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French Far-Right Fail, Historic Climate Deal, Star Wars Premiere

French Far-Right Fail, Historic Climate Deal, Star Wars Premiere

FRENCH FAR RIGHT FALLS SHORT

Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front party failed to win even one of France’s 13 regions in yesterday’s second round of elections, despite finishing first in almost half of them a week ago. It was ultimately the victim of alliances formed by other parties and of higher voter turnout, Le Monde reports. But it wasn’t a total loss for the nationalist, anti-immigration and eurosceptic party, which still won more votes than it ever has â€" 6.82 million â€" tripling its number of regional counselors, which could help Le Pen build a stronger base for the 2017 presidential election. The center-right coalition, led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republican party, won seven regions, but Le Monde writes that huge gaps remain inside Sarkozy’s party and that a tough battle for leadership win now begin ahead of presidential primaries.

Here's how four French dailies covered the results Monday.


“HISTORIC” CLIMATE DEAL INKED IN PARIS

Photo: Li Genxing/Xinhua/ZUMA

Representatives from 196 countries, gathered in Paris for the now-concluded COP21 global climate summit, reached an “historic” agreement Saturday to keep global warming to “well below” 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. “This a major leap for mankind,” French President François Hollande said, warning that “we will not be judged on a word, but on an act.” The deal, which U.S. President Barack Obama described as “the best chance we have to save the only planet that we’ve got,” also promises to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries adapt their economies to sustainable energies. But delegates fell short of imposing a carbon emissions ceiling, with critics saying that targets can’t be reached with the current pledges on emission reductions.


ATTACKER SHOUTS “ISIS,” STABS FRENCH TEACHER

A French kindergarten teacher was stabbed in the throat and side inside his classroom early this morning before school began, Le Figaro reports. The assault happened in Aubervilliers, a northeastern suburb of Paris, where the attacker shouted the Arabic acronym for ISIS (“Daesh”) before escaping. The male teacher was hospitalized, but his wounds aren’t life-threatening.


28%

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has taken the lead over fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Iowa, with a Fox News poll showing 28% support for him among likely GOP caucus-goers, to Trump’s 26%. Support for Cruz is even higher among the “very conservative,” 42%, almost twice as Trump’s. But most still believe Trump is more likely to defeat Clinton, the frontrunner among Iowa Democrats.


RUSSIA-TURKEY TENSIONS REMAIN HIGH

Tensions between Russia and Turkey remained high over the weekend, as a Russian warship was “forced” to fire warning shots at a Turkish cargo vessel to avoid a collision in the northern Aegean Sea, Sputnik News reports. The two countries have been at odds since last month, when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane it claimed had violated its airspace.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



EGYPT: SINAI PLANE CRASH NOT TERRORISM

Egyptian authorities said today that they have found no evidence that the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian plane in the Sinai was an act of terrorism, a claim that contradicts both the U.S. and Russian versions of the incident that killed all 224 passengers. Read more from Reuters.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Hong Kong’s insatiable appetite for seafood and its role as a hub for the global seafood trade is having an unfortunate impact on endangered fish species, Portal KBR reports. “Activists have been trying to educate consumers, and are encouraging them to be more careful about the seafood they buy. Allen To, who works in the Hong Kong offices of the World Wildlife Fund, monitors local imports and consumption of endangered seafood species. He says per capita consumption of seafood in Hong Kong is second in Asia and seventh in the world.”

Read the full article, Hong Kong’​s Seafood Appetite Threatens Marine Species.


GLOBAL SUPPORT FOR UNITED LIBYA DEAL

Diplomats from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the U.S., who gathered in Rome, agreed to a plan that calls for a ceasefire and national unity in war-ravaged Libya, where the ISIS threat is growing, The Washington Post reports. Libya has been engulfed in chaos since the fall and death of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and has largely become “a vacuum filled by terrorists,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. The two rival governments, one internationally recognized and the other backed by Islamists in Tripoli, are expected to meet Wednesday in Morocco to sign the deal.


VERBATIM

“We took on board the concerns of the people who are worried about the future, and this means we want to reduce â€" we want to drastically decrease â€" the number of people coming to us,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told state broadcaster ARD yesterday, after her country has welcomed more than 1 million refugees this year. But she explained that there would be no national cap on the number of migrants entering Germany. Merkel’s open-door policy has cost her some political support and created divisions within her party. Her comments came on the eve of a two-day party conference during which she’ll face a “vote of confidence.”


13 WOMEN ELECTED IN SAUDI ARABIA

Early results from yesterday’s Saudi Arabian elections show that at least 13 women won seats in local councils, Gulf News reports. The election was the first in which women were allowed to run as candidates in the oil-rich kingdom.


ON THIS DAY


Conquering the South Pole and evading flying shoes. Only in On This Day, your 57-second shot of history.


TONIGHT’S STAR WARS PREMIERE

The countdown for the world premiere of the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, is reaching its final hours, which means that fans who’ve been camping on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, where it will be screened tonight in a few theaters, will soon be able to resume a normal life.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

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.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"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.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

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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