Historic Taiwan-China Summit, Another Russian Crash, Dylan Auction

Historic Taiwan-China Summit, Another Russian Crash, Dylan Auction


Doses of both silence and skepticism have followed the surprise announcement Tuesday that the leaders of Taiwan and China would meet for the first time in 66 years. Presidents Xi Jinping of China, and Ma Ying-jeou of China will meet on Saturday for what’s being dubbed as a “historic” meeting. The leaders are expected to discuss “the peaceful development of cross-Taiwan Straits relations,” a Chinese official statement said, amid an otherwise scant coverage in the mainland’s media. But the meeting, coming ahead of crucial elections in Taiwan planned for January 2016, is seen by some as an attempt from Beijing to weigh in on the elections. Having already served two terms, Ma Ying-jeou won’t be running. His pro-China nationalist party Kuomintang is trailing in the polls.

Read more about Taiwanese skepticism on Le Blog.


A Russian-build cargo plane crashed this morning near the South Sudanese capital of Juba, minutes after take-off, killing at least 41 people, including people on the ground, Reuters reports. A crew member and a child on board however survived the crash. Some of the crew members are believed to be Russian, but the identities of the rest of the people on board aren’t yet known. On Twitter, the South Sudan Tribune quoted experts on the site as saying that overload and technical errors were likely responsible for the crash. It comes just four days after a Russian passenger plane crashed after takeoff in Egypt, killing all 224 people aboard.



Volkswagen’s ongoing emissions scandal deepened after the German carmaker announced that some of its cars were emitting more carbon dioxide and consuming more fuel than claimed, German business daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports. At least 800,000 vehicles, mostly diesel but also gasoline-powered cars, are believed to be affected by what VW described as an “irregularity” and it will cost the company an estimated 2 billion euros to fix. The company’s shares plummeted by more than 10% this morning in early trading, with shares dropping below the 100-euro mark.


Doing business at home is always different than doing business abroad. For China’s Caixin, X. Rick Niu reflects on the lessons Chinese firms can draw from the German company's problems in the United States: “Generally speaking, the Chinese firms that expand into the U.S. have already enjoyed considerable success at home. Their goal is to be even bigger and stronger â€" to lift their brands to new heights. Operating in the U.S., however, means adapting to the country's highly developed legal system and free market economy. Foreign companies, in other words, must adhere to the laws and regulations, and focus on integrity and transparency.”

Read the full article, What China Can Learn From The Volkswagen Fiasco.


At least 800,000 people have entered the EU illegally since January and the peak hasn’t been reached yet, Fabrice Leggeri, the director of the EU’s border agency Frontex told German tabloid Bild. Leggeri also warned that in order to do its job properly, his agency would need double the 775 border officials it currently has at its disposal.


Voters in Ohio overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana, despite a $25 million campaign in favor of it, The Columbus Dispatch reports. But some form of legalization could still take place in the near future, with representatives saying there’s “tremendous support for medical marijuana.” Elsewhere on an odd-year Election Day, Airbnb and its participants have won their battle against short-term rentals restrictions, while a new initiative in Seattle could revolutionize campaign financing. Read more from CNN.


Photo: Jin Yu/Xinhua/ZUMA

After 17 months of restoration, Rome’s Trevi fountain, one of Italy's most popular attractions, re-opened to the public on Tuesday.


Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta announced this morning his resignation and that of his entire cabinet, after mass protests in the capital of Bucharest demanding they leave office, Jurnalul Naţional reports. The latest protests, fueled by growing discontent over mass corruption, were sparked by a nightclub fire that killed 30 people in Bucharest last Friday. Denouncing those who, according to him, had used the tragic incident for political reasons, he said that the real culprits were “greed and irresponsibility.” Read more in English from AP.


Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has declared a state emergency for the next 30 days, ahead of planned anti-government protests organized by the main opposition party, after explosives were found in a car in his residence, Maldives Independent reports. The last few weeks have seen growing unrest, with the arrest of Vice President Ahmed Adeeb for “high treason,” over allegations that he was involved in an attempt on the President’s life.


“So, my God, I totally insulted an entire country â€" our first ally â€" that helped us become free as a nation!” Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush offered a lighthearted apology for mocking France’s work ethic in last week’s debate. TIME has more.


After 16 years hosting the Daily Show, popular American political comedian Jon Stewart announced he’d signed a four-year deal with premium cable network HBO, where he will initially produce “short-form digital content.”


Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated 20 years ago today. This and more in your 57-second shot of history.


An extremely rare copy of Bob Dylan’s 1963 LP Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, containing four tracks that were not meant to be pressed on the vinyl, has gone up for auction on eBay, The Vinyl Factory reports. The bidding starts at $100,000 â€" so you may think twice (it’s alright).

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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

"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.

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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