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September 24, 2013

UNGA Session Draws Broad Palette of Protesters

by Carla Babb

Demonstrators blanketed the park outside the United Nations headquarters Tuesday to raise awareness on issues ranging from the situation in Syria to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Some demonstrators just wanted to celebrate. A group of men, for instance, sang the praises of Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Others called for action against repressive governments, for support for ethnic minorities in Sri Lanka and religious minorities in China.
 
But two focused on Iran's newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani. One wanted him out of office; the other wanted his help.
 
While some protesters used cartoon-like costumes to draw attention, the symbolism behind them was dead serious. Attesting to this was a large hourglass filled with tiny balls resembling blood. It sent the message that time was running out to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

There, to drive that point home was Ian Bassin, campaign director of the human rights group Avaaz.
 
“There will have to be a negotiated solution. And the question is whether that happens before more people die or after," said he.
 
Ian Bassin organized this protest calling on Rouhani to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama to help end the Syrian conflict. More than 100,000 people have been killed in that civil war. 
 
“On behalf of the lives hanging in the balance and more than one million people around the world, we’re calling on President Rouhani and President Obama to sit down and get to a ceasefire before more lives are lost,” said Bassin.
 
Just a few meters away, anti-Rouhani protesters urged world leaders not to trust him. Former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani reminded the crowd that the Iranian president was a nuclear negotiator about a decade ago.
 
"While Rouhani was negotiating in the past, the Iranian regime was just moving forward with enrichment and with becoming a nuclear power," said Guiliani.
 
Protesters also spotlighted Iran’s human rights abuses. They called on the U.N. General Assembly to hold Iran and its leaders accountable for what they said were crimes they were committing against their own people.

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