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History in the Remaking

History in the Remaking

A temple complex in Turkey that predates even the pyramids is rewriting the story of human evolution.

Berthold Steinhilber / Laif-Redux
A pillar at the Gobekli Tepe temple near Sanliurfa, Turkey, the oldest known temple in the world
By Patrick Symmes NEWSWEEK
Published Feb 19, 2010
From the magazine issue dated Mar 1, 2010

They call it potbelly hill, after the soft, round contour of this final lookout in southeastern Turkey. To the north are forested mountains. East of the hill lies the biblical plain of Harran, and to the south is the Syrian border, visible 20 miles away, pointing toward the ancient lands of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, the region that gave rise to human civilization. And under our feet, according to archeologist Klaus Schmidt, are the stones that mark the spot—the exact spot—where humans began that ascent.

Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built.

The site isn’t just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago—a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture—the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember—the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.

Global Greats

With pundits speculating about the end of American global dominance, a look back on the rise and fall of the world’s great powers.

Göbekli Tepe—the name in Turkish for “potbelly hill”—lays art and religion squarely at the start of that journey. After a dozen years of patient work, Schmidt has uncovered what he thinks is definitive proof that a huge ceremonial site flourished here, a “Rome of the Ice Age,” as he puts it, where hunter-gatherers met to build a complex religious community. Across the hill, he has found carved and polished circles of stone, with terrazzo flooring and double benches. All the circles feature massive T-shaped pillars that evoke the monoliths of Easter Island.

Though not as large as Stonehenge—the biggest circle is 30 yards across, the tallest pillars 17 feet high—the ruins are astonishing in number. Last year Schmidt found his third and fourth examples of the temples. Ground-penetrating radar indicates that another 15 to 20 such monumental ruins lie under the surface. Schmidt’s German-Turkish team has also uncovered some 50 of the huge pillars, including two found in his most recent dig season that are not just the biggest yet, but, according to carbon dating, are the oldest monumental artworks in the world.

The new discoveries are finally beginning to reshape the slow-moving consensus of archeology. Göbekli Tepe is “unbelievably big and amazing, at a ridiculously early date,” according to Ian Hodder, director of Stanford’s archeology program. Enthusing over the “huge great stones and fantastic, highly refined art” at Göbekli, Hodder—who has spent decades on rival Neolithic sites—says: “Many people think that it changes everything…It overturns the whole apple cart. All our theories were wrong.”

Schmidt’s thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.

This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a “Neolithic revolution” 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and—somewhere on the way to the airplane—organized religion. As far back as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thinkers have argued that the social compact of cities came first, and only then the “high” religions with their great temples, a paradigm still taught in American high schools.

Religion now appears so early in civilized life—earlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correct—that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance. The archeologist Jacques Cauvin once posited that “the beginning of the gods was the beginning of agriculture,” and Göbekli may prove his case.

The builders of Göbekli Tepe could not write or leave other explanations of their work. Schmidt speculates that nomadic bands from hundreds of miles in every direction were already gathering here for rituals, feasting, and initiation rites before the first stones were cut. The religious purpose of the site is implicit in its size and location. “You don’t move 10-ton stones for no reason,” Schmidt observes. “Temples like to be on high sites,” he adds, waving an arm over the stony, round hilltop. “Sanctuaries like to be away from the mundane world.”

Unlike most discoveries from the ancient world, Göbekli Tepe was found intact, the stones upright, the order and artistry of the work plain even to the un-trained eye. Most startling is the elaborate carving found on about half of the 50 pillars Schmidt has unearthed. There are a few abstract symbols, but the site is almost covered in graceful, naturalistic sculptures and bas-reliefs of the animals that were central to the imagination of hunter-gatherers. Wild boar and cattle are depicted, along with totems of power and intelligence, like lions, foxes, and leopards. Many of the biggest pillars are carved with arms, including shoulders, elbows, and jointed fingers.

The T shapes appear to be towering humanoids but have no faces, hinting at the worship of ancestors or humanlike deities. “In the Bible it talks about how God created man in his image,” says Johns Hopkins archeologist Glenn Schwartz. Göbekli Tepe “is the first time you can see humans with that idea, that they resemble gods.”

The temples thus offer unexpected proof that mankind emerged from the 140,000-year reign of hunter-gatherers with a ready vocabulary of spiritual imagery, and capable of huge logistical, economic, and political efforts. A Catholic born in Franconia, Germany, Schmidt wanders the site in a white turban, pointing out the evidence of that transition. “The people here invented agriculture. They were the inventors of cultivated plants, of domestic architecture,” he says.

Göbekli sits at the Fertile Crescent’s northernmost tip, a productive borderland on the shoulder of forests and within sight of plains. The hill was ideally situated for ancient hunters. Wild gazelles still migrate past twice a year as they did 11 millennia ago, and birds fly overhead in long skeins. Genetic mapping shows that the first domestication of wheat was in this immediate area—perhaps at a mountain visible in the distance—a few centuries after Göbekli’s founding.

Animal husbandry also began near here—the first domesticated pigs came from the surrounding area in about 8000 B.C., and cattle were domesticated in Turkey before 6500 B.C. Pottery followed. Those discoveries then flowed out to places like Çatalhöyük, the oldest-known Neolithic village, which is 300 miles to the west.
The artists of Göbekli Tepe depicted swarms of what Schmidt calls “scary, nasty” creatures: spiders, scorpions, snakes, triple-fanged monsters, and, most common of all, carrion birds. The single largest carving shows a vulture poised over a headless human. Schmidt theorizes that human corpses were ex-posed here on the hilltop for consumption by birds—what a Tibetan would call a sky burial.

Sifting the tons of dirt removed from the site has produced very few human bones, however, perhaps because they were removed to distant homes for ancestor worship. Absence is the source of Schmidt’s great theoretical claim. “There are no traces of daily life,” he explains. “No fire pits. No trash heaps. There is no water here.” Everything from food to flint had to be imported, so the site “was not a village,” Schmidt says. Since the temples predate any known settlement anywhere, Schmidt concludes that man’s first house was a house of worship: “First the temple, then the city,” he insists.

Some archeologists, like Hodder, the Neolithic specialist, wonder if Schmidt has simply missed evidence of a village or if his dating of the site is too precise. But the real reason the ruins at Göbekli remain almost unknown, not yet incorporated in textbooks, is that the evidence is too strong, not too weak. “The problem with this discovery,” as Schwartz of Johns Hopkins puts it, “is that it is unique.” No other monumental sites from the era have been found. Before Göbekli, humans drew stick figures on cave walls, shaped clay into tiny dolls, and perhaps piled up small stones for shelter or worship. Even after Göbekli, there is little evidence of sophisticated building. Dating of ancient sites is highly contested, but Çatalhöyük is probably about 1,500 years younger than Göbekli, and features no carvings or grand constructions.

The walls of Jericho, thought until now to be the oldest monumental construction by man, were probably started more than a thousand years after Göbekli. Huge temples did emerge again—but the next unambiguous example dates from 5,000 years later, in southern Iraq.

The site is such an outlier that an American archeologist who stumbled on it in the 1960s simply walked away, unable to interpret what he saw. On a hunch, Schmidt followed the American’s notes to the hilltop 15 years ago, a day he still recalls with a huge grin. He saw carved flint everywhere, and recognized a Neolithic quarry on an adjacent hill, with unfinished slabs of limestone hinting at some monument buried nearby. “In one minute—in one second—it was clear,” the bearded, sun-browned archeologist recalls. He too considered walking away, he says, knowing that if he stayed, he would have to spend the rest of his life digging on the hill.

Now 55 and a staff member at the German Archaeological Institute, Schmidt has joined a long line of his countrymen here, reaching back to Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy. He has settled in, marrying a Turkish woman and making a home in a modest “dig house” in the narrow streets of old Urfa. Decades of work lie ahead.
Disputes are normal at the site—the workers, Schmidt laments, are divided into three separate clans who feud constantly. (“Three groups,” the archeologist says, exasperated. “Not two. Three!”) So far Schmidt has uncovered less than 5 percent of the site, and he plans to leave some temples untouched so that future researchers can examine them with more sophisticated tools.

Whatever mysterious rituals were conducted in the temples, they ended abruptly before 8000 B.C., when the entire site was buried, deliberately and all at once, Schmidt believes. The temples had been in decline for a thousand years—later circles are less than half the size of the early ones, indicating a lack of resources or motivation among the worshipers.

This “clear digression” followed by a sudden burial marks “the end of a very strange culture,” Schmidt says. But it was also the birth of a new, settled civilization, humanity having now exchanged the hilltops of hunters for the valleys of farmers and shepherds. New ways of life demand new religious practices, Schmidt suggests, and “when you have new gods, you have to get rid of the old ones.”

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I Am Not Anti-Christian, Says Tun Mahathir

PENANG, Jan 23 (Bernama) — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has denied claims that he is trying to stir up anti-Christian sentiments by saying that the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York was staged.

“Many people may think that I am trying to stir up the matter by publicly commenting that the attack on the United States was staged but I am firm with my point of view,” he told reporters after attending a dinner organised by the Penang Medical Practitioners’ Society here on Saturday.

The former prime minister said there were groups of people who thought that he was trying to stir anti-Christian sentiments by commenting on the attack at this point of time.

“What do I gain from a publicity stunt? I’m not going to run for Prime Minister again.”

Earlier in his blog, Mahathir said that he had watched a three-hour video showing the attack and suggested that the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings collapsed due to controlled demolition.

“A lot of people in America (the apologists will dismiss them as conspiracy theorists) questioned whether the towers collapsed because the planes crashed into them or that something else caused them to come down.

“These people have reproduced videos taken by media people showing the attack and the collapse of the towers, pointing out certain peculiar features.

“If you have seen the three-hour long video which is widely distributed you would be convince by it.

“People fear of saying anything political on this issue, especially when we are accusing the government of a very powerful country of doing something wrong.

“Don’t forget they (even) told lies to go to war,” he said.

On another note, Tun Mahathir said Malaysia should not solely depend on foreign direct investments (FDI) and should instead build up its own economy.

— BERNAMA

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Najib Dan Rombongan Mengerjakan Umrah

MEKAH, 15 Jan (Bernama) — Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, yang sedang melakukan lawatan rasmi empat hari ke Arab Saudi, meluangkan masa untuk mengerjakan umrah pada Khamis malam.

Beliau yang diiringi isteri Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor dan anggota delegasinya, memulakan ibadah itu kira-kira 11 malam dan selesai melakukan tawaf tujuh kali sekeliling Kaabah serta sa’ie kira-kira dua jam kemudian.

Waktu di Mekah lima jam selepas Malaysia.

Delegasi itu diketuai oleh Jamil Sulaiman Jalal, yang berkata beliau turut menjalankan tugas sebagai mutawif kepada bapa Najib, Allahyarham Tun Razak Hussein, iaitu Perdana Menteri Kedua Malaysia.

Najib adalah Perdana Menteri keenam Malaysia, yang menjawat jawatan itu pada April tahun lepas.

Pemimpin Malaysia itu dijadual menunaikan solat Jumaat dan melakukan tawaf Wida lewat hari ini sebelum berlepas ke Jeddah untuk menghadiri perhimpunan bersama anggota komuniti perniagaan Malaysia di Arab Saudi petang ini.

Lawatan beliau ke Arab Saudi bertujuan menggalakkan hubungan lebih akrab antara Malaysia dan negara yang kaya dengan minyak ini, termasuk dalam bidang ekonomi.

Rombongan beliau turut dianggotai beberapa menteri, pemimpin negeri dan pegawai kanan kerajaan.

–BERNAMA

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Sarkozy Favours Vote On Potential Full Veil Ban

By Sophie Hardach

PARIS, Jan 14 (Reuters) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday that he favoured a parliamentary vote on the potential ban of full Islamic veils in France that would be followed by legal steps after regional elections in 2010.

Sarkozy also said he would await the conclusions of a French parliamentary commission’s proposal to ban full Islamic veils, called the burqa or the niqab, from public places.

“We should seek a solution that allows us to secure the greatest support possible,” said Sarkozy after declaring that the full veil “was not welcome in France.”

“This is what the parliamentary commission has been working on for several months. As president of the republic, I think that it is wise to await the fruit of these consultations and reflections before deciding definitively,” he told parliamentarians.

Only a few hundred women in France are believed to wear full veils, but the possibility of a ban has dominated public debate for months and caused a rift within Sarkozy’s UMP party.

The head of the parliamentary commission said on Wednesday the next step should be a law imposing the ban, but many lawmakers and activists have voiced scepticism at the prospect of police forcing women to lift their veils.

“We will talk about the idea of a law, about the need to take time to prepare it and to avoid stigmatisation,” commission head and communist lawmaker Andre Gerin told French radio. The commission is expected to publish its findings on Jan. 26 or 27.

RIFT

Jean-Francois Cope, the UMP’s parliamentary leader who has an eye on the 2017 presidential race, has been the most vocal defender of a broad ban. Critics say such a ban could be challenged on human rights and religious freedom grounds.

Gerin recommended a more selective ban applying only to public buildings and schools, where veiled mothers picking up their children could be hard to identify.

He called the full veil a “minority phenomenon” in France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, but said it was a symptom of a bigger problem.

“Everyone has understood that we have to take charge of things, wake up the Republic and act so that Muslims in France will practise Islam in a way that’s compatible with Republican values,” he said.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon has expressed support for a law, but remained vague about details.

Several mayors of French towns have warned that a ban would be difficult to enforce. Others fear it may encourage women to stay at home to avoid having to uncover their faces.

In the past few weeks young, educated women in long, black veils have appeared all over French talkshows and newspapers passionately defending their right to wear whatever they want.

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Gempa di Haiti: Jangkaan angka korban cecah 100,000 orang

NEW YORK: Gempa paling kuat yang melanda Haidi, semalam menyebabkan misi pengaman Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu (PBB) di negara kepulauan itu terjejas berikutan ramai kakitangannya maut.

Setiausaha Agungnya, Ban Ki-moon, berkata gempa berukuran 7.0 magnitud itu dijangka mengakibatkan ribuan nyawa melayang dengan angka yang dijangkakan melebihi 100,000 orang.

“Ia satu tragedi kepada Haiti dan juga PBB,” katanya.

Perdana Menteri Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive memberitahu stesen tv CNN bahawa angka kematian di Haiti akibat gempa kuat dan terburuk sejak 160 tahun itu boleh mencecah 100,000 orang.

“Namun saya berdoa dan amat berharap bahawa angka korban itu adalah tidak benar,” katanya.

Misi pengaman PBB di Haiti – MINUSTAH – terjejas teruk dengan ibu pejabatnya di ibu negara Port-au-Prince runtuh dan berpuluh kakitangannya turut hilang dan dikhuatiri maut, termasuk ketua stafnya, Hedi Annabi dari Tunisia dan timbalannya.

Presiden Haiti, Rene Preval berkata, Annabi yang berada di dalam bangunan bersama antara 100 dan 150 kakitangan lain ketika gempa dikhuatiri maut. – AFP

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Tinggalkan Kemewahan

Warga Emas Kelahiran Poland Tinggalkan Kemewahan Untuk Berbasikal Jelajah Dunia

Oleh Shuhaida Mohd Said

ALOR SETAR, 13 Jan (Bernama) — Pada petang menjelang sambutan abad baru 10 tahun lepas dan ketika meraikan hari lahirnya ke-64, Mohamed Ali Janusz River, rakyat kelahiran Poland telah bertekad untuk melakukan sesuatu yang mengagumkan agar sisa kehidupannya tidak berakhir dengan sia-sia.

Tidak mempunyai isteri atau anak, Janusz River, yang mengumpul kekayaan sebagai pengurus sukan antarabangsa mewakili pelbagai pasukan bola sepak di Itali, kemudian memutuskan untuk menjelajah dunia dengan berbasikal.

Sejak itu warga emas ini tidak lagi menoleh ke belakang dan menghabiskan masa sejak sembilan tahun lalu mengayuh basikal dari sebuah negara ke sebuah negara.

“Saya melakukan ini bukan untuk wang atau publisiti. Saya tidak mempunyai penaja dan cuma untuk suka-suka. Setiap hari saya cuma berbelanja RM6.50 dan jumlah ini lebih daripada cukup, malah kadang-kadang saya langsung tidak menggunakan duit,” katanya kepada Bernama di sini Rabu.

Janusz River, yang tiba ke negara ini melalui Singapura, telah menjelajah Johor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor dan Perak, dan merancang untuk ke Langkawi hari ini sebelum menaiki feri ke Satun, Thailand.

Beliau akan kembali semula ke Malaysia untuk menjelajah Kelantan, Terengganu dan Pahang, sebelum terbang ke Sabah dan Sarawak.

Meneruskan cerita, Janusz River berkata sepanjang di Malaysia, beliau banyak menerima bantuan daripada pejabat daerah dan ketua-ketua kampung yang dilaluinya.

Janusz River, yang mengakui seronok melihat dunia secara berbasikal, lebih gemar mengembara menerusi jalan-jalan kampung dan kawasan pedalaman kerana ini membolehkan beliau berinteraksi dengan masyarakat tempatan.

“Saya tidak suka berada di bandar-bandar yang sibuk. Saya suka orang kampung. Saya tidak pernah melihat pemandangan seindah masyarakat Melayu di kampung. Golongan wanita dan kanak-kanaknya memakai pakaian tradisional yang beraneka warna.

“Semasa melalui kampung-kampung penduduk menerima saya dengan baik, memberi saya makan dan menjemput saya ke kenduri, iaitu suatu perkara yang paling saya sukai,” katanya.

Beliau melihat Malaysia sebagai sebuah negara kaya dan paling selamat yang pernah beliau lawati dan menggunakan sepenuhnya peluang ketika di sini untuk bergaul dengan masyarakat khususnya penduduk kampung.

“Ini kali pertama saya melawat Malaysia dan saya benar-benar seronok di sini,” katanya yang berazam menghabiskan perjalanannya di Sukan Olimpik Rio de Janeiro di Brazil pada 2016.

“InsyaAllah saya akan berumur 80 tahun pada ketika itu, dan untuk mengekalkan kecergasan, saya minum lima liter air setiap hari, makan tengah hari dengan kadar yang banyak, makan sekilogram campuran buah-buahan, selain berbasikal sejauh 30km setiap hari dengan membawa bagasi seberat 30kg,” kata Janusz River.

Beliau berkata sejak sembilan tahun lepas beliau memilih untuk tidur di tepi jalan sekalipun mampu tinggal di hotel dan rumah penginapan.

“Saya ada beg tidur dan kelambu, dan itu sudah cukup bagi saya. Saya suka tidur di tempat terbuka, dan kadang-kadang saya tidur dalam bangunan kosong atau di surau-surau,” katanya.

Janusz River, yang semasa mudanya tidak berpegang kepada mana-mana kepercayaan, memeluk Islam pada 1973 selepas membaca Al-Quran dalam Bahasa Rusia dan tertarik dengan agama itu. Bapanya berketurunan Rusia.

— BERNAMA

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Konvoi Viva Palestina Mengakhiri Misi Dengan Jayanya

GAZA, 9 Jan (Bernama) — Selepas 48 jam berada di bumi Gaza dan menyaksikan keadaan sendiri keadaan di sini, konvoi Viva Palestina akhirnya mengucapkan selamat tinggal kepada rakyat Palestin untuk bertolak pulang pada kira-kira pukul 10 pagi waktu tempatan.

Walaupun misi itu tidak lama namun 450 sukarelawan yang menyertai konvoi itu berpuas hati kerana mereka berjaya melaksanakan misi mereka untuk menghantar bekalan ubat-ubatan, makanan dan peralatan pembelajaran yang dibawa dalam trak dan ambulans secara terus kepada penduduk Palestin di Gaza.

Malaysia menyumbangkan empat trak bantuan kemanusian dan sebuah ambulans bernilai 100,000 pound kepada Hospital Elwafa Gaza.

Dr Khamis Elessi, Ketua Perubatan Pemulihan Hospital Elwafa berkata penduduk Palestin gembira dengan pelbagai bantuan yang disumbangkan oleh rakyat Malaysia.

“Kami berterima kasih kepada kerajaan Malaysia, rakyat Malaysia yang menyumbangkan trak kepada Hospital Elwafa, Kami rasa bersyukur dengan sumbangan rakyat Malaysia ini dan kesemua mereka yang datang dari jauh, terpaksa menempuh kesusahan sepanjang perjalanan ke Gaza, kami sangat bersyukur dengan sikap jujur, berani dan murah hati orang-orang Malaysia.

“Penduduk Palestin di Gaza memerlukan ribuan tan (bekalan ubat-ubatan), sumbangan seperti ini sudah pasti dapat membantu mereka yang cedera dan menyelamatkan ramai nyawa yang hidup dalam keadaan penderitaan yang mengerikan selama ini,” katanya.

Bagi pengasas dan penganjur Viva Palestina, George Galloway misi ini bukanlah yang terakhir.

“Semoga tuhan memberkati Tun Dr Mahathir, Viva Palestina, rakyat Malaysia yang memberikan sumbangan dengan pelbagai cara termasuklah wartawan yang menyertai misi ini sehingga berjaya,” katanya.

Misi yang sama telah dilakukan pada bulan Mac dan Julai tahun lepas.

“Kami tidak akan berhenti selagi sekatan tidak ditarik balik, kami tidak akan berhenti, mungkin kita akan kembali menggunakan jalan laut untuk misi yang seterusnya. Mungkin halangan yang bakal ditempuh agak kurang berbanding jalan darat,” katanya.

Konvoi yang disertai oleh pelbagai negara itu memulakan perjalanan dari London pada 6 Dis yang lepas, menempuh perjalanan melalui bandar-bandar di Turki, Syria dan Jordan.

Konvoi itu terpaksa melalui banyak halangan terutamanya daripada Kerajaan Mesir yang tidak membenarkan konvoi itu melalui bandar Nuweiba sebagai laluan ke Rafah untuk ke Gaza yang menyebabkan misi yang dijadualkan tiba di Gaza pada 27 Dis 2009, sempena genap setahun kekejaman Israel terhadap rakyat Palestin di Gaza itu, terlewat daripada jadual asal.

Sebaik tiba di bandar Pelabuhan El-Arish, konvoi 220 kenderaan seperti trak, ambulans dan kereta itu, 59 buah kenderaan konvoi terbabit dilarang oleh Kerajaan Mesir untuk dibawa keluar dari pelabuhan itu untuk ke Gaza.

Malah lebih 10 anggota konvoi Viva Palestina cedera, empat daripadanya parah, dan tujuh ditahan polis Mesir termasuk seorang pelajar Malaysia dalam kejadian tunjuk perasaan ketika membantah keputusan kerajaan Mesir melarang 59 buah kenderaan itu dibawa ke Gaza.

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