THE UK VOTES
Britons are voting today in what The Guardian describes as the United Kingdom’s most unpredictable general elections in decades, as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party and opponent Ed Miliband’s Labour Party remained even in the latest opinion polls, which has been the case for months. Neither party is expected to win an absolute majority in the 650-seat parliament, and both will have to race to strike deals with smaller parties to form a coalition. The first results are expected to be released at around midnight and others around noon tomorrow.
ON THIS DAY
On this day in 1664, the incredible Château de Versailles was inaugurated. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
NETANYAHU FORMS COALITION WITH FAR RIGHT
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a last-minute deal last night with the far-right Jewish Home party, which allows him to form a governmental coalition, Haaretz reports. The deal was signed 90 minutes before the midnight deadline, and saved “Bibi” from being forced from office, which is what would have happened if he had failed to reach a majority in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. He won the eight extra seats he needed with the Jewish Home party to reach the fragile majority of 61 seats out of 120. Naftali Bennett, the party’s extremist leader, was promised the ministry of education and also obtained the ministries of justice and agriculture for his party. Other parties of the coalition include Netanyahu’s Likud, the United Torah Judaism, Shas and Kulanu.
“If the people of Burundi put their trust in us, it will be the last mandate I seek, as determined by the constitutional court,” incumbent Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza said in a televised speech yesterday about his decision to seek a controversial third term. His nomination in late April and its recent approval by the Burundi Constitutional Court have triggered deadly clashes between the president’s opponents and police forces. At least a dozen people have been killed since the start of the protests, including police officers and soldiers who have been accused of using weapons against civilians, Jeune Afrique reports.
GERMANS JAILED FOR ANTI-MUSLIM PLOT
German authorities have arrested three men and a woman who founded a far-right group to attack mosques and housing for asylum seekers, Die Zeit reports. Police say they seized explosives that could have been used in possible terror attacks and that the four people, aged 22 to 56, were being held on terrorism charges. Prosecutors say they recently founded a group called the “Old Schools Society” and planned to carry out attacks against Muslims in Germany.
Hoping to hit the reset button on her slumping presidency, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet has decided to dump not just one or two ministers, but her entire cabinet. Bachelet made the stunning announcement during a television interview last night, saying she “requested the resignation of all the ministers” and will take 72 hours to sort out replacements and make final decisions about “who will stay and who will go.” See how Chile’s La Tercera covered the reshuffle in our Extra! feature here.
YEMEN SEEKS UN INTERVENTION
Yemen has urged the United Nations to authorize a ground intervention to push back Houthi rebels, who have been advancing in southern Yemen after weeks of fighting. “We urge the international community to quickly intervene by land forces to save Yemen, especially Aden and Taiz,” Yemen’s UN ambassador Khaled Alyemany wrote in a letter to the Security Council, Al Jazeera reports. Yemeni civilians have been killed in a series of incidents. The ambassador cited one in which at least 32 people were killed while trying to flee Aden in a boat, adding that the Houthis were “targeting anything that moves.”
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
AFGHAN ARMY DEFENDS KEY CITY
Afghanistan has launched a major offensive against the Taliban near the northeastern provincial capital of Kunduz. Taliban forces, which Afghan officials say are being aided by ISIS, have come close to the city in recent weeks, the BBC reports. Tens of thousands of local residents have been displaced in the region.
Losing your wallet in New York City doesn’t typically end well, but sometimes fate and an encounter with an immigrant taxi driver intervene. “I did forget one in a Hong Kong cab once,” Yonder’s Andrej Mrevje writes. “But that was in 1997, and it cost me more than $3,000. So from that time on, I have always looked on the back seat before I leave a taxi. And I did just that last night. But the man with the glasses insisted. He called again and at this point I buzzed him in, went to get the keys, and felt the pockets of the jacket I had been wearing the night before. There was no wallet. I went downstairs and through the glass door I saw a man waving, a wallet in his hand. It was my wallet. I expected a tough negotiation.”
Read the full article, How To Lose Your Wallet In New York City.
TORNADOES RAVAGE MIDWEST
Photo: Travis Heying/TNS/ZUMA
Severe tornadoes ripped through the Midwest last night, creating flooding, hailstorms and heavy winds in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Dozens of homes were destroyed and at least 13 people were injured, but so far no deaths have been reported.
UNMANNED SPACECRAFT TO HIT EARTH FRIDAY
Progress M-27M, the unmanned Russian spacecraft that has been “out of control” since April 28, is set to enter Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate Friday, according to the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Scientists say only a few fragments are expected to reach the surface of the Earth and that they will probably hit the ocean. Keep an eye on the live position of Progress M-27M.
After a stunning performance against Bayern Münich with FC Barcelona in the semifinals of the European Champions League yesterday, Lionel Messi’s second goal, in which he humiliated German defender Jérôme Boateng, broke the Internet. The 26-year-old Boateng’s Wikipedia page was even modified after the match, momentarily reporting that he had “died” at the Spanish stadium.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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