM invites Filipino minister to AlUla after Bocelli concert piques interest

Updated 09 April 2021

Saudi FM invites Filipino minister to AlUla after Bocelli concert piques interest

  • Prince Faisal bin Farhan explained that the concert was held in AlUla and invited the minister to visit the city
  • Bocelli serenaded a limited number of concert-goers at the heritage site due to social distancing measures on Thursday

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has invited a Filipino minister to AlUla after the lawmaker tweeted asking how to access Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli’s recent performance in the historic city.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan explained that the concert was held in AlUla and said “It would be a pleasure to host your Excellency there during your next visit to Saudi.”
Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. serves as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and is a former journalist.

Bocelli enchanted his audience in AlUla on Thursday in what is believed to be the first-ever performance within the walls of the ancient desert city.
It was the tenor’s third performance in the Kingdom, and Bocelli serenaded a limited number of concert-goers at the heritage site due to social distancing measures.


Mrs. World gives up crown after onstage melee in Sri Lanka

Updated 09 April 2021

Mrs. World gives up crown after onstage melee in Sri Lanka

  • Reigning Mrs. World took crown away from Sri Lanka pageant winner
  • Mrs. World 2020 Caroline Jurie now facing criminal charges

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: The reigning Mrs. World on Friday relinquished her title while defending her decision to pull the crown off the head of the winner of this year’s Mrs. Sri Lanka, whom she falsely claimed to be a divorcee and unqualified to take part in the contest.
Caroline Jurie, the winner of Mrs. World 2020, has been accused of hurting Pushpika De Silva, who on Sunday was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka at a televised pageant in Colombo. Jurie was arrested on Thursday and later released on bail.
In a statement Friday, Jurie said she stood against “injustice” and called the judging of the pageant “tainted.”
“My only intention was to stand up for the injustice caused to the competitors throughout this competition which was tainted with heavy politicization.”
Jurie said she wanted to ensure that every contestant had an equal opportunity, because she had seen “from the beginning” that the contest was corrupted. She stressed that she did not favor anyone.
“I am now ready to hand over the crown,” she said at at the end of the video, before removing the crown from her head.
Jurie, who is also Sri Lankan, faces allegations that she injured De Silva during Sunday’s on-stage melee.

Pushpika De Silva poses for photographs with her Mrs Sri Lanka crown after it was forcibly removed by the reigning Mrs World, Caroline Jurie at the Mrs Sri Lanka contest, in Colombo on April 6, 2021. (REUTERS)

Moments after De Silva won the title, Jurie came on stage and snatched the crown from her, claiming she is divorced and ineligible to participate in the contest. Jurie then handed the crown to the first-runner up, declaring that woman the winner.
De Silva denied being divorced.
“Being apart is one. Divorce is something else. I’m still an un divorced woman,” she said on Facebook.
But on Friday, Jurie said: “How I is see it, the purpose of Mrs. World is to celebrate all women who are married and still strive to conquer their dreams, despite the commitment and responsibilities a married woman strives to fulfill.”
She added that the pageant “was certainly not created to discriminate divorced women but to celebrate the dreams of the married woman.”
Sri Lankan police said they received a complaint from De Silva that she suffered injuries when her crown was removed. Police arrested Jurie and a model, Chula Padmendram, on Thursday on charges of “simple hurt and criminal force. The two women were later released on bail and have been ordered to appear in court on April 19.
The incident at Sunday’s pageant, which was attended by the prime minister’s wife, created a huge uproar in the Indian Ocean island nation. Organizers of the pageant on Monday said they would return the crown to De Silva.
Sri Lanka will be hosting the final Mrs. World contest this year.
Meanwhile, Jurie said she will stand for what she believes is right. “I stand for values, even if it means I have to stand alone,” she said.


Norway PM fined for violating coronavirus restrictions

Updated 09 April 2021

Norway PM fined for violating coronavirus restrictions

  • The head of government was fined 20,000 Norwegian kroner, or about $2,300

OSLO: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg received a hefty fine on Friday for breaking the country’s virus curbs by organizing a family birthday dinner that she ended up not attending, police said.
Police concluded that the dinner organized in part by Solberg had exceeded the number of guests allowed at private functions.
For the infraction, the head of government was fined 20,000 Norwegian kroner (about $2,300).
“Even if the law is equal for everyone, everyone is not equal,” Commissioner Ole Saeverud told a press conference.
“Solberg is the country’s foremost elected official and has, on a number of occasions, been the leading figure in the government’s decisions on measures to counter the pandemics,” Saeverud added.
“It is therefore considered justified to give a sanction to maintain public confidence in the health rules,” he argued.
Public broadcaster NRK revealed in mid-March that Solberg celebrated her 60th birthday with her family at a ski resort under conditions that seemed to violate health guidelines.
On 25 February, 13 members of her family had dined at a restaurant in the town of Geilo, although rules limited the number of participants in a private event in a public space to 10.
Solberg herself had not attended the dinner as she needed to go to the hospital to deal with eye issues, but police still held her responsible for organizing the event.
After the event came to light, Solberg made a public apology and said she was prepared to pay potential fines.
On Friday, the prime minister reiterated her apology and said she wouldn’t appeal the decision.
“We should not have broken the rules and I want to apologize again,” she told broadcaster TV2.
The affair, which has made the rounds on social networks, has tarnished the image of the leader – who has generally been praised for the government’s handling of the health crisis – ahead of the parliamentary elections on 13 September.
Commenting for news website ABC Nyheter, journalist David Stenerud called it “a good day for Norwegian rule of law.”
“It’s remarkable that our own Prime Minister was investigated for breaking the rules she imposed on us. And even more incredible that she is now convicted,” Astrid Meland, editorial writer for newspaper Verdens Gang, wrote.


Doctors in Turkey urge coronavirus lockdown during Ramadan

Updated 09 April 2021

Doctors in Turkey urge coronavirus lockdown during Ramadan

  • Turkish medical groups say the reopening in March was premature and that the new measures won’t go far enough to curb the surge

ANKARA: Turkey has posted record daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases for the past 10 days, including 55,941 new infections reported late Thursday.
Keen to minimize the pandemic’s repercussions for Turkey’s ailing economy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan eased infection-control measures in early March. The recent spike forced him to announce renewed restrictions, such as weekend lockdowns and the closure of cafes and restaurants during Ramadan, starting on April 13.
Turkish medical groups say the reopening in March was premature and that the new measures won’t go far enough to curb the surge. They have called for a full lockdown during the holy Muslim month.
“Every single day the number of cases is increasing. Every single day the number of deaths is increasing. The alarm bells are ringing for the intensive care units,” Ismail Cinel, head of the Turkish Intensive Care Association, said.
The Health Ministry has said that around 75 percent of the recent infections in Turkey involve the more contagious variant first identified in Britain.
“We have unfortunately loosened the measures and were not able to accelerate vaccinations,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca was quoted as saying in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper published Friday.
Of the hospital situation, Koca said: “There is no problem for now. But if this continues for three or four weeks, it will be a problem.”
Turkish opposition parties are blaming the spike on a series of mass political rallies by Erdogan’s ruling party. The party rejects the accusations.