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COP28 a rare chance in UAE for protests on Palestinians, climate action

Published Dec 03, 2023 11:16AM ET Updated Dec 03, 2023 12:41PM ET
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5/5 © Reuters. Climate activists protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 3, 2023. REUT 2/5
 
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By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) - More than 100 protesters gathered on Sunday on the sidelines of the COP28 U.N. climate summit to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, an unusual sight in the United Arab Emirates where freedom of expression is limited.

The UAE tolerates little dissent and bans organised groups like political parties and labour unions, but as hosts of the annual U.N. conference, the Gulf state is allowing protests to take place at COP28 itself.

Holding banners calling for a "ceasefire" and "climate decolonisation", activists in the Dubai Expo City chanted "Free, Free Palestine".

"We are seeking an end to the siege, end to the occupation," Palestinian-American Tariq Luthun told Reuters after taking part in an earlier, smaller demonstration calling for a ceasefire.

Jacob Maurice Johns, an Indigenous activist from North America, said Palestinian voices were being silenced and needed the world to stand in solidarity with them.

In a statement issued on Sunday at COP28, Israel's Consul General Liron Zaslanaky said her country was fighting in self-defence and doing its best to avoid harming civilians.

Israel says Hamas gunmen killed about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners and took around 240 hostage when they stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7. Gazan health officials say more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel's subsequent bombardment and invasion of the coastal enclave.

There so far have been no demonstrations outside the COP28 site, unlike at previous U.N. climate summits such as COP26 in Glasgow where thousands of climate activists rallied in the streets.

Even within the confines of COP28, climate activists said they were trying humor to draw delegates' attention as they sought to delicately navigate UAE restrictions on freedom of expression even as they stayed within the summit's compound.

American activist Alice McGown dressed up Sunday as a dugong and held a sign saying "no more fossils" to protest the planned expansion of state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co's offshore gas operations in a protected marine area that is home to the aquatic mammals.

Some activists at COP28 expressed worry about UAE surveillance.

"This is a very restricted political space," said Lyndinyda Nacpil, a Filipino activist who said she had to navigate strict U.N. rules in helping to organise Sunday's larger Palestinian rally.

Others at the rally said there could be "no climate justice without human rights", but they were careful not criticise Israel by name to adhere to U.N. guidelines.

A COP28 spokesperson said the UAE protects the right to protest in line with international agreements. UAE authorities did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the protests.

The war in Gaza has featured prominently at COP28, where several world leaders on Friday spoke critically of Israel's bombardment.

While country exhibition spaces typically focus on climate-related issues, the Israeli pavilion this year features a book of photographs of hostages taken by the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

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For daily comprehensive coverage on COP28 in your inbox, sign up for the Reuters Sustainable Switch (NYSE:SWCH) newsletter here.

COP28 a rare chance in UAE for protests on Palestinians, climate action
 

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