Palestinians celebrate UN victory

Image: BBC
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The news of the UN General Assembly’s decision to upgrade the Palestinians status was the cue for wild celebrations across the West Bank and Gaza.

In Ramallah, thousands hit the streets for a frenzy of flag-waving and fireworks.

Many in the crowd expressed their delight at the UN’s decision and their pride in President Mahmoud Abbas following his speech to the UN.

“I’m so proud, like a Palestinian, I’m so proud, this President represents me, he reflected our dreams in such a tremendous way,” one woman said.

Adnan Al-damiri, a major general in the Palestinian security service said, “There is a struggle between the Palestinians and the Israeli government. And today we have won a point in this struggle. We will continue to win the points until we get independence.”

In the city of Bethlehem, the bells of the Church of the Nativity rang out in honour of the vote.

Thousands had gathered next to the Israeli separation barrier to watch the live broadcast of President Abbas give his speech.

“Today, thanks to God’s will, we celebrate the victory of Palestine. It is now on the world map. A country like any other country,” one man said.

There was also jubilation on the streets of Gaza.

Image: BBC

Image: BBC

In a rare show of unity, Abbas’ Islamist rivals Hamas, who control the territory, let the President’s Fatah movement hold a victory rally.

”It is a historical moment,” said one man.

“It should be written in history that the Palestinian state was recognised. The 29th November is an historic date. We are so proud of it,” said another man.

During his address to the UN, President Abbas described the vote as a last chance to save the so- called two state solution.

Syria’s regime is lying about a cut cable taking out the internet

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Today, 29 November 2012, between 1026 and 1029 (UTC), all traffic from Syria to the rest of the Internet stopped. CloudFlare blog witnessed the drop off:

 

We’ve spent the morning studying the situation to understand what happened. The following graph shows the last several days of traffic coming to CloudFlare’s network from Syria.

Since the beginning of today’s outage, we have received no requests from Syrian IP space. That is a more complete blackout than we’ve seen when other countries have been cut from the Internet (see, for example, Egypt where while most traffic was cut off some requests still trickled out).

The graph above shows two other incidents over the last week. On 25 November 2012 at approximately 0800 UTC we witnessed a 15 minute period during which Syrian traffic was cut to only 13% of normal levels. Again on 27 November 2012 at 0730 UTC, we saw a 15 minute period during which traffic dropped to only 0.2% of normal.

What Happened?

The Syrian Minister of Information is being reported as saying that the government did not disable the Internet, but instead the outage was caused by a cable being cut. Specifically: “It is not true that the state cut the Internet. The terrorists targeted the Internet lines, resulting in some regions being cut off.” From our investigation, that appears unlikely to be the case.

To begin, all connectivity to Syria, not just some regions, has been cut. The exclusive provider of Internet access in Syria is the state-run Syrian Telecommunications Establishment. Their network AS number is AS29386. The following network providers typically provide connectivity from Syria to the rest of the Internet: PCCW and Turk Telekom as the primary providers with Telecom Italia, TATA for additional capacity. When the outage happened, the BGP routes to Syrian IP space were all simultaneously withdrawn from all of Syria’s upstream providers. The effect of this is that networks were unable to route traffic to Syrian IP space, effectively cutting the country off the Internet.

Syria has 4 physical cables that connect it to the rest of the Internet. Three are undersea cables that land in the city of Tartous, Syria. The fourth is an over-land cable through Turkey. In order for a whole-country outage, all four of these cables would have had to been cut simultaneously. That is unlikely to have happened.

Watching the Shutdown Happen

One of our network engineers recorded the following video of network routes being withdrawn. Syrian Telecommunications (AS29386) is represented by the red dot in the middle of the video. The lines represent routes to the Syrian upstream providers.

Beginning at 1026 UTC, routes were withdrawn for PCCW. The routing shifted primarily to Turk Telekom. Routes to Telecom Italia and TATA were also withdrawn, but has less of an impact. Then, at 1029 UTC, routes were withdrawn for Turk Telekom. After that, Syria was effectively cut off from the Internet. (Note that the remaining path that appears to be present in the video is an anomaly. We have confirmed that it is not actually active.)

While we cannot know for sure, our network team estimates that Syria likely has a small number of edge routers. All the edge routers are controlled by Syrian Telecommunications. The systematic way in which routes were withdrawn suggests that this was done through updates in router configurations, not through a physical failure or cable cut.

What Syrians Were Surfing Before the Internet Was Turned Off

The last four sites on CloudFlare that received requests from Syria in the seconds before access was cut were:

  • fotoobook.com – a photo sharing blog
  • aliqtisadi.com – a Syrian news site
  • madinah.com – a Muslim-oriented social network
  • to2.xxx – a porn site (warning: not safe for work)

In other words, traffic from Syrians accessing the Internet in the moments before they were cut off from the rest of the world looks remarkably similar to traffic from any part of the world.

As we have posted about recently, we don’t believe our role is to take sides in political conflicts. However, we do believe it is our mission to build a better Internet where everyone can have a voice and access information. It is therefore deeply troubling to the CloudFlare team when we see an entire nation cut off from the ability to access and report information. Our thoughts are with the Syrian people and we hope connectivity, and peace, will be quickly restored.

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Human Rights bodies denounce abuses in Mauritania

21 Nov 2012 Aziz returns to Mauritania after 6 weeks convalescing in Paris to conceal the severity of his injuries
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The International Federation for Human Rights on Wednesday denounced extrajudicial killings, repression, torture and other rights abuses in Mauritania.

“If, under the regime of (President) Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, people dare to exercise their rights, they are often victims of repression, arrest and imprisonment,” read a joint report with the Mauritania Human Rights Association published Wednesday. President Aziz is a controversial figure who seized power in a military coup after the president he helped to install tried to dismiss him. Aziz then resigned from the military to run for president. His actions cause international outrage and most sources of international funding were frozen or withdrawn.  With the support of influential figures such as the late Colonel Gadaffi in Libya and the former French President Sarkozy, he was able to persuade the IMF, World Bank, African Union and other interested groups to reinstate their support. He has further cemented his standing in the international community by championing the very lucrative “war on terror” and occasionally supplying jailed terrorists for hostage swaps.

The rights bodies said the indefinite postponement of legislative and local elections in 2011, which led to protests from the opposition, could be linked to these rights violations.

The report denounced “extrajudicial killings, excessive and fatal use of force, violence while trying to maintain order, arrests and arbitrary arrests, acts of torture … and unjust judicial procedures.”

The two most recent extrajudicial killings happened right around the time Aziz was injured, in what is officially described as an accidental shooting, on 13 October 2012. Both were prisoners who died under torture. The fate of a third prisoner who was said to have been taken to the Nouakchott military hospital is unknown. You can be certain he was not airlifted to France for treatment, which is what happened to president Aziz.

“The consolidation of a democratic regime must pass through a balancing of power and the organisation as soon as possible of free and fair legislative elections and the strengthening of judicial independence,” the report said.

It also called for the end of impunity for those implicated in atrocities against black Mauritanians under former president Maaouiya Ould Taya, who was in power for 21 years until a 2005 coup.

Political anger has simmered in the large, arid north-west African nation since current leader Abdel Aziz seized power in another military coup in 2008.

Despite his election as a civilian candidate a year later, the opposition has never accepted his rule as legitimate and continue to demand widespread political reforms and adherence to the Dakhar agreement of 2008.

On Wednesday the opposition boycotted celebrations of the country’s 52nd anniversary of independence from France to protest his regime.

Protests have multiplied in the country since 25 February 2011, when the “Arab Spring” erupted in the Maghreb and Egypt, and the opposition’s calls for Abdel Aziz to step down have increased in recent weeks, after an initial pause out of respect for concern over his health. A mass march, one week ago, attracted an estimated 100,000 people in the country’s capital, Nouakchott. Here’s a video:

The 55-year-old leader returned  on Saturday from his 40-day convalescence in France. His supporters rallied to greet him at the airport, joined by others, who were cajoled, bribed and ordered to attend to ensure a large crowd, but the reception was immediately followed by a rash of independent protests by various groups demanding their rights.

21 Nov 2012 Aziz returns to Mauritania after 6 weeks convalescing in Paris to conceal the severity of his injuries

One such group is protesting to demand to know the location of their relatives, a group of prisoners held incommunicado since April 2011 in a secret prison on charges related to terrorism or endangering national security. Others include unemployed workers in a mining area, Zouerate; teachers who have been arbitrarily reassigned to new schools, many in remote areas of the country; students demanding improvements to their dilapidated university and an updated curriculum, and who have not had any increase in their grants despite rising costs of education; suppliers to the government, protesting unfair treatment by the ministry; political opposition who were denied a licence for a rally on Independence day; residents of R’kiz [Arkiz], a small town where three babies died on Monday after being vaccinated against measles, demanding government action and an immediate investigation; and members of a group that formed in April 2011 to protest against racial inequality in the administration of the new registration programme. This last group was thought to have been mollified by changes to the programme agreed last year, but reappeared on the anniversary of independence on 1960, which is also the anniversary of the 1991 execution by the armed forces of 28 Mauritanian men of black African descent.

27 Nov 2012 Arkiz residents demand investigation into baby deaths

Mauritanians face many issues, yet they are also sympathetic to other causes, as shown in this video from the 16 November mass march and rally, when they said prayers for Gaza during the most recent exchange of bombardment with Israel.

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Includes content from AFP via ReliefWeb.

Are you Being Squeezed by Social Media?

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Facebook has made several radical changes to support its drive to increase revenue. Twitter is on the same path. But have they tipped the balance and found your breaking point yet?

Dangerous Minds has written a lengthy and eloquent complaint about how Facebook is deliberately “broken” so that your posts are held hostage unless you pay to promote them. They didn’t cover the other parts of this plan, such as removing or obscuring access to RSS feeds of Facebook content, or treating cross-posted content as inferior, so that not even the 15% of your friends or fans – who might see content you posted directly – get to see those posts. They are listed as “X posted something from WordPress”, for example. This is designed to force you to access Facebook directly so they can deliver their promotion pitch. For activists, there is the additional challenge of having content removed, or having pages or accounts suspended. We are not just unwelcome: we simply do not belong.

Twitter has always been cumbersome. From the early days of having to deal with the fail whale appearing often and at random, we have learned to roll with the punches as they change the terms of service and the ‘rules’, mess with search and trending topics, prevent us from accessing our tweets but sell them wholesale to market research companies, remove RSS feeds, arbitrarily suspend accounts without warning, and respond to complaints or enquiries with template emails… the list just goes on. Most of the changes are not announced. The users have to maintain a constant state of vigilance – finding, figuring out and publicising each change. It’s an irritating waste of time. And it’s not what we came for.

As activists, we want to engage in a more meaningful way: to forge relationships, spread awareness, make a difference. These platforms are increasingly hostile environments, and the decisions they make in support of their profit mandate often run counter to our needs.

In my opinion, anyone with serious networking goals is going to have to get off the social media hamster wheel some time. The ideal scenario would be one where we take our friends WITH us, leaving Twitter and Facebook to turn into the consumer wastelands they aspire to be, and without our direct involvement. In other words, to relegate them to a lower rank on our social media menu. I think this would mean cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter (whether automatically or selectively) , but rarely visiting the apps themselves.

The poster image created by Dangerous Minds reads “I want my friends back”. I don’t think most people realise that they are no longer seeing as much content from their friends, and I assume they will be staying in touch through other channels, including private messages. However, after watching Twitter getting blackmailed by a judge into handing over content including private messages without a warrant, or be forced to reveal its earnings data, we can’t really regard private messages as “private” with any certainty. If more changes are planned, ones that shrink the current options, I expect that many users will reach the point where they want out. Then again, I have observed that the majority of social media users, including activists, can be incredibly resistant to change. If that includes you, then I have some questions, and I would love to hear from you:

Have you tried (or tried and failed) to move away from Facebook and/or Twitter, and what happened? What justifies you staying on Facebook or Twitter, and what would it take for you to leave? Are you aware of alternatives that you have avoided because they are not as heavily populated, or because you can’t break your existing pattern of online behaviour, or because you are afraid you would lose your friends or following? Would you move to a social media application that uses a paid subscription model, where privacy, security were top priority, and it was guaranteed to be free of advertisements? What do you suggest as an alternative?