Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year's Eve pro-democracy protest planned at Polish Parliament

By Joanna Koter
TORUŃ, Poland – Will you spend New Year’s Eve in front of the Parliament?
Most of us will be spending New Year’s Eve with family and friends. This is because we probably believe that it is important to start 2017 with someone special and close to us.
But some protesters in Poland will be spending New Year’s Eve away from their homes, and fireworks will not be the most important thing to them on that night. 
A group of Members of Parliament, belonging to the opposition political party, have already spent Christmas in the Parliament building in Warsaw, the capital.
They have been occupying the room since December 16, the most recent sitting of the Parliament, and are planning to stay there until the next meeting on January 11.

Members of the opposition say their protests are in response to the leading party in the Polish Parliament, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS; Law and Justice party), continuously enacting new laws against the national constitution or any democratic principles.
Press freedom is an issue at the heart of it. In mid-December when Member of Parliament Michal Szczerby’s microphone was turned off while he was speaking about media access to information.
The Law and Justice party is proposing to restrict media access to government information so that only journalists chosen by the government can report on discussions in the government, so politicians only have to answer questions that they want to answer.
TVP information service, the Polish government’s television station as well as the right-wing news platform – Niezalezna means “independent” – portrays the protesting MPs as lunatics and accuses them of coming up with funny excuses to block the auditorium.
A Facebook event for a Citizens’ Strike (Strajk Obywatelski, SO; more information on invites all Polish citizens to spend New Year’s Eve in front of the Parliament.
According to the event page, organizers want to “keep the protesting MPs company,” and are calling for people’s help with peacekeeping, serving food, taking pictures at the event and more. 
But Citizens’ Strike organizers have some strict rules: no drinking alcohol, bringing flags or chanting slogans. They are encouraging people to spend that evening in a “warm atmosphere” with “human interactions.” 
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Remembering author, advocate, actor and leader of the rebellion, Carrie Fisher

By Alyce Collett
MELBOURNE, Australia – We here in Australia woke to the horrible news Tuesday morning that actress, author and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher had died at the age of 60.
Although she is most famous for her role as leader of the rebellion – Princess Leia in the Star Wars films – this was only one facet of her working life.
Carrie Fisher, in a photo from
her official Facebook page.

Fisher is most famously known as an actor, playing many roles over her illustrious career. Her role as Princess Leia, a strong, determined, no-nonsense woman, was one that all women could admire.
But this was not her only role on the big screen. She was in dozens of films, including The Blues Brothers, Drop Dead Fred and When Harry Met Sally. She was also on the small screen, playing herself in “The Big Bang Theory” as well as other roles.
What is less known by the general public is that Fisher was also an author. She wrote many books, including an autobiography and both the book and screenplay for the film Postcards from the Edge. This year's book, The Princess Diarist recalls her memories of what happened behind the scenes on the Star Wars set. 
She was also a mental health advocate, using her fame to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Fisher had an unfortunate end to her life, suffering a heart attack only a few days ago and dying Dec. 27.
Her talents were adored by thousands and will be missed around the world. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.
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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Signs of Christmas in a shopping mall in Iran

Frida Zeinali /
A store display in the Laleh Park shopping mall in Tabriz, Iran Christmas has an official recognition for religious minorities in Iran, but it is not included as a national holiday. Iranian Christians mostly celebrate Christmas on December 25 every year. The Christmas celebration in Iran is quite similar to other celebrations that take place around the world, with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, gifts and many more traditions.

Frida Zeinali /
Another store window in the shopping center in Tabriz, Iran.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

College Christmas tree lights up Lahore

Arooj Khalid /
A Christmas tree decorates the campus of Forman Christian College University in Lahore, Pakistan.
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In Geneva, protesting Congolese leader

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /

A protest in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday urging Joseph Kabila, leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo to step down. People in the Congolese capital of Kinshasha are also demonstrating against Kabila.

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /

Protesters hoping to see Joseph Kabila ejected from his role as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo the "carton rouge" or "red card" on a sign they held at the protest in Geneva on Tuesday.
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I won't stop going to the Christmas Market

Kiernan Majerus-Collins /
The Edinburgh Christmas Market in Edinburgh, Scotland.
By Kiernan Majerus-Collins
Senior Correspondent
EDINBURGH, Scotland – I've been to the Christmas market in Edinburgh several times in recent weeks.
It's a festive, joyful place, full of tasty food, carnival rides, and holiday shops. I've seen families with young children, college kids on dates, groups of friends – it’s a place where everyone can enjoy the Christmas season.

Kiernan Majerus-Collins /
Flags fly at half staff in Scotland for victims of 
terrorist attack in Berlin, Germany
that killed 12 
people and injured many more.
My heart breaks for the victims of last night's terrorist attack at Berlin's Christmas market. To have a place of happiness and light transformed into a scene of death and destruction is awful.
I hope, however, that we won't respond to this attack and others like it with fear.
The world can be more secure, but that security must not come at a cost of the things that make life worth living.
For my part, I'll be going back to Edinburgh's Christmas market later this week.
I will never stop believing in the power of hope, love, and joy – especially at Christmas.

Kiernan Majerus-Collins /
The Edinburgh Christmas Market, with St. Giles' Cathedral in the background.
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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Unease in The Gambia after president digs in, refuses to obey the will of the voters

Lama Jallow /
A car leaves Coco Ocean resort earlier this week after a meeting of African leaders and UN officials hoping to peacefully resolve the transition from the current dictator to a newly elected president. 
 By Lama Jallow
Senior Reporter
SERREKUNDA, The Gambia – Nothing is certain today in The Gambia, including peace.
Although the people elected Adama Barrow as the next president and he is to take office next month, the longtime president is refusing to step aside.
President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the nation as a dictator for 22 years, initially conceded the Dec. 1 election to Barrow, but then changed his position. He is now claiming the election was rigged and is calling for a new election.
Leaders of other African nations came to The Gambia this week to meet with Barrow and his coalition team and United Nations officials to try to negotiate a solution to the situation.
Barrow has vowed that when he is president, he will bring criminal charges against Jammeh for crimes against the Gambian people.
The Tuesday meeting included President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria; President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and the outgoing president of Ghana, John Drahami Mahama, who recently lost his election.
Sirleaf currently chairs the Economic Community of West African States.
But the gathering at Coco Ocean resort apparently didn’t solve the matter. When the presidents left, they headed not toward the airport, but to the statehouse.
The four presidents they said were next holding a meeting with UN agencies in the country.
As of Thursday, there was no official word of progress.
The Economic Community of West African States and Senegal have already sent a warning to Jammeh that if the negotiations don’t bring a positive result, they will send in troops to remove him from office.
War is possible if Jammeh insists on staying in power.
Peace is possible, too, but it appears it depends heavily on Jammeh’s willingness to leave without a fight.
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Lesson in hip hop attract young Australians

Jack Ward /
Joseph Smith, who took part in the hip hop festival, was proud of his graffiti.
By Jack Ward
ARARAT, Australia – When the Ararat Hip Hop Festival rolled into town, it transformed the local performing arts center, filling it with youth from near and far looking for a weekend of fun.
Workshops, demonstrations and performances took place with some of the industry’s best, mentoring the next generation in hip hop music.
Joe Snow ran a workshop on graffiti, which proved one of the most popular. Participants came up with some design ideas and then translated them to the walls of the center’s foyer.
Joseph Smith, a sixth grade student at Ararat West Primary School spent most of his weekend with Snow, bringing his creative ideas to life.
Jack Ward /
Lights, camera, action! 
The film crew set up shots
to capture the youth's work.
Smith said that his mum suggested he attend the festival and he thought it was a great opportunity.
Smith wasn’t just a star at graffiti. He also showed his talent onstage by beatboxing and singing before claiming a prize at the end of the festival.
The November festival drew about 130 boys and girls, though the majority were boys. They came from as far away as Melbourne. The event aimed to engage local and surrounding area youth to learn to be the new creators of the future with skills and confidence.
The festival didn’t just attract school aged kids. Some young adult artists travelled from Bendigo to learn from Pang Productions.
Pang Productions started off their workshop by discussing their interest in making beats and rapping, with some sharing that they make their own music and hold gigs.
Jack Ward /
High school students watch an 
explanation by Pang Prouductions.
All the boys at the Pang Productions workshop then decided to go digging which involved venturing over to the op shop to buy vinyl records. They then made their way back with about a dozen records before taking samples, or parts, of the songs and making their own.
There were also many budding break-dancers who loved the opportunity to be mentored by two of the Passion Purpose dance school teachers.

Jack Ward /
Some of the festival leaders and participants.
KG, a teacher and artist who uses only initials for a name, spoke with the teenagers involved, telling them that he is spreading the positive aspects of hip hop. He followed up by teaching them a routine.
Festival producer Chichi Nwokocha said she’s hoping for an even bigger crowd next year.
“We would have loved some more numbers, but in small country towns it’s kind of the way it is,” Nwokocha said. “It is our first pilot year as well, so we are hoping next year will be bigger and brighter as lots of the kids that were here had such a great time!”
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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Gambian president rejects election results, puts armed soldiers at checkpoints

Lama Jallow /
Gambians crowd the market in Serrekunda to buy food and other necessities to prepare for uncertainty after President Yahya Jammeh indciated he would not accept the results of the Dec. 1 election, which he lost.
By Lama Jallow
Senior Reporter
SERREKUNDA, The Gambia – Less than two weeks since Gambian voters chose a new president in an upset that thrilled youth here, the nation’s longtime leader is rejecting the election results, stoking worry and fear among citizens.
President Yahya Jammeh openly rejected the results of the Dec. 1 election on national television Friday evening – exactly what many people here feared he would do.
It’s a reversal for Jammeh, who had initially conceded defeat to Adama Barrow, leader of a coalition party.
Jammeh, who has held power for 22 years, shocked the world by accepting defeat and congratulating Barrow and his team, indicating there would be a peaceful, democratic transfer of power.
But now Jameh is claiming the Independent Electoral Commission of wasn’t honest and completely favored Barrow.
Adama told TFM, a television news network in Senegal, "If there is a president in The Gambia then it's me, period."
People here are concerned – given that Barrow said he is the only president and Jammeh is denying the election results – about a possible clash between supporters of Jammeh and Barrow.
Soliders with weapons are currently positioned on all the checkpoints in the country. That is a sign of readiness for anything that will come.
Apparently worried about unrest, people are crowding the market, busy buying food like they did before the elections.
Jammeh is calling for a repeat of the election but has not set a date.
He said there will be no demonstrations, indicating that anyone who takes to the streets will be arrested.
Barrow is to take office next month. It is unclear what will happen between now and then, or afterward.

Read Senior Reporter Lama Jallow's election coverage with story, photos and video.
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Friday, December 9, 2016

John Glenn's space travel still inspires

Mugdha Gurram /
Astronaut John Glenn, who died Dec. 7 at age 95, made history as the first American to orbit the Earth aboard the Mercury 7, similar to this ship on display at the Space Center museum in Houston, Texas.
By Noah Adelsberger
Junior Reporter
COSHOCTON, Ohio, U.S.A. – It is hard to see history occurring when it happens in our lifetime. 
Astronaut John Glenn’s work in space has already been written in the history books, but it wasn’t until Thursday that he has actually fully entered history through death. 
Although I often revere the men of history, Glenn, a former United States senator from Ohio, seemed real to me mainly because he was born in a town only 40 minutes from where I live. 
His adventures into space captivated me as a child and motivated me to study outer space as I grew up.
Unfortunately, I never knew this man personally, but his influence on me through his actions drastically changed my life.
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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gambian youth can't contain their joy as democracy brings peaceful change

Lama Jallow /
Jubilant Gambian youth celebrate the ouster of longtime dictator, President Yahya Jammeh.
“It is really, really amazing as I am speaking here. I can’t describe the joy that people are going into here and I’m really, really happy that people, that again, this election without any violence or something else that people were expecting by buying foodstuffs and locking themselves in their homes. But now you can see many people are going outside … Really I am talking about the joy they are going through here.  It’s amazing and right now they are preparing themselves to head to the statehouse in Banjul, the capital city of The Gambia. And, I just can’t say much words … Gambia is expressing its most happiest joys in its history.” – YJI Senior Reporter Lama Jallow, in an audio report from the celebratory scene. (Unfortunately technical issues prohibit the uploading of this recording. If we can resolve them, it will be uploaded.)

By Lama Jallow
Senior Reporter
SERREKUNDA, The Gambia – Joyful youth in the Gambia hoping for a better future celebrated the peaceful and democratic December 1 ouster of the nation’s longstanding dictator, filling the streets with cheering crowds.
After 22 years under President Yahya Jammeh, voters in The Gambia elected Adama Barrow, leader of a coalition party.
Young people in The Gambia are especially happy with the change as they had been frustrated with Jammeh and his regime.
“Freedom, freedom, freedom at last,” they chanted in Westfield, part of the port city of Serrekunda, indicating how hard it was to speak out with Jammeh in power.
They’re relieved they can now say what they want without fear of being arrested, tortured or killed – a security that Jammeh never gave Gambians.
They’re happy to have won the election with peace and transparency.

People celebrating in Westfield after learning the election results.
“This is the beauty of democracy,” said Ebrima Ceesay, an expert on elections analysis who was in Westfield for the Gambian elections. In a democracy, he said, a politician rules but at the end of the day, the people decide whether or not to change the leadership.
“That is exactly what Gambians have done,” Ceesay said, adding that Jammeh accepted the results. “I am happy that it has happened peacefully.”

The entire interview with Ebrima Ceesay, by YJI Senior Reporter Lama Jallow
The Gambia is a young country, said Ceesay, with youth making up about 60 percent of its citizens. The incoming president, he said, is expected to invest in the nation’s youth.
“We expect him to bring more development. We expect him to work with the youth, to help the youth,” said Ceesay. “I think he will support the youth development. He will look into education and make it more affordable.”
Lama Jallow /
Before election results were

announced, the streets of

Westfield were deserted.
One popular slogan among the youth is “no to backway.”  Here, “backway” means the route that people take to Italy – via Libya on small dinghy boats – trying to escape the economic crisis at home.
People blame Jammeh for the lack of economic opportunities for Gambian youth and hated that Jammeh brought some youth who had reached Libya back to the Gambia.
Now some young people seem willing to stop trying to leave the country and instead stay home to work and earn a living without outside help.
Many have stories of their father or another relative in jail for the wrong reason. They are expecting freedom for thousands of innocent victims, force to sleep in Mile 2, the biggest prison in The Gambia, without valid reason.
According to Ceesay, the election results are heaven sent.
“It’s the voice of God. When many people talks, it is as if God is talking.” “Anybody who believes in God today must accept the results.”
The nation is ready to see Barrow and his coalition party in the State House in Banjul, the capital city. The president-elect has promised to stay in power for three years and then step down after an open election.
Lama Jallow /
Crowds filled the streets of Westfield after the election results were announced.
The Mandinka ethnic group is the happiest at the moment. They were not on good terms with Jammeh before the election and are relishing this victory.
Some people, though, are concerned about potential problems with tribalism. Though the coalition is diverse, the Mandinkas have the upper hand and many fear that Barrow’s rule could be even worse than Jammeh’s. Barrow is a Mandinka.
If that happens, then the answers to the country’s problems will still be left unanswered.
But Ceesay said that in addition to working with Gambia’s young people, the new president will have to unite the country.
“We also expect him to bring everybody together,” he said, adding that the election is over. “The nation is divided on the line of politics. We expect him to bring people together.”

Excited crowds outside Barrow's home chant his name after he won the presidency.

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