Widespread Civil Unrest in South Asia and Countrywide Protests Sweep Ecuador
South Asia: Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Sparks Widespread Civil Unrest
Anti-Islam remarks made by two members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have triggered widespread protests across South Asia in the past week, resulting in casualties, property damage and communication disruptions. The largest protests occurred on June 10 as thousands of Muslims took to the streets in India, Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan. While most of the protests proceeded without incident and involved peaceful marches to urge Muslim-majority nations to cut economic ties with India, demonstrations turned violent in Ranchi – the capital of India’s Jharkhand state. Clashes erupted between Hindu and Muslim protesters, prompting the police to intervene and open fire. Two teenagers were shot and killed in the incident, while dozens of other protesters and a police officer were injured. Sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces also took place during protests in various districts of India’s Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal states where at least 300 people were arrested. Railway traffic was interrupted in Bethuadahari – a town in West Bengal – after protesters attacked a local train station. The Indian government imposed curfews, bans on public gatherings and suspension of internet services in various regions, including Ranchi and Jammu and Kashmir. Indian intelligence agencies are also on high alert following a letter issued by Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) warning of suicide bombings in several cities and states in retribution for the anti-Muslim rhetoric. While protests have subsided in other South Asian nations, demonstrations have continued in India as thousands participated in a march in the eastern city of Kolkata on June 14. In an attempt to quell the unrest, the BJP suspended Nupur Sharma and expelled Naveen Jindal – the two party officials behind the comments against the Prophet Muhammad – and issued a statement denouncing any verbal insults against religious figures. At the same time, a BJP leader in the state of Uttar Pradesh ordered the demolition of housing units built illegally by several protest participants, which could trigger a retaliation from the Muslim community in the short term.
Ecuador: Countrywide Protests Over Economic Measures
Ongoing nationwide protests organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) to denounce President Guillermo Lasso’s economic policies have resulted in significant travel interruptions and property destruction. Demonstrations started on June 13 and have spread to at least 16 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, including Pichincha – the province housing the capital Quito. Activists have blocked numerous roads with burning tires, sand, tree branches and other objects, partially cutting off access to the capital. Isolated incidents of asset attacks targeting public and private property – including farms and police vehicles – have occurred in central Ecuador and Quito. Protesters have also reportedly occupied and paralyzed some of the oil wells belonging to a Chinese oil company in Orellana Province, resulting in a loss of 1,400 barrels of crude oil per day. In an attempt to suppress the unrest, security forces arrested Indigenous leader Leonidas Iza for allegedly inciting violence during the protests on June 14. The detention triggered a retaliation from a group of activists who gathered outside of a military base in Latacunga – the capital of the Cotopaxi province – and clashed with Ecuadorian police who deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd. The Indigenous movement claimed that several people were injured but the exact number of casualties remains unclear. Protesters’ demands include lower gas prices, debt forgiveness or extension of bank deadlines for small farmers and a reduction of mining and oil development. Previous strikes and countrywide protests organized by CONAIE – including the October 2019 demonstrations that brought the country to a standstill and left 11 dead and 1,500 injured – have demonstrated the organization’s ability to put significant pressure on the government in order to achieve their objectives. In response to the ongoing protests, President Lasso has released a statement denouncing the incidents of property damage and warning that he would not “allow the country to be paralyzed,” which indicates a potential for aggressive government response if the protests result in protracted disruption to travel and commercial activities.