The YWCA has a message for World Cup fans: Don’t Let Iranians Chant Alone

TORONTO, Nov. 28, 2022 /PRNewswire/ – To support the protests for regime change in Iran, Iranian fans at the World Cup are holding up signs and banners that say, “Woman, Life, Freedom.” But, FIFA isn’t allowing cameras to show them on the broadcast.

Iranian banners and flags may be barred from stadiums in Qatar, but there’s nothing that can stop chants.

With millions of viewers expected to tune into Tuesday, Nov 29th’s 2pm EST match between Iran and USA, the YWCA—a grassroots-driven, global movement rooted in the leadership of women, young women, and girls—is urging US and Iranian football fans to unite for women’s rights at the World Cup.

In an effort to galvanize soccer fans ahead of the match, and show the Iranian fans that their protests aren’t in isolation, the YWCA started a campaign asking fans to chant “Woman, Life, Freedom!” in the stadium. The campaign is anchored by a video titled, “Don’t let Iranians chant alone,” which is currently making the rounds on social media, and shows the power of voices coming together in unison.

Don’t Let Them Chant Alone (CNW Group/YWCA Toronto)

“We see the match as an opportunity to show Iranians they’re not alone on the world stage,” said Firoozeh Radjai, Director of Philanthropy, YWCA Toronto. “The things that are happening in Iran are not unique to the country: Old men in cloaks are deciding the fate of women all over the world based on clumsy interpretations of religious texts. Whether it’s women in Iran demanding regime change, or women in Texas fighting for abortion rights, the phrase “Woman, Life, Freedom” holds power everywhere.”

You can watch and share the video here. The YWCA hopes that soccer fans around the world won’t let Iranian fans chant alone by sharing the video and urging World Cup attendees to join in on the chant.

For more information, please contact: jacky.le@rethinkcanada.com

YWCA Metro Vancouver: YWCA Metro Vancouver is a registered charity, providing a range of integrated services for women and their families and those seeking to improve the quality of their lives. From early learning and child care to housing, health and fitness, employment services and leadership, the YWCA touches lives in our communities.

YWCA Toronto: YWCA Toronto transforms lives. As the city’s largest multi-service charity, we help women escape violence, move out of poverty and access safe, affordable housing. We work tenaciously to break down barriers that hold women, girls and gender diverse people back from achieving equality. Annually, our Association serves over 13,000 people including trans and non-binary community members. To learn more visit: https://www.ywcatoronto.org/

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SOURCE YWCA Toronto



#usnews

Time magazine rejects fabricated ranking of ‘leaders most likely to harm world’

Social media users in South Korea have repeatedly shared a false claim that Time magazine created a list of leaders most likely to harm the world, with Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Russia’s Vladimir Putin topping the ranking. A Time spokesperson said the claim was inaccurate, while AFP found no trace of such a list on the publication’s website, as of November 28.

“Gyong ranked No. 2? The presidential office should work harder [to top the list],” reads a Korean-language claim Facebook post shared on November 1.

“Gyong” is a derogatory nickname for South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The post shows an image with Korean text that reads: “Selected by Time Magazine. A list of world leaders who would be most likely to harm the world.

“No. 1 Xi Jinping / No. 2 Yoon Suk-yeol / No. 3 Putin.”

It shows a caricature of Yoon and the flags of China, South Korea, Russia and Japan — although Japan’s leader is not mentioned.

“[Yoon] put his trousers on the wrong way round and doesn’t even know how to do square-bashing properly,” the text adds, referring to unverified social media claims that the leader put his trousers on backwards at a press conference and that he deliberately insulted the army by making mistakes during a military drill.

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on November 28, 2022.

Yoon, a lifelong prosecutor with no prior experience in elected office, has become a regular target of disinformation in South Korea, fuelled by his dire approval ratings and what analysts describe as a string of mishaps since he came to power in May.

Similar Facebook posts shared the same purported ranking here, here and here.

Some social media users appeared to believe the posts showed a genuine Time magazine list.

“Yoon outperformed Kim Jong-un. What an absolute plonker,” reads a user comment written in Korean.

Another apparently sarcastic comment reads: “Oh wow, but he is still behind Xi Jinping. He’s got to try harder! We can’t let China beat us.”

However, the claim is false.

Fabricated ranking

A representative for Time said the publication did not create such a ranking.

“This list is not a TIME published list,” the spokesperson told AFP on November 26.

AFP found no ranking of the world’s most harmful leaders on the magazine’s website, as of November 28.

Time did include Yoon on its TIME100 list of the most influential people in the world in 2022. Yoon’s entry refers to his calls for a tougher stance towards North Korea as concerns grow that Pyongyang may be preparing to resume nuclear testing.

Yoon’s name did not appear in any of the latest list of “world’s most dangerous leaders”, including this one released by the US-based international relations magazine Foreign Affairs.

AFP has previously debunked misinformation about the South Korean president, including here and here.

#usnews

QUOTES-What people are saying about the COVID-19 protests in China

Nov 28 (Reuters) – Residents in some major Chinese cities took to the streets at the weekend to protest strict zero COVID-19 restrictions, some calling for President Xi Jinping to step down in scenes unprecedented since Xi assumed power a decade ago.

In the commercial capital Shanghai protesters clashed with police over restrictions that have taken a heavy toll on the economy and people’s freedoms.

Widespread public protests are rare in China under Xi and the protests saw Chinese stocks slump on Monday.

Here’s what people are saying about the unrest in China:

For market reaction comments, please click

LEMAR, 20,STUDENT BOXING COACH, BEIJING:

“We’ve come here to … oppose the pandemic prevention measures. We live in an autocratic world, and what we hope to see the most is for China to have true democracy and freedom,” the Beijing resident told Reuters at a candlelight vigil on Sunday night.

SHI, 28,WORKS IN ARTS SECTOR, BEIJING:

“We hope to end the lockdown and allow those who tested positive to have their quarantine at home. We hope they can avoid being transferred to quarantine centres and that others within the same compound or building will not be forced into a lockdown if there’s any positive cases,” she said.

“We want to live a normal life. I think we should all bravely express our feelings. I don’t know the impact this will bring, but these actions will inspire people around us to express their appeals and protect their own rights. I’m not afraid to come here today. I didn’t know what would happen, but there’s no reason for me to not come.”

SUMMER KAY, 24, INTERNET INDUSTRY, BEIJING:

“The pandemic and the codes have brought us so much torture. And now there are more people becoming unemployed, and it’s becoming an ordeal for kids and the elderly to get medical attention.

“If we just remain silent, I think it will only get worse … Maybe tomorrow the police will find us based on the records, maybe some of us will be arrested on strange charges and disappear.”

KAY HUANG, 28 WORKING IN ENTERTINMENT SECTOR, BEIJING:

“I’m really touched especially when they’re singing and everything they say – we want rights, freedom and don’t give up. That’s powerful. That’s warm,” Huang told Reuters at a candlelight vigil in east Beijing on Sunday night.

“I want to see Beijing going back to normal as a capital city. I want people to see people safe, and free and happy again, not to have so many negative thoughts. I want to feel hope instead of feeling numb everyday.” (Reporting By Martin Pollard Quin in Beijing; Yimou Lee in Taipei; Compiled by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Michael Perry)

#usnews

Arizona counties face deadline to certify 2022 election

PHOENIX (AP) — Six Arizona counties must decide Monday whether to certify 2022 election results amid pressure from some Republicans not to officially approve a vote count that had Democrats winning for U.S. Senate, governor and other statewide races.

Election results have largely been certified without issue in jurisdictions across the country. That’s not been the case in Arizona, which was a focal point for efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the the 2020 election and push false narratives of fraud.

Arizona was long a GOP stronghold, but Democrats won most of the highest profile races over Republicans who aggressively promoted Trump’s 2020 election lies. Kari Lake, the GOP candidate for governor, and Mark Finchem, the candidate for secretary of state, have refused to acknowledge their losses. They blame Republican election officials in Maricopa County for a problem with some ballot printers.

Two Republican-controlled Arizona counties have voted not to certify, deferring a final decision until Monday, the last day it’s allowed under state law.

Republican supervisors in Mohave County said last week that they will sign off Monday but wanted to register a protest against against voting issues in Maricopa County. In Cochise County, GOP supervisors demanded that the secretary of state prove vote-counting machines were legally certified before they will approve the election results.

State Elections Director Kori Lorick has said the machines are properly certified for use in elections. She wrote in a letter last week that the state would sue to force Cochise County supervisors to certify, and if they continue to balk, would exclude the county’s numbers from the statewide canvass scheduled for Dec. 5. That move threatens to flip the victor in at least two close races — a U.S. House seat and state schools chief — from a Republican to a Democrat.

Lake has pointed to problems on Election Day in Maricopa County, where printers at some vote centers produced ballots with markings that were too light to be read by on-site tabulators. Lines backed up amid the confusion, and Lake says an unknown number of her supporters may have been dissuaded from voting as a result.

She filed a public records lawsuit last week, demanding the county produce documents shedding light on the issue before voting to certify the election on Monday. Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich has also demanded an explanation ahead of the vote.

County officials have repeatedly said that all the ballots were counted and that no one lost their ability to vote. Those with ballots that could not be read on site were told to place them in a secure box to be tabulated later by more robust machines at county elections headquarters.

The county said that about 17,000 Election Day ballots were involved and had to be counted later instead of at the polling place. Only 16% of the 1.56 million votes cast in Maricopa County were made in-person on Election Day. Those votes went overwhelmingly for Republicans.

The Republican National Committee and the GOP candidate for Arizona attorney general, Abraham Hamadeh, filed an election challenge in his race, which is slated for an automatic recount with Hamadeh trailing by 510 votes.

Kelli Ward, the state GOP chair, has urged supporters to push their county supervisors to delay a certification vote until after a scheduling hearing in the Hamadeh case, which is slated for Monday afternoon.

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

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WRAPUP 1-China COVID cases hit fresh record high after weekend of protests

By Martin Quin Pollard

BEIJING, Nov 28 (Reuters) – China posted another record high COVID-19 infections on Monday, after an extraordinary weekend of protests across the country over restrictive coronavirus curbs, in scenes unprecedented since President Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago.

In Shanghai, demonstrators and police clashed on Sunday, with police taking away a busload of protesters, with the BBC saying that police assaulted and detained one of its journalists covering the events before releasing him after several hours.

Stocks and oil slid sharply on Monday as the rare protests raised worries about the management of China’s zero-COVID policy and its impact on the world’s second-largest economy, while Chinese censors scrambled to remove related images and posts.

During the weekend, protesters in cities including Wuhan and Lanzhou overturned COVID testing facilities, while students gathered on campuses across China in actions that were sparked by anger over an apartment fire late last week in the far western city of Urumqi that killed 10 people.

The deadly fire fuelled speculation that COVID curbs in the city, parts of which had been under lockdown for 100 days, had hindered rescue and escape, which city officials denied. Crowds in Urumqi took to the street on Friday evening, chanting “End the lockdown!”, according to unverified videos on social media.

In Beijing, large crowds were gathered past midnight on Sunday along the capital’s 3rd Ring Road during peaceful but often impassioned scenes.

In the early hours of Monday, one group chanted “we don’t want COVID tests, we want freedom” while brandishing blank white pieces of paper, which have become a symbol of protest in China in recent days.

Cars that passed by regularly joined in the fanfare by honking their horns and giving thumbs up to protesters which in turn generated massive cheers from those gathered.

The protesters were trailed by dozens of uniformed police officers, with plain-clothes security personnel in among the crowd and police cars moving along nearby.

An official who said he was the head of Beijing’s police department came personally to speak to several of the protesters, holding a loudspeaker to plead with them to go home.

“You young people. You need to go home now. You’re affecting traffic here by standing on the road,” he said.

Shanghai’s clashes on Sunday followed a vigil the day before held by some of the city’s residents for the victims of the Urumqi apartment fire, which turned into a protest against COVID curbs, with the crowd chanting calls for lockdowns to be lifted.

“Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping”, one large group chanted in the early hours of Sunday, according to witnesses and videos posted on social media, in a rare public protest against the country’s leadership.

China has stuck with Xi’s zero-COVID policy even as much of the world has lifted most restrictions.

China earlier this month sought to make the curbs more targeted and less onerous, prompting speculation that it will soon begin moving towards full reopening, but a resurgence in cases has thwarted investor hopes for significant easing anytime soon.

Many analysts say China is unlikely to begin significant reopening before March or April at the earliest, and experts warn that China needs to ramp up its vaccination efforts as well.

China on Monday reported a fifth straight daily record of new local cases of 40,052, up from 39,506 a day earlier. Mega-cities Guangzhou and Chongqing, with thousands of cases, are struggling to contain outbreaks while hundreds of infections were recorded in several cities across the country on Sunday. (Reporting by Martin Pollard; Writing by Tony Munroe and Brenda Goh; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Crowd angered by lockdowns calls for China’s Xi to step down

SHANGHAI (AP) — Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China’s powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party.

Police using pepper spray drove away demonstrators in Shanghai who called for Xi Jinping to step down and an end to one-party rule, but hours later people rallied again in the same spot. Police again broke up the demonstration, and a reporter saw protesters under arrest being driven away in a bus.

The protests — which began Friday and have spread to cities including the capital, Beijing, and dozens of university campuses — are the most widespread show of opposition to the ruling party in decades.

In a video of the protest in Shanghai verified by The Associated Press, chants against Xi, the most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, and the Chinese Communist Party sounded loud and clear: “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!”

Three years after the virus emerged, China is the only major country still trying to stop transmission of COVID-19. Its “zero COVID” strategy has suspended access to neighborhoods for weeks at a time. Some cities carry out daily virus tests on millions of residents.

That has kept China’s infection numbers lower than those the United States and other major countries, but public acceptance has worn thin. People who are quarantined at home in some areas say they lack food and medicine. The ruling party faced public anger following the deaths of two children whose parents said anti-virus controls hampered efforts to get medical help.

The current protests erupted after a fire broke out Thursday and killed at least 10 people in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi in the northwest, where some have been locked in their homes for four months. That prompted an outpouring of angry questions online about whether firefighters or people trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other restrictions.

About 300 demonstrators gathered late Saturday in Shanghai, most of whose 25 million people were confined to their homes for almost two months starting in late March.

On a street named for Urumqi, one group of protesters brought candles, flowers and signs honoring those who died in the blaze. Another group, according to a protester who insisted on anonymity, was more active, shouting slogans and singing the national anthem.

That protester and another, who gave only his family name, Zhao, confirmed the chants against Xi, who has awarded himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling party and who some expect to try to stay in power for life. Like others who spoke to the AP, the protesters didn’t want to be identified due to fear of arrest or retaliation.

The atmosphere of the protest encouraged people to speak about topics considered taboo, including the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, the protester who insisted on anonymity said.

Some called for an official apology for the deaths in the fire in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region. One member of Xinjiang’s Uyghur ethnic group, which has been the target of a security crackdown that includes mass detentions, shared his experiences of discrimination and police violence.

“Everyone thinks that Chinese people are afraid to come out and protest, that they don’t have any courage,” said the protester, adding it was his first time demonstrating. “Actually in my heart, I also thought this way. But then when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was very brave.”

The scene turned violent early Sunday. Hundreds of police broke up the more active group before they came for the second as they tried to move people off the main street. The protester said that he saw people being taken away, forced by police into vans, but could not identify them.

Zhao said one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper-sprayed. He lost his shoes and left barefoot.

He said protesters yelled slogans, including one that has become a rallying cry: “(We) do not want PCR (tests), but want freedom.”

On Sunday afternoon, crowds returned to the same spot and again railed against PCR tests. People stood and filmed as police shoved people.

Officers in surgical masks and yellow safety vests told the crowd of about 300 spectators to leave but appeared to be trying to avoid a confrontation. There was no sign of shields or other riot gear.

In Beijing, a group of about 200 people gathered in a park on the capital’s east side and held up blank sheets of paper, a symbol of defiance against the ruling party’s pervasive censorship.

“The lockdown policy is so strict,” said a protestor, who would give only his surname, Li. “You cannot compare it to any other country. We have to find a way out.”

Postings on social media said there were also demonstrations at 50 universities.

About 2,000 students at Xi’s alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing, gathered to demand an easing of anti-virus controls, according to social media posts. Students shouted “freedom of speech!” and sang the Internationale, the socialist anthem.

The protesters left after the university’s deputy Communist Party secretary promised to hold a school-wide discussion.

Videos on social media that said they were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south and at least six other cities showed protesters tussling with police in white protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off neighborhoods. The Associated Press could not verify that all those protests took place or where.

The human rights group Amnesty International appealed to Beijing to allow peaceful protest.

“The tragedy of the Urumqi fire has inspired remarkable bravery across China,” the group’s regional director, Hanna Young, said in a statement. “These unprecedented protests show that people are at the end of their tolerance for excessive COVID-19 restrictions.”

Urumqi and a smaller city in Xinjiang, Korla, eased some anti-virus controls in what appeared to be an attempt to mollify the public following Friday’s protests.

Markets and other businesses will reopen in areas deemed at low risk of virus transmission and bus, train and airline service will resume, state media reported. They gave no indication whether residents in higher-risk areas would be allowed out of their homes.

___

This version has been updated to correct that the fire in Urumqi was on Thursday, not Friday.

___

Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

#usnews

Somalia: Key hotel in Mogadishu stormed by al-Shabab militants

A general view shows a deserted street in front of the presidential palace in Mogadishu

A hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, where government officials are known to stay, has come under attack.

Soon after the attack at Villa Rose began, Environment Minister Adam Aw Hirsi said he had survived the attack.

There were also unconfirmed reports that Mohamed Ahmed, Somalia’s internal security minister, was injured.

Al-Shabab militants said they had stormed the hotel. The Islamist group has been active in Somalia for more than 15 years.

The Villa Rose hotel, where the ambush took place, is a short walk from the presidential palace in central Mogadishu.

An unknown number of assailants, armed with explosives and guns, were involved, police officers told Reuters news agency.

One eyewitness described hearing a “huge blast, followed by a heavy exchange of gunfire”.

“We were shaken,” Ahmed Abdullahi, who lives close to the scene, told the news agency. “We are just indoors, listening to gunfire.”

Some government officials were rescued from Villa Rose after using windows to escape, Mohammed Abdi, one of the police officers, said.

In August, three months after taking office, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud pledged “total war” against the Islamist militants following an attack on another popular Mogadishu hotel. More than 20 people died.

Two months later, twin car bomb explosions near a busy junction in Mogadishu killed at least 100 people. Al-Shabab claimed responsivity for that, too.

President Mohamud subsequently mobilised the Somali army and government-backed clan militias in a bid to take villages and towns from al-Shabab, which controls large swathes of the country.

Our Africa correspondent Andrew Harding recently spent time with the so-called “lightning” brigade, which is funded by the US and plays a central role in the uprising against al-Shabab.

The militant group’s central aim is to topple Somalia’s government and establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

#usnews

How a deadly apartment fire fueled anti-zero-COVID protests across China: ANALYSIS

HONG KONG — Chinese President Xi Jinping is facing the greatest challenge to his signature zero-COVID strategy as unprecedented anti-lockdown protests have spread across the country over the weekend, popping up in major cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and even the capital Beijing.

Anger stemming from a deadly apartment fire Thursday night in the far western city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang region that killed 10, including a 3-year-old child, have brought Chinese citizens out to the streets calling for an end to lockdowns. Some are even crying for the Communist Party and Xi himself to step down.

According to local officials, the deadly fire was caused by a faulty power strip that caught fire on the 15th floor of a high-rise apartment, but it took the fire department over three hours to put out the flames.

Videos of the blaze went viral on Chinese social media, showing firetrucks unable to get close to the flames. Many across the city questioned whether COVID restrictions had gotten in the way of first responders and left people trapped inside unable to flee.

The authorities denied this, but anger was already brewing as much of Xinjiang, including its regional capital Urumqi, had been under lockdown for over 100 days, since August.

Firefighters spray water on a fire at a residential building, Nov. 24, 2022, in Urumqi, in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

AP

On Friday night, videos emerged of hundreds Urumqi citizens pushing through the lockdowns around their residential compounds and marching towards the local government, demanding them to lift the lockdown. Social media videos showed crowds, wrapping themselves in patriotism as protection, marching through the frigid night alternatively singing the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” and the socialist hymn “The Internationale.”

Hours after the crowds confronted the city officials, the Urumqi city government suddenly announced they would finally lift lockdowns in “low-risk” neighborhoods and restart public transportation Monday.

While Urumqi residents may have gotten some of their demands met, the deadly fire set something off across China, becoming a focal point of public anger towards the harsh COVID restrictions.

The late-Chinese leader Mao Zedong famously said, “a single spark can start a prairie fire.” The “spark” of the Urumqi fire spread beyond the Chinese internet faster than censors could catch up, and by Saturday night, spontaneous protests and vigils popped up across the countries in college campuses and major cities.

This was prominent in Shanghai, where many residents still harbor fresh memories of their messy two-month lockdown earlier this year.

PHOTO: Police arrest a man during protests, Nov. 27, 2022, in Shanghai.

Police arrest a man during protests, Nov. 27, 2022, in Shanghai.

Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Hundreds of angry Shanghai residents gathered on consecutive nights over the weekend symbolically on Middle Urumqi Road in the tony former French Concession neighborhood, lighting candles and cursing zero-tolerance COVID measures with some openly daring to chant, “Communist Party step down” and “Step down, Xi Jinping, step down.”

Police officers mostly let the crowd disperse Saturday night but made arrests in early morning hours of some of the remaining protesters.

On Sunday, the protests spread to more cities including Beijing, which was entering a de-facto lockdown dealing with a fresh outbreak.

Hundreds of students gathered outside the main dining hall of Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, which happens to be Xi’s alma mater, raising blank sheets of paper to decry the growing censorship and calling for “freedom of speech.” It was scene unseen on college campuses in China since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

PHOTO: A person holds up a blank sheet of paper as a way to protest while gathering on a street, Nov. 27, 2022, in Shanghai.

A person holds up a blank sheet of paper as a way to protest while gathering on a street, Nov. 27, 2022, in Shanghai.

Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

The blank-sheet protests were seen again near the Liangmaqiao diplomatic district, close to the U.S. and South Korean embassies in Beijing Sunday night, accompanied with cries of “no PCR tests, only freedom.”

The scenes were repeated across the country from the first COVID epicenter of Wuhan to the tech center of Hangzhou to the far-flung and usually laidback backpacker hub of Dali in southwestern China.

Adding to the national frustration, many across the country have been glued to the Qatar World Cup games on China’s state broadcaster, complete with cutaways of the raucous maskless crowds, leading to sarcastic discussions online whether China was “not the same planet” as Qatar.

By Sunday’s game between Japan and Costa Rica, CCTV Sports stayed on close-up shots of the players, referees and coaches when the ball was not in play instead of showing the maskless fans in the stands.

PHOTO: Police officers confront a man as they block Wulumuqi Street, Nov. 27, 2022, in Shanghai.

Police officers confront a man as they block Wulumuqi Street, Nov. 27, 2022, in Shanghai.

Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

On Nov. 11, Beijing had issued new guidelines to improve COVID measures, promising to lessen the impact of their restrictions. It was initially taken to be a signal that Beijing was laying the groundwork to open up.

Record outbreaks across the country, however, have snapped many cities shut again. Most local jurisdictions are in charge of their own COVID enforcement and the officials’ jobs are on the line if they mismanage an outbreak, leading them to err on the side of harsher measures no matter the effect on residents.

For nearly three full years, China’s “dynamic zero-COVID” strategy meant one infection is too much.

By Sunday night, some city governments were tweaking their restrictions in real time. As the protesters gathered in Liangmaqiao, Beijing officials said they lifted lockdowns on 75 neighborhoods and announced new guidelines for enforcement that included no snap-lockdown lasting more than 24 hours.

PHOTO: People visit a memorial for victims of a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign on Middle Urumqi Rd., Nov. 26, 2022, in Shanghai.

People visit a memorial for victims of a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign on Middle Urumqi Rd., Nov. 26, 2022, in Shanghai.

AP Photo

While China’s record daily case numbers are not high by international standards, running 39,906 cases Sunday with no new deaths, the Japanese investment bank Nomura estimates that more than 21.1% of China’s total GDP is under lockdown, on par with the economic impact of Shanghai’s lockdown in the spring.

China, in a way, is a victim of its own success. The zero-COVID policy undoubtedly saved lives during the pandemic, with only 5,232 official COVID deaths over nearly three years, but has also isolated much of the Chinese population from any type of natural immunity.

For Xi Jinping and the Chinese government, it remains a question of which would cause more instability: loosening up and letting a COVID “exit wave” quickly cause up to hundreds of thousands of deaths and overwhelm the national health system in the very best-case scenario presented by some health officials, or tolerate the whack-a-mole of still-sporadic and unorganized protests across the country.

For a country that spends more on public domestic security than on their military, the answer is still on the side of zero-COVID. But as the anger spreads, many believe time may not be on zero-COVID’s side.

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Iraqi PM: Probe recovers part of $2.5B embezzled from taxes

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s government said on Sunday it will recover part of nearly $2.5 billion in funds embezzled from the country’s tax authority in a massive scheme involving a network of businesses and officials.

Approximately 182 billion Iraqi dinars, or $125 million, of the stolen sum will be recovered through the seizure of properties and assets belonging to a well-connected businessman complicit in the corruption scheme, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s office said in a statement.

The amount retrieved was disbursed to Noor Zuhair Jassim, a businessman who was arrested in connection to the scheme along with officials from the government tax authority for withdrawing funds from a tax deposit account between September 2021 to August 2022.

Al-Sudani stressed the ongoing investigation would not spare anyone involved in the scheme, and the government is working to recover the full amount stolen.

Jassim confessed to holding the embezzled sum, the statement added. Al-Sudani also said the investigation was ongoing and had identified other individuals involved.

Jassim was arrested in late October at Baghdad International Airport. He was named as the CEO of two of five shell companies through which the funds were stolen. According to an internal audit seen by The Associated Press, Jassim obtained over $1 billion from the account.

Officials say it’s unlikely that an embezzlement scheme of this scale could unfold without the knowledge of higher-ups.

Political factions in Iraq have long jockeyed for control of ministries and other government bodies, which they use to provide jobs and other favors to their supporters. A number of factions are linked to different government bodies implicated in the tax scheme.

The current government only came together in late October, more than a year after early elections.

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UPDATE 8-Clashes in Shanghai as COVID protests flare across China

*

Wave of civil disobedience unprecedented under President Xi

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Rising frustration over Xi’s zero-COVID policy

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Deadly apartment fire in Urumqi sparked demonstrations

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Beijing, Chengdu, Lanzhou, Wuhan among cities with protests

(Adds details on Beijing protests)

By Casey Hall, Josh Horwitz and Martin Quin Pollard

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Nov 27 (Reuters) – Hundreds of demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai on Sunday night as protests over China’s stringent COVID restrictions flared for a third day and spread to several cities in the wake of a deadly apartment fire in the country’s far west.

The wave of civil disobedience is unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago, as frustration mounts over his signature zero-COVID policy nearly three years into the pandemic. The COVID measures are also exacting a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy.

“I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t love my government … I want to be able to go out freely, but I can’t. Our COVID-19 policy is a game and is not based on science or reality,” said a protester in the financial hub named Shaun Xiao.

Protesters also took to the streets in the cities of Wuhan and Chengdu on Sunday. In Beijing, small gatherings held peaceful vigils, while students on numerous university campuses around China gathered to demonstrate over the weekend.

A fire on Thursday at a residential high-rise building in the city of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, triggered protests after videos of the incident posted on social media led to accusations that lockdowns were a factor in the blaze that killed 10 people.

Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday to deny COVID measures had hampered escape and rescue efforts. Many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents have been under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days.

On Sunday in Shanghai, police kept a heavy presence on Wulumuqi Road, which is named after Urumqi, and where a candlelight vigil the day before turned into protests.

“We just want our basic human rights. We can’t leave our homes without getting a test. It was the accident in Xinjiang that pushed people too far,” said a 26-year-old protester in Shanghai who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.

“The people here aren’t violent, but the police are arresting them for no reason. They tried to grab me but the people all around me grabbed my arms so hard and pulled me back so I could escape.”

By Sunday evening, hundreds of people gathered in the area. Some jostled with police trying to disperse them. People held up blank sheets of paper as an expression of protest.

A Reuters witness saw police escorting people onto a bus which was later driven away through the crowd with a few dozen people on board.

On Saturday, the vigil in Shanghai for victims of the apartment fire turned into a protest against COVID curbs, with the crowd chanting calls for lockdowns to be lifted.

“Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping”, one large group chanted in the early hours of Sunday, according to witnesses and videos posted on social media, in a rare public protest against the country’s leadership.

URUMQI, BEIJING, WUHAN

Thursday’s fire in Urumqi was followed by crowds there taking to the street on Friday evening, chanting “End the lockdown!” and pumping their fists in the air, according to unverified videos on social media.

On Sunday, a large crowd gathered in the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu, according to videos on social media, where they also held up blank sheets of paper and chanted: “We don’t want lifelong rulers. We don’t want emperors,” a reference to Xi, who has scrapped presidential term limits.

In the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, videos on social media showed hundreds of residents take to the streets, smashing through metal barricades, overturning COVID testing tents and demanding an end to lockdowns.

Other cities that have seen public dissent include Lanzhou in the northwest, where residents on Saturday overturned COVID staff tents and smashed testing booths, posts on social media showed. Protesters said they were put under lockdown even though no one had tested positive.

The videos could not be independently verified.

At Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University on Sunday, dozens of people held a peaceful protest against COVID restrictions during which they sang the national anthem, according to images and videos posted on social media.

‘WE DON’T WANT MASKS. WE WANT FREEDOM’

Two seemingly spontaneous protests broke out in Beijing’s Chaoyang district late on Sunday.

At one, at least a hundred people held aloft blank pieces of white paper. At another, crowds called chants, including, “We don’t want masks, we want freedom. We don’t want covid tests, we want freedom.”

China has stuck with Xi’s zero-COVID policy even as much of the world has lifted most restrictions. While low by global standards, China’s case numbers have hit record highs for days, with nearly 40,000 new infections on Saturday, prompting yet more lockdowns in cities across the country.

Beijing has defended the policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system. Officials have vowed to continue with it.

Since Shanghai’s 25 million residents were put under a two-month lockdown early this year, Chinese authorities have sought to be more targeted in their COVID curbs, an effort that has been challenged by the surge in infections as the country faces its first winter with the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

RARE PROTESTS

Widespread public protest is rare in China, where room for dissent has been all but eliminated under Xi, forcing citizens mostly to vent their frustration on social media, where they play cat-and-mouse with censors.

Frustration is boiling just over a month after Xi secured a third term at the helm of China’s Communist Party.

“This will put serious pressure on the party to respond. There is a good chance that one response will be repression, and they will arrest and prosecute some protesters,” said Dan Mattingly, assistant professor of political science at Yale University.

Still, he said, the unrest is far from that seen in 1989, when protests culminated in the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

He added that as long as Xi had China’s elite and the military on his side, he would not face any meaningful risk to his grip on power.

This weekend, Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Ma Xingrui called for the region to step up security maintenance and curb the “illegal violent rejection of COVID-prevention measures”. (Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Yew Lun Tian, Eduardo Baptista and Liz Lee in Beijing and by Brenda Goh, Josh Horwitz, David Stanway, Casey Hall and Engen Tham in Shanghai and the Shanghai Newsroom; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by William Mallard, Kim Coghill, Edwina Gibbs and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Asian faiths try to save swastika symbol corrupted by Hitler

Sheetal Deo was shocked when she got a letter from her Queens apartment building’s co-op board calling her Diwali decoration “offensive” and demanding she take it down.

“My decoration said ‘Happy Diwali’ and had a swastika on it,” said Deo, a physician, who was celebrating the Hindu festival of lights.

The equilateral cross with its legs bent at right angles is a millennia-old sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that represents peace and good fortune, and was also used widely by Indigenous people worldwide in a similar vein.

But in the West, this symbol is often equated to Adolf Hitler’s hakenkreuz or the hooked cross – a symbol of hate that evokes the trauma of the Holocaust and the horrors of Nazi Germany. White supremacists, neo-Nazi groups and vandals have continued to use Hitler’s symbol to stoke fear and hate.

Over the past decade, as the Asian diaspora has grown in North America, the call to reclaim the swastika as a sacred symbol has become louder. These minority faith communities are being joined by Native American elders whose ancestors have long used the symbol as part of healing rituals.

Deo believes she and people of other faiths should not have to sacrifice or apologize for a sacred symbol simply because it is often conflated with its tainted version.

“To me, that’s intolerable,” she said.

Yet to others, the idea that the swastika could be redeemed is unthinkable.

Holocaust survivors in particular could be re-traumatized when they see the symbol, said Shelley Rood Wernick, managing director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Center on Holocaust Survivor Care.

“One of the hallmarks of trauma is that it shatters a person’s sense of safety,” said Wernick, whose grandparents met at a displaced persons’ camp in Austria after World War II. “The swastika was a representation of the concept that stood for the annihilation of an entire people.”

For her grandparents and the elderly survivors she serves, Wernick said, the symbol is the physical representation of the horrors they experienced.

“I recognize the swastika as a symbol of hate.”

New York-based Steven Heller, a design historian and author of “Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?”, said the swastika is “a charged symbol for so many whose loved ones were criminally and brutally murdered.” Heller’s great-grandfather perished during the Holocaust.

“A rose by any other name is a rose,” he said. “In the end it’s how a symbol affects you visually and emotionally. For many, it creates a visceral impact and that’s a fact.”

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The symbol itself dates back to prehistoric times. The word “swastika” has Sanskrit roots and means “the mark of well being.” It has been used in prayers of the Rig Veda, the oldest of Hindu scriptures. In Buddhism, the symbol is known as “manji” and signifies the Buddha’s footsteps. It is used to mark the location of Buddhist temples. In China it’s called Wàn, and denotes the universe or the manifestation and creativity of God. The swastika is carved into the Jains’ emblem representing the four types of birth an embodied soul might attain until it is eventually liberated from the cycle of birth and death. In the Zoroastrian faith, it represents the four elements – water, fire, air and earth.

In India, the ubiquitous symbol can be seen on thresholds, drawn with vermillion and turmeric, and displayed on shop doors, vehicles, food packaging and at festivals or special occasions. Elsewhere, it has been found in the Roman catacombs, ruins in Greece and Iran, and in Ethiopian and Spanish churches.

The swastika also was a Native American symbol used by many southwestern tribes, particularly the Navajo and Hopi. To the Navajo, it represented a whirling log, a sacred image used in healing rituals and sand paintings. Swastika motifs can be found in items carbon-dated to 15,000 years ago on display at the National Museum of the History of Ukraine as well as on artifacts recovered from the ruins of the ancient Indus Valley civilizations that flourished between 2600 and 1900 BC.

The symbol was revived during the 19th century excavations in the ancient city of Troy by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who connected it to a shared Aryan culture across Europe and Asia. Historians believe it is this notion that made the symbol appealing to nationalist groups in Germany including the Nazi Party, which adopted it in 1920.

In North America, in the early 20th century, swastikas made their way into ceramic tiles, architectural features, military insignia, team logos, government buildings and marketing campaigns. Coca-Cola issued a swastika pendant. Carlsberg beer bottles came etched with swastikas. The Boy Scouts handed out badges with the symbol until 1940.

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The Rev. T.K. Nakagaki said he was shocked when he first heard the swastika referred to as a “universal symbol of evil” at an interfaith conference. The New York-based Buddhist priest, who was ordained in the 750-year-old Jodoshinshu tradition of Japanese Buddhism, says when he hears the word “swastika” or “manji,” he thinks of a Buddhist temple because that is what it represents in Japan where he grew up.

“You cannot call it a symbol of evil or (deny) other facts that have existed for hundreds of years, just because of Hitler,” he said.

In his 2018 book titled “The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler’s Cross: Rescuing a Symbol of Peace from the Forces of Hate,” Nakagaki posits that Hitler referred to the symbol as the hooked cross or hakenkreuz. Nakagaki’s research also shows the symbol was called the hakenkreuz in U.S. newspapers until the early 1930s, when the word swastika replaced it.

Nakagaki believes more dialogue is needed even though it will be uncomfortable.

“This is peace work, too,” he said.

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The Coalition of Hindus of North America is one of several faith groups leading the effort to differentiate the swastika from the hakenkreuz. They supported a new California law that criminalizes the public display of the hakenkreuz — making an exception for the sacred swastika.

Pushpita Prasad, a spokesperson for the Hindu group, called it a victory, but said the legislation unfortunately labels both Hitler’s symbol and the sacred one as swastikas.

This is “not just an esoteric battle,” Prasad said, but an issue with real-life consequences for immigrant communities, whose members have resorted to self-censoring.

Vikas Jain, a Cleveland physician, said he and his wife hid images containing the symbol when their children’s friends visited because “they wouldn’t know the difference.” Jain says he stands in solidarity with the Jewish community, but is sad that he cannot freely practice his Jain faith “because of this lack of understanding.”

He noted that the global Jain emblem has a swastika in it, but the U.S. Jain community deliberately removed it from its seal. Jain wishes people would differentiate between their symbol of peace and Hitler’s swastika just as they do with the hateful burning cross symbol and Christianity’s sacred crucifix.

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Before World War II, the name “Swastika” was so popular in North America it was used to mark numerous locations. Swastika Park, a housing subdivision in Miami, was created in 1917, and still has that name. In 2020, the hamlet of Swastika, nestled in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, decided to keep its name after town councilors determined that it predated WWII and referred to the prosperity symbol.

Swastika Acres, the name of a Denver housing subdivision, can be traced to the Denver Swastika Land Company. It was founded in 1908, and changed its name to Old Cherry Hills in 2019 after a unanimous city council vote. In September, the town council in Puslinch, Ontario, voted to change the name of the street Swastika Trail to Holly Trail.

Next month, the Oregon Geographic Names Board, which supervises the naming of geographic features within the state, is set to vote to rename Swastika Mountain, a 4,197-foot butte in the Umpqua National Forest. Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, said although its name can only be found on a map, it made news in January when two stranded hikers were rescued from the mountain.

“A Eugene resident saw that news report and asked why on earth was this mountain called that in this day and age,” said Tymchuk. He said the mountain got its name in the 1900s from a neighboring ranch whose owner branded his cattle with the swastika.

Tymchuk said the names board is set to rename Mount Swastika as Mount Halo after Chief Halito, who led the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe in the 1800s.

“Most people we’ve heard from associate it with Nazism,” Tymchuk said.

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For the Navajo people, the symbol, shaped like a swirl, represents the universe and life, said Patricia Anne Davis, an elder of the Choctaw and Dineh nations.

“It was a spiritual, esoteric symbol that was woven into the Navajo rugs, until Hitler took something good and beautiful and made it twisted,” she said.

In the early 20th century, traders encouraged Native artists to use it on their crafts; it appeared often on silver work, textiles and pottery. But after it became a Nazi symbol, representatives from the Hopi, Navajo, Apache and Tohono O’odham tribes signed a proclamation in 1940 banning its use.

Davis views the original symbol that was used by many Indigenous people as one of peace, healing and goodness.

“I understand the wounds and trauma that Jewish people experience when they see that symbol,” she said. “All I can do is affirm its true meaning — the one that never changed across cultures, languages and history. It’s time to restore the authentic meaning of that symbol.”

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Like Nakagaki, Jeff Kelman, a New Hampshire-based Holocaust historian, believes the hakenkreuz and swastika were distinct. Kelman who takes this message to Jewish communities, is optimistic about the symbol’s redemption because he sees his message resonating with many in his community, including Holocaust survivors.

“When they learn an Indian girl could be named Swastika and she could be harassed in school, they understand how they should see these as two separate symbols,” he said. “No one in the Jewish community wants to see Hitler’s legacy continue to harm people.”

Greta Elbogen, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor whose grandmother and cousins were killed at Auschwitz, says she was surprised to learn about the symbol’s sacred past. Elbogen was born in 1938 when the Nazis forcibly annexed Austria. She went into hiding with relatives in Hungary, immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 and became a social worker.

This new knowledge about the swastika, Elbogen said, feels liberating; she no longer fears a symbol that was used to terrorize.

“Hearing that the swastika is beautiful and sacred to so many people is a blessing,” she said. “It’s time to let go of the past and look to the future.”

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For many, the swastika evokes a visceral reaction unlike any other, said Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism who for the past 22 years has maintained the group’s hate symbols database.

“The only symbol that would even come close to the swastika is the symbol of a hooded Klansman,” he said.

The ADL explains the sanctity of the swastika in many faiths and cultures, and there are other lesser-known religious symbols that must be similarly contextualized, Pitcavage said. One is the Celtic cross – a traditional Christian symbol used for religious purposes and to symbolize Irish pride – which is used by a number of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

Similarly, Thor’s hammer is an important symbol for those who follow neo-Norse religions such as Asatru. But white supremacists have adopted it as well, often creating racist versions of the hammer by incorporating hate symbols such as Hitler’s hakenkreuz.

“In the case of the swastika, Hitler polluted a symbol that was used innocuously in a variety of contexts,” Pitcavage said. “Because that meaning has become so entrenched in the West, while I believe it is possible to create some awareness, I don’t think that its association with the Nazis can be completely eliminated.”

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

MONTREAL (AP) — Pedro Meraz says living in Colima, Mexico, was like living in a war zone, with shootings, burning cars and dismembered bodies being left outside of schools.

When his wife Rocio Gonzalez, a 28-year-old lawyer who worked with abused women, began receiving death threats from a cartel and the local authorities ignored her pleas for assistance, they knew they had to leave.

“They knew where we lived and what car we drove,” said Meraz, 41, who taught at The University of Colima, near the Pacific Coast and about 300 miles (485 kilometers) west of Mexico City. “Feeling that you are going to lose your life, or one of your daughters, I don’t mind starting from scratch.”

The family is part of a surge in the number of Mexicans who have requested asylum in Canada this year. Due to the relative ease of obtaining asylum in Canada compared to the U.S., visa-free travel between Mexico and Canada, and the threat of violence back home, more than 8,000 Mexican nationals have sought refugee status in 2022. That’s almost five times as many as last year and more than twice as many as in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions that accompanied it.

The vast majority of them are flying in to Montreal, which has many direct flights to and from Mexico.

Among them is Viviana Tapia Gonzalez, a human rights activist and mother of four from Aguascalientes, about 265 miles (425 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City, who said she left Mexico in January after being attacked by the military. She said her work with the families of missing and murdered women and girls made her a target.

“Death threats were constant,” she said. “I thought it was the last option I had to be safe. I work for many causes and help many people. I did not want to stop helping, but I must also protect (and) take care of myself.”

Tapia Gonzalez has been living in a Montreal women’s shelter while awaiting a decision on her asylum claim, which she fears might get rejected.

If her claim is turned down, she wouldn’t be alone.

In the first nine months of 2022, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, an independent tribunal that investigates and decides asylum cases, finalized more than 2,700 claims by Mexican asylum seekers. Of those, 1,032 were accepted, 1,256 were rejected; and the remaining 400-plus were either abandoned, withdrawn, or had other outcomes, said Christian Tessier, an IRB spokesperson.

In Canada, claimants must meet the United Nations’ definition of a “convention refugee,” meaning they are outside of their home countries and have a well-founded fear that they would be persecuted if they returned based on their race, religion, political opinions, nationality or affiliation with a social group. Otherwise, they must prove that they need protection and can’t safely return to their home countries without risking torture, cruel or unusual punishment, or death.

Despite the risk of rejection, though, the surge in Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada persists.

The Welcome Collective, a Montreal-based charitable organization that provides essential goods to new asylum seekers, said half of the group’s current clients came from Mexico — a 300% increase compared with earlier this year.

“They had to run away because of violence and other humanitarian reasons. To find a better place for their children,” said Flavia Leiva, the group’s volunteer and social outreach coordinator.

As for what is causing the increase in applicants, Leiva suggested that social media is playing a role.

“There have been YouTubers and some videos on TikTok talking about how easy it is to come to Canada,” she said.

At least one YouTube video that was published 10 months ago and made for a Mexican audience explains the Canadian immigration process in Spanish and has more than 4 million views.

It has been harder for Mexicans to seek asylum in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. A U.S. public health rule that suspends the right to seek asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19 has fallen disproportionately hard on Mexicans. Title 42 authority has been used to expel migrants more than 2.4 million times since it was introduced in March 2020.

Further adding to Canada’s allure is that Mexicans haven’t needed a visa to travel to the country since the Canadian government lifted the requirement in late 2016.

Leiva also suggested that more Mexicans might be choosing to come to Canada instead of the United States because they think it’s safer.

“In the U.S., they are put in cages, the conditions are not as good,” Leiva said. “People do not feel safe or protected.”

Meraz said he and his family decided that Canada would offer them the best chance to start over.

“My wife investigated the existence of international treaties to protect people who are at risk,” he said.

He referenced Canadian policies and regulations protecting women and children in addition to the country’s comparatively low crime rate.

“The U.S. was never in our minds, since there is a lot of violence … attacks where many innocent people die,” said Meraz. “Canada, statistically, has a very low rate of violence and its quality of life is much better than the USA.”

He said his family chose Montreal instead of some other Canadian city because of logistics, though he’s having second thoughts.

“If you were to ask me right now if I would choose another place, then maybe,” said Meraz, noting that he and his family must now learn French.

Hayet Mohammed, who manages the French language program at Carrefour Solidarité Anjou, a nonprofit that helps newcomers settle in Quebec, said not only is obtaining refugee status easier in Canada, but there are plenty of resources for asylum seekers once they arrive.

“They can work as soon as they have their refugee status and are entitled to (French) courses given by the (Ministry of Immigration in Quebec) which gives them financial assistance and finally, there are many work opportunities, and they are not at risk of finding themselves unemployed,” said Mohammed.

“Being a newcomer myself with my little family, there is no other country that gives immigrants so many facilities in terms of training, work and child benefits. All these things make people leave their countries of origin and come to make their lives here, thousands of miles away from their families,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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