Fukushima 5 Years On, Taiwan-U.S. Deal, Toblerone In Pyongyang

Fukushima 5 Years On, Taiwan-U.S. Deal, Toblerone In Pyongyang


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered further nuclear tests to improve attack capabilities, national news agency KCNA reports today. Pyongyang has stepped up its threats and statements boasting about its nuclear capabilities since the U.S. and South Korea initiated joint military exercises on Monday. Today’s statement was made three days after Kim Jong-un posed with what national media described as a miniature nuclear warhead. The North Korean dictator said the warhead required further testing and ordered "more nuclear explosion tests to estimate the destructive power of the newly produced nuclear warheads.”


Japan marks five years since the deadly earthquake and tsunami that triggered the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. Ceremonies were held today to remember more than 18,000 people killed in the disaster. Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined crowds in bowing their heads to mark 2:46 p.m. local time, when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, under the Pacific Ocean.


Photo: Pedro Portal/TNS/ZUMA

In a primary campaign characterized by vulgarity and pie toss, the Republican presidential contenders offered an unusually restrained debate in Miami last night as they all gave clear signals of where their candidacies are headed, CNN reports. Key contests are slated for Tuesday in Florida and Ohio with billionaire outsider Donald Trump leading the pack.


The euro steadied and European shares and bonds rebounded this morning after being savaged following the European Central Bank’s announcement of a huge new stimulus plan, Reuters reports.


Beyond the Fukushima‬ disaster, find out what else happened on March 11 on today’s 57-second shot of history.


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reacted angrily after the U.S. State Department authorized the sale of two Navy frigates to Taiwan, Reuters reports. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan always attract strong opposition from Beijing as China considers self-ruled Taiwan a wayward province. The sale of the two frigates, which is still subject to Congressional approval, further exacerbates the current U.S.-China tensions in the South China Sea.


A Washington medical examiner announced yesterday that Russian billionaire and former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin died from blunt force to the head, and not of a heart attack as first stated by Russian media, the New York Times reports. There had been much speculation about the death of Mikhail Lesin since he was found unresponsive in the Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington more than four months ago. Lesin ran the media wing of the Russian energy giant Gazprom until late 2014 when he was presumably forced out and ended up in the U.S. The police has not yet declared his death a criminal act, but an official states that Lesin’s body showed signs of blunt trauma to his neck, torso, arms and legs â€" the result, according to the official, of some sort of altercation occurring before he returned to his hotel room where he died at the age of 59.


Next Tuesday will see five years since the start of the Syrian civil war, which has killed some 250,000 people and displaced more than half the pre-war population of 23 million. To mark the grim anniversary, French daily Libération has renamed itself in Arabic (Tahrir), and dedicated its pages to the many ways the conflict has changed the lives for ordinary citizens. Read more about the striking front page here.


From our Rue Amelot collection of personal essays comes this story about Switzerland-born globetrotter Olivier Racine who just wanted to give North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un two gifts from his country: a giant Toblerone chocolate bar and a piece of the Matterhorn mountain. “judging by the dumbstruck expression of the soldier in front of me, I'm not sure he understands what I want to say. And you can't blame him. But no way can he open my Toblerone to make sure it doesn't contain a rifle or something, even if the exaggerated length of the packet renders his suspicions reasonable. My mission would be immediately aborted if he did. ... I don't speak Korean, and they don't speak English. But I hold on. There are now five soldiers around me, who eventually start arguing about what they should do with me.”

Read the full article, A Swiss Man’s Bizarre Quest To Give Kim Jong-Un A Toblerone


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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


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.

👑 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." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip 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.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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