US adversaries highlight unrest to undercut criticism (Gallery)

China and Iran criticize Trump's handling of protests

Demonstrators+hold+signs+during+a+march+in+New+Zealand

DEAN PURCELL/New Zealand Herald via AP

Demonstrators hold placards during a march in central Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, June 1, to protest the death of United States' George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — With a map of the world behind him reminiscent of one at the State Department, Abbas Mousavi, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. amid ongoing protests over police killings of black people.

“To the American people, the world has … heard your outcry over this state oppression,” Mousavi told reporters in Tehran.

Long the target of American criticism, Washington’s adversaries in Iran and elsewhere have spoken out, using the protests over the killing of George Floyd as an opportunity to hit back at the U.S.

The American regime is pursuing violence and bullying at home and abroad”.”

— Abbas Mousavi, Iranian diplomat

By putting forth images of the unrest, they portray the U.S. as a hypocritical superpower unable to secure its own people, as well as normalizing the violence and repression they inflict on their own citizens.

“To be clear, though they are trying to sympathize with protesters in the U.S., their aim is to leverage the internal divisions in America, … not to advance the debate on this,” said Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East fellow who studies Iran at the Washington-based German Marshall Fund.

“Regime officials particularly like the theme of racial tensions in the U.S. because it allows them to point the finger at Washington, which is often front and center condemning human rights abuses by the regime,” she said.

That’s particularly valuable to Iran, which has violently put down recent nationwide economic demonstrations by killing hundreds, arresting thousands and disrupting internet access. The Islamic Republic has seen its already-ailing economy crater since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, cutting off its oil sales.

“The American regime is pursuing violence and bullying at home and abroad,” Mousavi said.

That criticism has extended to Twitter, which Iranian officials use extensively despite the website being banned for ordinary Iranians since the country’s mass protests and crackdown surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election.

Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose contentious re-election sparked the 2009 unrest, called Floyd’s killing “disturbing & upsetting” in a tweet.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered a rewritten statement earlier issued by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, crossing out Iran and replacing it with America.

Pompeo responded by tweeting: “You hang homosexuals, stone women and exterminate Jews.”

State-controlled media in China saw the protests through the prism of American views on Hong Kong’s anti-government demonstrations, which China has long said the U.S. encouraged. In a commentary, the ruling Communist Party newspaper Global Times said Chinese experts had noted that U.S. politicians might think twice before commenting again on Hong Kong, knowing “their words might backfire.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian offered his own criticism at a Beijing news conference.

The protests “once again reflect the racial discrimination in the U.S., the serious problems of police violent enforcement and the urgency of solving these problems,” Zhao said.

He added that China hopes the U.S. will “safeguard and guarantee the legal rights of ethnic minorities.” That’s as China continues a yearslong crackdown that has locked away more than 1 million ethnic minorities, most of whom are Muslims.

In North Korea, the country’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported about the demonstrations, saying that protesters “harshly condemned” a white policeman’s “lawless and brutal murder” of a black citizen.

Three large photos showed protests from recent days from Minneapolis, where Floyd died May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes. The officer was fired and charged with murder, but protesters are demanding the three other officers at the scene also be prosecuted.

Rodong Sinmun noted hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the White House chanting, “No justice, no peace.” It did not make any direct comments about Trump, whom North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has met several times in high-profile summits.

Russia said the United States has systemic human rights problems.

Its criticism followed a longstanding pattern dating back to the Cold War. The 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School by nine African American students supported by bayonet-carrying soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division prompted one Soviet newspaper to use the headline: “Troops Advance Against Children!”

That information warfare continues today in the cyber-realm, as U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia meddled in America’s 2016 presidential election. Tabatabai said she and her colleagues have been tracking Chinese, Iranian and Russian social media accounts using the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd.

U.S. allies have also been expressing their opinions on the unrest. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the arrests and assaults on journalists were “very concerning.” This weekend, Zimbabwe summoned the U.S. ambassador over U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien’s allegation that Harare could be one of several foreign adversaries taking advantage of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, which is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, on Monday described itself as “157 (years old) and Antifa. Naturally.”

The tweet appeared to be a response to Trump’s assertion that he would designate Antifa “a terrorist organization.” “Antifa” is an umbrella description for the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.

Across from the U.S. Embassy in Paris, dozens of people knelt in silent protest, urging the French government to take racism and police violence more seriously. Despite a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people because of the coronavirus, they held signs reading “I Can’t Breathe” in English, or “Racism is suffocating us” and “We are all George Floyd” in French.

Thousands of people packed Dam Square in central Amsterdam and spilled into several side streets in an unexpectedly large protest to denounce police brutality in the U.S. and Europe. They chanted “Black lives matter!” raising their fists and holding anti-racism signs.

And in Italy, a former U.S.-based correspondent for the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera described the crisis facing America as both “an insurrection and a pandemic” that couldn’t be solved by the November presidential election.

“The American dawn will arrive,” Beppe Severgnini wrote. “But now it is the dead of night.”

___

Associated Press writers Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Colleen Berry in Milan contributed.

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