Thousands of women in Belarus protest against Lukashenko

Supporters of LGBTQ rights appeared in the women's march in Minsk, an indication that opponents of Lukashenko are becoming bolder [Reuters]
Thousands of women marched through the capital of Belarus calling for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, and university students demonstrated against the detention of classmates during the wave of protests gripping the country.
For the first time in the protests, supporters of LGBTQ rights appeared with rainbow flags in the women's march in Minsk on Saturday, an indication that opponents of Lukashenko are becoming bolder on the fourth weekend of protests since his disputed re-election.
"LGBT people are calling for freedom. We are tired of living in a dictatorship where we simply didn't exist," Anna Bredova, one of the rainbow flag bearers, told The Associated Press news agency by phone.
Although same-sex activity was legalised in Belarus in 1994, stigmatisation of it is strong. Authorities have not allowed any LGBTQ organisation legal registry.
About 5,000 women took part in the march, according to the human rights organisation Viasna. Police followed the protest, but no detentions were reported.
Marches and demonstrations by women have become a frequent feature of the protests, which broke out on August 9 after a disputed election in which Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, was officially tallied with an 80 percent landslide victory.
Earlier on Saturday, hundreds of students formed human chains to demonstrate against the detention of students at the State Linguistics University.
Masked security agents dragged students off the streets and bundled them into vans, with up to 30 people detained for taking part in the protests, Russian news agency TASS quoted the Minsk police as saying.
Protests took place after some previous elections that Lukashenko won with lopsided margins, but this year's have been by far the largest and longest-lasting. Sunday protests have been especially large, bringing crowds estimated at more than 100,000 people.

Prominent activist leaves

Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition activist Olga Kovalkova arrived in the Polish capital Warsaw on Saturday, saying she had been forced by the authorities to leave Belarus.
Kovalkova, a senior figure in the Belarusian opposition Coordination Council, was sentenced to 10 days in jail on August 25. 
She said she was taken from prison to the border, where she entered Poland at the Kuznica-Bruzgi border crossing before travelling to Warsaw.
"Representatives of the militia and the interior ministry of Belarus came to me and said that if I did not agree to leave, I would face long arrest," she told a news conference on Saturday.
Kovalkova arrived in Poland on the same day that Polish authorities confirmed Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya will visit Warsaw on Wednesday, where she will meet Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko's main challenger in the election, fled to Lithuania the day after the vote.
On Friday, she addressed the United Nations Security Council via video link, asking it to "stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity right in the middle of Europe".
She accused Lukashenko of stealing the election and asked the UN to condemn the crackdown on protesters, send a monitoring mission to Belarus, and call a special session of its Human Rights Council to discuss the situation in the country.
Lukashenko has denied accusations by the opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted demands to step down.
Human rights experts from the UN have confirmed receiving reports of hundreds of cases of torture, beatings, and mistreatment of Belarusian protesters by police.
"All these activities will not stop me, I will continue to act politically and I intend to return to Belarus to continue my activities," Kovalkova said.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

Uproar grows over reports Trump called US war dead 'losers'

Joe Biden declares Donald Trump 'unfit' for presidency as anger grows over media reports he disparaged fallen soldiers.
    US President Donald Trump has come under fire over reports he mocked the country's war dead as "suckers" and "losers", with Joe Biden, his main opponent in the upcoming presidential election, declaring him "unfit" for the commander-in-chief role.
    Biden's comments on Friday came as Trump again sought to dismiss as "false" the alleged comments, first reported on by The Atlantic magazine and then by The Associated Press news agency.
    Voice cracking, Biden told reporters in Delaware that "you know in your gut" Trump's comments, if true, are "deplorable".
    "I've just never been as disappointed, in my whole career, with a leader that I've worked with, president or otherwise," Biden added. "If the article is true - and it appears to be, based on other things he's said - it is absolutely damning. It is a disgrace."
    Trump, in the Oval Office, said no apology was necessary, because it was a "fake story".
    The allegations, sourced anonymously, describe multiple offensive comments by the president towards killed and captured US service members during a trip to France in November 2018.
    In the morning of a scheduled visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Trump reportedly told senior staff, "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers." The White House later said the visit was cancelled because foggy weather made the helicopter trip from Paris too risky and a 90-minute drive was deemed infeasible.
    The Atlantic also said Trump, in a separate conversation on the same trip, referred to more than 1,800 US soldiers who died during the consequential 1918 battle at Belleau Wood as "suckers" for getting killed.
    Speaking in the Oval Office on Friday, Trump denied ever uttering such comments. "It was a terrible thing that somebody could say the kind of things - and especially to me, 'cause I've done more for the military than almost anyone anybody else."
    Later, in a news briefing, Trump suggested the source of the story was his former chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly. "It could have been a guy like John Kelly," Trump told reporters, saying his former top aide "was unable to handle the pressure of this job".

    'You're no patriot'

    But that denial was met with scepticism, with critics seizing on the media reports to shine a fresh light on Trump's previous public disparagement of US troops and military families.
    That includes his criticism of the late Arizona Senator John McCain, a decorated Navy officer who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "He's not a war hero," Trump said of McCain in 2015. He had also said at the time: "I like people who weren't captured."
    On a call with reporters hosted by the Biden campaign on Friday, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth lambasted Trump for "belittling the sacrifices of those who have shown more bravery than he's capable of".
    Duckworth, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel who lost both of her legs in the Iraq War, has been a prominent critic of Trump's handling of military issues. Knocking Trump for allegedly inventing an injury to avoid serving in the Vietnam War, Duckworth said she would "take my wheelchair and my titanium legs over Donald Trump's supposed bone spurs any day".
    Khizr Khan, whose son, Humayun, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, joined Duckworth on the call and said Trump's "life is a testament to selfishness".
    Khan, who drew national attention after criticising Trump during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, added: "Words we say are windows into our souls. So, when Donald Trump calls anyone who places their lives in service of others a loser, we understand Trump's soul."
    Veterans also condemned the president's alleged remarks.
    Paul Eaton, a retired major general, in a Twitter video said Trump had shown "disrespect to the military in countless occasions", adding: "You're no patriot."
    VoteVets posted online a video, in which six families of US soldiers who died while on duty criticised Trump, each one declaring their children were not losers or suckers. "You don't know what it is to sacrifice," one father said.
    Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Alexandria in the US state of Virginia, said Trump's alleged comments had been confirmed by multiple news outlets.
    "This story isn't going away, because now, a number of news outlets here in Washington have confirmed the same scope and the same quotes that were in that story. That includes Fox News, which has been the president's go-to television news network."
    Jordan was referring to reporting by Jennifer Griffin, Fox News's national security correspondent, who said two former Trump administration officials had confirmed The Atlantic's reporting.

    'This never happened'

    Trump's supporters, meanwhile, took to television networks and social media to defend the president, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling the programme, Fox and Friends, on Friday that he was with the president for a good part of the trip to France.
    "I never heard him use the words that are described in that article," Pompeo said.
    US Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a statement saying "Trump has the highest respect and admiration for our nation's military members, veterans and families" and "has fought for greater pay and more funding" for the armed forces. 
    Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was the White House press secretary at the time of Trump's visit, said of The Atlantic report: "I was actually there and one of the people part of the discussion - this never happened."
    First Lady Melania Trump also defended her husband, issuing a rare public statement, calling Trump's alleged mockery of US war dead "not true" and blasting The Atlantic's reliance on anonymous sources.
    Mike Pence, the vice president, said he was not in Paris but "it never happened".
    He told CNBC: "American people just roll their eyes at these late-hit, anonymous-source media coming from The Atlantic or anywhere else. It's just politics as usual."
    SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

    Iran still expanding enriched uranium stockpile, says UN watchdog

    IAEA says Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium stands at more than 10 times the limit set in 2015 nuclear deal.
      Iranian technicians work at a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor, just outside the city of Isfahan 410km south of the capital, Tehran [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]
      Iranian technicians work at a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor, just outside the city of Isfahan 410km south of the capital, Tehran [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]
      Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium in violation of limitations set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but has begun providing access to sites where the country was suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material, the United Nations' atomic watchdog agency said on Friday.
      The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries that Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium now stands at more than 10 times the limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
      As of August 25, Iran had stockpiled 2,105.4kg (4,641.6 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, up from 1,571.6kg (3,464.8 pounds) reported on May 20. 
      Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia.
      Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8kg (447 pounds).
      The IAEA also reported that Iran has been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of up to 4.5 percent, higher than the 3.67 percent allowed under the JCPOA. It said Iran's stockpile of heavy water had decreased.
      The deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
      But in 2018, President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal, saying it needed to be renegotiated.
      Since then, Iran has slowly scaled back against the restrictions in an attempt to pressure the remaining nations to increase incentives to offset new, economy-crippling US sanctions.
      Those countries maintain that even though Iran has been violating many of the pact's restrictions, it is important to keep the deal alive because the country has continued providing the IAEA with critical access to inspect its nuclear facilities.
      The agency had been at a months-long impasse over two locations thought to be from the early 2000s, however, which Iran had argued inspectors had no right to visit because they dated to before the deal. 
      Last week, Iran announced it would allow the IAEA access to the two sites, following a visit to Tehran by the organisation's Director General Rafael Grossi.
      The IAEA said Iran had granted its inspectors access to one of the two sites.
      "Iran provided agency inspectors access to the location to take environmental samples," a separate IAEA report seen by the AFP news agency said on Friday.
      "The samples will be analysed by laboratories that are part of the agency's network," it added.
      The report said an inspection at the second site will take place "later in September 2020 on a date already agreed with Iran".
      What is next for Iran nuclear deal?
      INSIDE STORY
      What is next for Iran nuclear deal?
      SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

      Netanyahu says Serbia will move its embassy to Jerusalem

      Israeli PM announces move after Serbia and Kosovo agreed on historic pact at White House to normalise economic ties.
        Israel seized control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in moves never recognised by the international community. [Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP]
        Israel seized control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in moves never recognised by the international community. [Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP]
        Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Serbia will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, becoming the first European country to follow the United States in making the move.
        Most diplomatic missions in Israel have been in Tel Aviv as countries stayed neutral over the disputed city of Jerusalem until its status could be settled in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
        But in December 2017, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announced the shifting the US embassy from Tel Aviv.
        On Friday, Netanyahu revealed Serbia's move, adding that the transfer will happen by July 2021.
        "I thank my friend the president of Serbia ... for the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to transfer his embassy there," Netanyahu said.
        "I would like also to thank my friend President Trump for contributing to this achievement."
        News of the move by Serbia, not a member of the 27-nation EU, coincided with the announcement by Trump that former foes Serbia and Kosovo had agreed on an historic pact to normalise economic relations.
        Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official slammed Serbia's decision, saying it makes "Palestine a victim" of Trump's re-election hopes.
        "Palestine has become a victim of the electoral ambitions of President Trump, whose team would take any action, no matter how destructive for peace ... to achieve his re-election," said Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in a tweet.
        "This, just like the UAE-Israel agreement [to normalise diplomatic ties], isn't about Middle East Peace," he added.
        Israel seized control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in moves never recognised by the international community.
        It considers the city its undivided capital, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) sees the occupied eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their future state. 
        The United Nations and the European Union, Israel's top economic partner, say the city's final status must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, before which countries should not locate their embassies there.
        Netanyahu also announced that Israel had set up diplomatic relations from Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
        "Kosovo will become the first majority-Muslim country to open an embassy in Jerusalem," Netanyahu said in a statement. "As I've said in recent days - the circle of peace and recognition of Israel is expanding and more countries are expected to join."

        Disputed city

        Trump's decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem three years ago triggered Palestinian outrage and a diplomatic shockwave.
        So far, only Guatemala followed in his footsteps, also opening up its diplomatic mission in the holy city in May 2018.
        Friday's announcement also comes less than a month after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalise ties under a US-brokered deal.
        The agreement, expected to be signed at a White House ceremony in the coming weeks, would be Israel's first with a Gulf nation, and the third with an Arab country after Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994).
        The issue of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
        The Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes Islam's third holiest site - the golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
        It is also home to the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
        More than 200,000 Israeli settlers live in occupied East Jerusalem, which is home to about 300,000 Palestinians.
        A Rock and a Hard Place: What is it like to live In Jerusalem?
        SPECIAL SERIES
        A Rock and a Hard Place: What is it like to live In Jerusalem?
        SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

        Iraq health workers to protest attacks, lack of employment

        About 20,000 doctors have fled Iraq in recent years over threats and targeted killings, severely hampering healthcare.
        by
          Iraq health workers to protest attacks, lack of employment
          Dr Omar al-Shimmari says a partial strike by medical professionals on Sunday will not affect emergency wards and intensive care units [Al Jazeera]
          Baghdad, Iraq - After graduating from the College of Medicine last year, Dr Omar al-Shimmari felt pretty confident and was convinced he would soon take the first step in a long career path.
          But the reality was different. Instead, he has become a pharmaceutical sales representative - a job he dislikes but needs for the paycheque.
          Going door-to-door to provide product information to doctors and to persuade them to prescribe the drugs to patients "is not a decent job for a doctor, but I have no other choice to make ends meet", al-Shimmari said.
          However, a lack of government funding has derailed the employment of thousands of graduates of medical universities and other health workers in Iraq at a time when the country's health institutions are limping along because of decimated infrastructure and a shortage of medical staff.
          As a result, pressure has increased on the dwindling number of medical professionals mainly in hospitals with the onslaught of COVID-19 patients, forcing them not to take time off while in some places they work even if they have the symptoms of the disease.
          "Fourteen months have passed now since graduation and we are staying at home," al-Shimmari, 26, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview from the northern city of Kirkuk.
          "Without practising medicine, we will forget everything," he said.
          Omar al-Shimmari
          Omar al-Shimmari graduated 14 months ago but could not find work as a doctor despite a severe shortage [Al Jazeera]
          The delay in employing nearly 2,300 graduates has not only affected the efforts to fight coronavirus, but has also delayed the training chain the physicians must go through, as those in service cannot move to the next level, said the head of the Iraqi Medical Association, Abdul-Ameer Muhsin Hussein.
          "The employment of these graduates is a good addition to the health system that will bring new energy of youth," Hussein added.

          Protests for jobs

          Iraq is one of the countries badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, the confirmed cases surpassed 5,000 for the first time since the outbreak in February, bringing the total to 252,075. Total deaths stand at 7,359.
          The health ministry has warned it fears the number of infections "will lead our health institutions to lose control" in the coming days. 
          The pandemic is only one issue in a long list of woes Iraq is suffering through, however.
          Like other oil-producing countries, the war-ravaged nation is taking a massive hit after oil revenues - which make up nearly 95 percent of its income - dropped more than 50 percent.
          The months-long unrest - which started in October when Iraqis took to the streets to demand a better life - has delayed the approval of the 2020 budget.
          Alarmed by the lack of medical practitioners, the Iraqi government formed a ministerial committee in July to find ways to employ medical graduates, but the finance ministry refused because of the absence of the budget and a lack of funds.
          On Tuesday, the cabinet issued an exemption for the newly graduated physicians to be employed, but did not give details on how to pay their salaries.
          The decision does not cover nearly 31,000 healthcare graduates, according to Firas al-Mousawi, deputy director of state-run Al-Shafaa Centre for Crises.
          Like his colleagues, al-Shimmari is still not convinced the government is serious.
          In a bid to stop what they call "procrastination" by the government in implementing the decree, the graduates are planning protests in the capital Baghdad and other cities on Sunday.
          "The protests will run for two days," said al-Shimmari. "If nothing will happen then there will be a partial strike by those in service except emergency wards and intensive care units, and later we'll start a general strike."
          Iraq healthcare
          Karrar Abbas al-Shuwaili, 26, works on a social media campaign for healthcare workers from the southern city of Nasiriya [Al Jazeera]

          Ailing health system

          Iraq's health system has suffered in recent years as more than 20,000 doctors fled because of insecurity, threats, and targeted killings, leaving the country with less than 30,000 doctors, according to Iraqi Medical Association.
          And 363 doctors were assassinated while hundreds endured kidnappings since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, an attack that unleashed instability and chaos that persists to this day.
          What has further strained the health system, Hussein continued, is the new retirement law that went into effect this year, which mandates the retirement at 60, forcing more than 3,000 senior doctors out of the healthcare system.
          "To be honest, there is a huge shortage of mainly doctors as well as health workers," said Hussein. He added the country has one of the lowest numbers of doctors and nurses per capita, standing at about 0.8 doctors per 1,000 people.
          Iraq social media post
          Iraqi healthcare workers are increasingly being targeted in attacks
          One of the major obstacles for doctors and medical workers "is the absence of a safe environment as they increasingly face harassment and assaults from disgruntled families of patients", Hussein said. He is pushing authorities to deal with attacks against medical staff using the anti-terrorism law.
          Deteriorated health infrastructure and a lack of protective gear while dealing with coronavirus patients have caused infections among doctors, he said. Since the outbreak, 44 doctors have died while more than 1,500 others were infected, a number that could be even higher.

          'Like prisoners'

          Healthcare graduate from Baghdad, Mayssam Muqdad Mahmoud, 26, describes delaying their employment as "unfair as we are left in the middle of nowhere and we don't know our fate".
          "We are all disappointed and shocked," she said. "What is the government waiting for amidst the current crisis of coronavirus and shortage of medical staff?"
          She said she is upset at being a "housewife" after studying medicine for six years. In order not to forget what she studied, Mahmoud joined other colleagues in a Facebook group where they review the college curriculum.
          Graduates cannot seek jobs in the private sector or outside Iraq as authorities do not issue their certificates before completing seven years in public service, or a person guarantees the graduate will not leave the country.
          "We are like prisoners," said Mahmoud. "They don't let us start our public service nor issue our certificates so that we can leave the country."
          Mayssam Muqdad Mahmoud
          Mayssam Muqdad Mahmoud, 26, says health professionals are 'disappointed and shocked' at the government's inaction [Al Jazeera]
          Protesters will be joined on Sunday by those in service who want protection from assaults, improvements in their work environment, and review benefits offered.
          In advance of the protests, the graduates launched an online campaign on social media to martial support and increase pressure on the government.
          "A doctor revolution," said one post on Twitter. Another showed a picture of a group of men pumping their fists in the air while being led by a man holding a banner saying: "Doctors without protection, without jobs."
          SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

          'Club of my life': Messi to stay at Barcelona for another year

          The Argentine footballer said he does not want to enter into a court battle with the club about his contract.
            The 33-year-old Argentine told Barcelona last month he wanted to leave [Albert Gea/Reuters]
            The 33-year-old Argentine told Barcelona last month he wanted to leave [Albert Gea/Reuters]
            Lionel Messi has confirmed he is staying at Barcelona until the end of the 2020-2021 season.
            The Argentine ended intense speculation about his future by saying he will remain with the Spanish club for another year - but only because he did not want to enter into a court battle with the club about his contract.
            The 33-year-old had told Barcelona last month he wanted to leave, insisting a clause in his contract allowed him to do so on a free transfer.
            Barcelona, backed by La Liga, insisted a 700-million-euro ($824m) release clause would have to be paid.
            Messi is widely regarded as one of the best footballers of all time and has won the world player of the year award on six occasions.
            "I wasn't happy and I wanted to leave. I have not been allowed this in any way and I will stay at the club so as not to get into a legal dispute," Messi told website Goal.com.
            He said the management of the club led by Josep Maria Bartomeu is a "disaster".
            "There was another way and it was to go to trial," he said. "I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived. It is the club of my life, I have made my life here."
            Messi's contract with Barcelona ends on June 30, 2021.
            By remaining at the club for the final year of his contract, Messi is in line for an $83.4m loyalty bonus and will be able to leave without a transfer fee.
            The Argentine international scored 634 goals and made 285 assists in 731 appearances for Barcelona.
            Messi is a 10-time Spanish champion and won four UEFA Champions League titles with Barcelona in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015.
            SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

            'Fascist storm troopers': Racist police violence in 1940s America

            In 1949, truncheon-wielding police officers descended on the racially integrated concert of singer Paul Robeson.
            by
              'Fascist storm troopers': Racist police violence in 1940s America
              Angry crowds gather near the concert grounds of singer and communist Paul Robeson in Peekskill, New York on September 4, 1949 [Charles Hoff/NY Daily News via Getty Images]
              For four years, pundits, op-ed writers and intellectuals have tussled over whether the word fascist accurately describes the persona and politics of US President Donald Trump.
              Some commentators on the left have refrained from using the term, worrying that it cleanses US history by casting the Trump years as exceptional, offering an alibi for, as Samuel Moyn puts it, "the coexistence of our democracy with long histories of killing, subjugation and terror".
              Among those histories, of course, are multiple forms of racist violence, including the kind that brought millions out to the streets earlier this summer, sparked by the brutal police execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
              But the events of 71 years ago today in Peekskill, New York show that the word fascist has played a particular, vital role in Black activists' struggle against racist police violence; remembering this usage can reconnect us with a radical history of activism often buried in conventional accounts of the civil rights movement.
              On the chaotic Sunday afternoon of September 4, 1949, truncheon-wielding police officers and stone-throwing rioters descended on cars belonging to the racially integrated audience of an outdoor performance by the singer and activist Paul Robeson.
              Minutes after relaxing on blankets listening to Let My People Go and other songs from Robeson's well-known repertoire, drivers and passengers girded themselves as rioters screamed at them: "Dirty Jews!" "Lynch Robeson!" and "Go back to Russia!"
              Some exited their cars to fight back; others were dragged from them and beaten. The violence left at least 150 audience members with broken bones, lacerations, bruises, black eyes and other injuries. That no one died was a marvel. Concert attendee Woody Guthrie, riding back to New York City on a bus filled with shards of shattered window glass, confessed to his seat neighbour, "This is the worst I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot."
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              State troopers beat a man leaving Paul Robeson's concert in Peekskill on September 4; troopers and police, who were supposed to protect concertgoers from anti-Robeson protesters, joined in attacking them instead [File: Getty Images]
              Speaking at a news conference in Harlem the following day, a still-shaken Robeson indicted the violence, singling out the police in particular as "fascist storm troopers". Of course, it was only four years since the end of World War II, what many of Robeson's leftist colleagues called the "war against fascism".
              The term had a concreteness and pungency that has, for many, declined over the decades. But raising the spectre of fascism was a rhetorical tactic that many in Robeson's circle used to bring vehemence to state-sponsored racist violence in the form of police brutality, and to link that violence to more sensationalised practices associated with the South, like lynching.
              In a speech at Harvard University a few weeks after the riots, Robeson's friend and associate William Patterson, head of the radical, Black-led Civil Rights Congress, affirmed this focus, insisting that "the men who rule us are bent on fascism. They brought about the anti-Negro and Jew demonstrations at Peekskill just to see how the people would react to their big step to fascism."
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              Passengers hold up some of the rocks that battered their bus as they left the concert grounds in Peekskill [File: Getty Images]
              Why would a brief programme of traditional folk songs spark a brutal outburst of racism?
              By 1949, Paul Robeson was a household name, but for many white and some Black Americans, his left-wing politics had begun to overshadow achievements in previous decades as an athlete (football at Rutgers University and in the young NFL), student (a bachelor of arts from Rutgers and a law degree from Columbia University), riveting actor (on stage and in movies), and charismatic singer.
              In the 1930s, he devoted increasing time and energy to supporting the labour movement, anti-racist agitation, and anti-imperialist struggles around the world. He vocally supported the Loyalist (socialist) side in the Spanish Civil War, and paid a friendly visit to the Soviet Union, where he claimed to "feel like a human for the first time in my life".
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              Paul Robeson sings Old Man River at his concert in Peekskill on September 4 [File: Seymour Wally/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images]
              Robeson, like others drifting past the left-most reaches of the Democratic party, noted similarities between European fascist ideology and American capitalism. State-sponsored racism was one of the main points of alignment. As genocidal energy accelerated in Germany, the Black left, in particular, saw parallels not only in the enforcement of Southern Jim Crow policies but also in police brutality in Northern cities.
              After the war, President Harry Truman and much of America assumed a warlike stance toward the nation's recent allies, the Soviets. But Robeson and others on the left continued to praise the communist nation as an experiment in social and economic equality. The "Popular Front" alliance of liberals and radicals split, with liberal groups - including major civil rights groups such as the NAACP - taking up the anti-Red line and distancing themselves from groups and individuals who had not denounced communism.
              In this political environment, Robeson's radical politics made him unpopular with a wide swath of Americans. And, to be sure, the combination of his Blackness with his accomplishments, confidence, intelligence, grace and many talents - his status as what cultural critic Shana Redmond calls an "everything man" - meant he drew extra resentment and derision from many white Americans.
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              Paul Robeson holds a press conference after he had been on the witness stand for 20 minutes at the trial of the American Communist Party Leaders in New York on September 20th [File: Getty Images]
              However, one remark was the most immediate trigger for the anger and hate that erupted into violence. In the spring of 1949, Robeson was touring Europe. By this time, war with the Soviets had begun to look inevitable. Speaking before the Paris Peace Congress, he questioned whether Black Americans would be willing to risk their lives in what would amount to a third world war, insisting that it was "unthinkable that American Negroes would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against a country which, in one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind". The right was predictably outraged. The New York Times editorialised that he should stick to singing. Leaders of major civil rights organisations declared their loyalty to the US.
              In response, he doubled down, invoking the spectre of fascism: "We do not want to die in vain any more on foreign battlefields for Wall Street and the greedy supporters of domestic fascism." Asked flat-out whether he would fight for the US, he stepped around the trap set for him: "I am an anti-fascist, and I would fight fascism whether it be the German, French or American species."
              Over the summer, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed a series of Black community leaders to state their opposition to Robeson's comments. The hearings culminated with the testimony of Jackie Robinson, who had integrated Major League Baseball two years earlier. Symbolically, Robinson's appearance reassured white moderates that the nation was well on its way to achieving racial equality. It also reassured them that the fiery rhetoric emanating from figures like Robeson and William Patterson - including the use of the term fascism to describe the nation's intentional treatment of African Americans - was mere extremism.
              Later in life, Robinson said he regretted having appeared. But his testimony reflected the cautiousness of mainstream Black leadership, like the NAACP, toward Robeson and his more radical circles. Indeed, according to historian Marilynn S Johnson, mainstream organisations thought Black leftists were too focused on police violence, to the neglect of other issues.
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              The 30th Anniversary of the Communist Party in the United States was the occasion for a rally protesting against the Peekskill Riots at New York's Madison Square Garden on September 15, 1949; some of the party members attending were (front, left to right): William Scheiderman, Head of the Communist Party of California; Claudia Jones, Secretary of the Women's National Committee; William Norman, New York State Secretary of the Party; and in the back, left to right: author Howard Fast; Ben Davis; Irving Potash and Robert Thompson, New York State Chairman of the Party [File: Getty Images]
              Peekskill, New York, about 40 miles north of Manhattan, was, in the words of one of Robeson's biographers, "a typically mainstream blue-collar place" - a phrase which in American parlance means, essentially, white and working class. Surrounding the town of about 17,000 were little summer vacation communities made up of "left-wing sympathisers … mostly Jewish". That made Lakeland Acres picnic ground an appealing spot for Robeson's management to arrange a concert for August 27.
              When the booking was announced just two weeks before the performance, Peekskill's local newspaper ran a series of red-baiting articles condemning "Robeson and his followers". The concert organisers attempted to mount the show on the 27th, but people from the town blocked access to the location, as local police officers looked on without intervening. In a preview of what was to come, rocks and epithets were hurled at arriving concertgoers. Riding in a car with friends, Robeson made it as far as the edge of the ground, but when his fellow passengers saw what was happening, they pushed him to the floor and drove off, despite his protests.
              In the days following the sabotaged concert, Robeson expressed his anger, targeting the police in particular, whose support of the attackers he labelled "a preview of American storm troopers in action". The concert would go on, he said, on the following Sunday of September 4. Persistence in the face of violence and threats of more violence, he said, could mark "a real turn in the anti-fascist struggle".
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              Townspeople blocked cars and hurled rocks and epithets at concertgoers on August 27 in Peekskill; Paul Robeson's concert would be rescheduled to September 4, when larger riots would break out [File: Getty Images]
              September 4 would prove the hurricane to August 27's summer thunderstorm. The night before the performance, two effigies of Robeson were burned near the concert grounds. Concertgoers arrived to shouts of "We'll kill you!" from hostile protesters, a solid 8,000 strong. Anti-Black and anti-Semitic invective reverberated all over. Some attendees may have naively felt more secure when they noticed a state police command post, four ambulances and a helicopter circling in the sky. Robeson performed ringed by union members scanning the crowd and the environs; some noted men with rifles in trees and on hills surrounding the concert grounds. Still, the singer completed his set.
              The brutality began afterwards and this time it was well-choreographed. Police directed exiting cars to a single road that led away from the grounds, a deliberate diversion that sent the audience members' vehicles between townspeople waiting on each side of the thoroughfare, armed with rocks, bottles, and in some cases, knives.
              Objects flew, shattering car windows. Some drivers and passengers were forcibly dragged from their cars and assaulted. They yelled "Give us Robeson! We'll string that big n****r up!" "Dirty n****r lovers!" "Jew-k****!" and dozens of other racist and anti-Semitic jeers, some captured on tape by a CBS radio crew.
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              The riots left at least 150 audience members with broken bones, lacerations, bruises, black eyes and other injuries [Getty Images]
              Witnesses reported dozens of police - state and local - taking part in the attack; images from the scene show them bringing down batons on a Black man. Many injuries required hospitalisation; in some cases, rioters got in their own cars and followed fleeing audience members, attempting to prevent them from reaching area hospitals. Somehow, no one died.
              After the riot, New York Governor Thomas Dewey expressed his support ... for the police. Although the violence was unfortunate, he said, "communist groups obviously did provoke this incident". Robeson, in contrast, slammed the state police as "fascist storm troopers who will knock down and club anyone who disagrees with them".
              But outside of some corners of the Black press and labour newspapers, vocal support was tough to find. According to a grand jury convened in October, "Communism ... and communism alone" lay behind the events; racism and anti-Semitism were not mentioned. Even A Philip Randolph, the civil rights leader who in 1963 would organise the March on Washington, blamed Robeson for exploiting the incident and called it "not racial".
              Peekskill Riot - Gus Stadler
              A lynched effigy hangs on the rear of a tow truck in Peekskill on September 4, 1949 [File: Getty Images]
              Two years after the Peekskill riots, Robeson presented a petition to the United Nations under the title "We Charge Genocide". The text, written by Patterson, argued that racist violence was not a primitive aberration, the atavistic behaviour of white yokels in the South, but an ongoing, nation-wide, state-enforced process of legal lynching: "Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman's bullet. We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy."
              Genocide was not only the provenance of Nazi Germany. Identifying fascism in their home country allowed Robeson, Patterson and the other signatories to the petition, which included the families of victims of both police violence and lynching, to depict racism as both systematic and innately lethal - and global.
              When Americans think of the beginning of the civil rights movement, they tend to think of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr, of young Southern Black people being beaten and hosed in the streets of Southern towns. But part of the reason we identify these indisputably brave, brilliant figures as the movement's founders is the suppression of radical and communist-affiliated voices like Robeson's, who used the word fascism to centre state-sponsored racist violence, evident across the nation, in the fight for racial justice.
              By invoking it, Black leftists portrayed American racism not as a problem of southern monsters and as-yet-unawakened, innocent whites around the country. Instead, they presented it as a deliberate application of force - North, South and worldwide - to maintain the existing power structure. For them, Peekskill was a perfect example.


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