Thursday, December 31, 2009

Internationals In Cairo Set Off On March To Gaza In Protest Of Siege

Internationals In Cairo Set Off On March To Gaza In Protest Of Siege

Contact: Ann Wright, Egypt (19) 508-1493
Ziyaad Lunat, Egypt +20 191181340
Medea Benjamin, Egypt +20 18 956 1919
Ehab Lotayef, Egypt +20 17 638 2628 (Arabic)

(Cairo) Following Egypt's refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom Marchers to enter Gaza, the more than 1,300 peace-and-justice activists are setting out on foot. Despite police blockades set up throughout downtown Cairo in an attempt to pen the protesters in and prevent them from demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians, the internationals are unfurling their banners and calling on supporters of peace around the world to join them to demand the end of the siege of Gaza.

Egypt's offer to allow 100 of the 1400 marchers to enter Gaza was denounced as insufficient and deliberately divisive by the organizers. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs has sought to spin this last-minute offer as an act of goodwill for Palestinians and isolation of "troublemakers." The Gaza Freedom March categorically rejects these assertions. Activists are in Cairo because they are being prevented by the Egyptian government from reaching Gaza. "We do not wish to be here, Gaza has always been our final destination", said Max Ajl one of the marchers.

Some individuals managed to overcome the police barricades and began the march at the meeting point in Tahreer Square in downtown Cairo. They were joined by Egyptians who also wished to denounce the role of their government in sustaining the Gaza siege.

The authorities have sought to separate international from the locals. The police is brutally attacking the nonviolent marchers. Many plain clothes police officers have infiltrated the crowds and are violently assaulting them. "I was lifted by the Egyptian police forces and literally tossed over the fence," said Desiree Fairooz, one of the protesters. Marchers are chanting and resisting the attempt to disperse them vowing to remain in the square until they are allowed to go to Gaza. The GFM banner is hanging up high in a tree in the square. Some marchers are bleeding and riot police destroyed their cameras.

The Gaza Freedom March represents people from 43 countries with a diversity of backgrounds. They include peoples of all faiths, community leaders, peace activists, doctors, artists, students, politicians, authors and many others. They share a commitment to nonviolence and a determination to break the siege of Gaza.

"Egypt has tried every way possible to isolate us and to crush our spirit," the march organizers say. "However, we remain as committed as we ever to standing up against tyranny and repression. We will march as far as we can towards Gaza, and if we are stopped by force, we will hold our ground in protest. We call on those committed to justice and peace everywhere to support our stand for freedom for Palestinians."

Among the participants are Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker, Filipino Parliament member Walden Bello and former European Parliamentarian Luisa Morgantini from Italy. More than 20 of the marchers, including 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, have launched a hunger strike against the Egyptian crack-down and are now entering their fourth day

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