FRENCH FAR RIGHT SWEEP REGIONAL VOTE
Franceâ€™s National Front became the countryâ€™s â€œfirst partyâ€ Sunday, winning nearly 30% of the vote in the first round of regional elections held just three weeks after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. The nationalist party finished first in six of Franceâ€™s 13 regions, with party leader Marine Le Pen getting 40.6% of the vote in the north, and her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen garnering about the same in the southeast, Le Figaro reports. A coalition of center-right parties, led by Nicolas Sarkozyâ€™s Republicans finished second with 27%, which Le Monde characterized as a â€œslap in the faceâ€ to the former president. The ruling Socialist party (which also holds a majority of regions) finished third with 23% in an election that saw a low turnout of just 51%.
- Under French regional election rules, all candidates with more than 10% are eligible for next Sundayâ€™s second round of voting. Almost every region saw candidates from the three main parties qualify for the runoff. But Socialist candidates who came in third place in the north and southeast have retreated from the race, following party instructions, in a bid to â€œobstructâ€ the National Front and prevent it from winning. At least one candidate, in the eastern region, has refused to do so. Sarkozy, eager to distance himself both from the Socialists and the nationalists, ruled out such a move for his partyâ€™s candidates who finished third, sparking divisions inside his own ranks, Le Parisien reports.
- See the ominous front page in the left-wing daily Libération.
â€œWe cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,â€ U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday in a rare Oval Office address aimed at calming â€œjittery Americansâ€ days after what appears to have been an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in San Bernardino, The New York Times reports. Urging people not to give in to fear, he pledged to further intensify airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and renewed calls for gun legislation.
VENEZUELAâ€™S MADURO CONCEDES DEFEAT
The ruling Socialist party of Venezuelan President Nicólas Maduro has suffered its first parliamentary defeat in 16 years at the hands of the countryâ€™s opposition parties. In a televised address, Maduro recognized his partyâ€™s defeat and even hailed a â€œperfect democratic systemâ€ before saying that â€œthe economic war has triumphed,â€ as inflation continues to skyrocket. Read more in English from Reuters. Read more about it on Le Blog.
ON THIS DAY
The attack on Pearl Harbor was 74 years ago today. That, and more, in your 57-second shot of history.
60,000 BRITISH HOMES LOSE ELECTRICITY
A storm of rare intensity has left 60,000 homes in northern England without electricity amid floods after more than a monthâ€™s worth of rain fell in 24 hours, The Guardian reports. The floods cause at least one death, a 90-year-old man.
Photo: Xu Jinquan/Xinhua/ZUMA
Santa Claus is coming to town â€" or at least to Montreux, Switzerland. The flying sleigh and reindeer are part of the Christmas market animations near Lake Geneva.
As part of our Green Or Gone series, Les Echosâ€™ Joël Cossardeaux looks at how Hungary, a country known for its reliance on coal, uses biomass, or organic fuel: â€œThe energy supplies Hungaryâ€™s national power network as well as the 1950s-era heating network in Pécs, a fast-growing city that is now the countryâ€™s fifth largest, with an estimated population of 155,000. The plantâ€™s total reliance on biomass is all the more impressive given that, overall, green energy represents just 13% of total electricity output in Hungary, where for decades â€˜all things coal,â€™ long extracted in the hills of the Mecsek, along Pécs, and â€˜all things gasâ€™ reigned supreme.â€
Read the full article, Scaling Biomass, An Energy Revolution Takes Root In Hungary.
Colombian officials said Saturday they had found the shipwreck of the San Jose, a Spanish galleon that sank 307 years ago and became a holy grail for treasure hunters. The gold, silver and gems it contains are worth an estimated loot of $2 billion, with President Juan Manuel Santos calling it the â€œmost valuable treasure that has been found in the history of humanity.â€
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
FBI PROBES FIFAâ€™S BLATTER
FBI investigators are investigating FIFA President Sepp Blatterâ€™s role in a bribe scandal involving as much as $100 million that saw officials at the soccer governing body being paid by a sports marketing company in exchange for television and marketing rights, the BBC reports. Blatter has denied all knowledge of the bribes, but a leaked FBI letter suggests investigators believe he lied.
FREE MONEY FOR THE FINNISH?
A majority of people in Finland support the idea of their government scrapping all social benefits in exchange for a basic national income of $870 per month, which could soon become reality.
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.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
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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