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Iraq Fights For Ramadi, Sao Paulo Fire, SpaceX Rocket Landing

Iraq Fights For Ramadi, Sao Paulo Fire, SpaceX Rocket Landing

TALIBAN SIEGE IN AFGHANISTAN

Afghan forces are battling Taliban fighters today in a desperate attempt to protect the police headquarters in the town of Sangin, after a Taliban attack killed six U.S. soldiers yesterday, the BBC reports. The Taliban have laid siege to the southern town and have reportedly cut it off from the rest of the Helmand province. About 12,000 NATO forces are still deployed to Afghanistan, and yesterday’s attack near Kabul shows that the war in Afghanistan is still “far from over” 14 years after it began, The Washington Post writes.


IRAQ TROOPS ENTER ISIS-CONTROLLED RAMADI

Iraqi soldiers have launched an offensive to retake the city of Ramadi, Iraq, from the clutches of ISIS and are advancing into the city center, the BBC reports. The city has been encircled by government forces for a month, and 250 to 300 ISIS fighters are believed to be inside the city. According to Al Jazeera, at least 14 troops were killed in a suicide car bomb attack as the offensive began this morning. Civilians have been asked to leave the city.


VERBATIM

“I think we’ll probably keep this one on the ground just because it is kind of unique,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said after the company managed to launch a Falcon 9 rocket booster that later returned to Earth intact. This is a breakthrough in space travel, opening the possibility of reusing rockets, thus significantly reducing costs. “It is difficult to say exactly where it ranks, but I do think it is a revolutionary moment,” Musk told reporters.


BOSNIA ARRESTS SUSPECTED ISIS MEMBERS

Bosnian police have arrested 11 people believed to have ISIS connections, AFP reports. The raids, conducted this morning in 13 locations around Sarajevo, including two mosques, targeted 15 people suspected of recruiting for terrorist attacks, and the police said they had found evidence of ties to the jihadist group.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

It causes cancer, harms the planet and is cruel to animals, which is why meat consumption has steadily declined in the West since 1998. Some have become vegetarians or even vegans, but there is one much more modest alternative that’s spreading, Frank Niedercorn writes for Les Echos. “Specifically, people are eating much less beef and pork, though consumption of poultry has doubled in France,” he writes. “Other European countries have undergone similar evolutions. The question is whether the trend will continue, and will we all become vegetarians or ‘flexitarians’? U.S. food columnist Mark Bittman coined the term, which he defines are someone who deliberately reduces meat consumption. ‘We sometimes call it part-time vegetarianism,’ notes Céline Laisney, an analyst who heads a study about the trend’s growth.”

Read the full article, Our Simmering Beef With Meat â€" Rise Of The Flexitarians.


BURUNDI ULTIMATUM EXPIRES

An ultimatum to Burundi from the 54-nation African Union to accept a 5,000-strong “peacekeeping force” to protect civilians is expiring today, Al Jazeera reports. Burundi has already rejected the proposal, which it denounced as an “invasion,” although the African Union has pledged to send the troops even if the country refuses to cooperate. An estimated 200,000 people are believed to have fled Burundi this year after violent protests over the third-term reelection of President Pierre Nkurunziza.


FIRE DESTROYS SAO PAULO MUSEUM

Photo: Imago/ZUMA

A huge Monday afternoon fire in Brazil destroyed part of São Paulo’s “Station of Light,” one of the city’s main railway stations built 148 years ago. Despite heavy rains, it took firefighters almost three hours to contain the blaze, which killed one firefighter and left the museum of Portuguese language, housed in the station, severely damaged. The fact that the museum is closed on Mondays likely averted a higher number of casualties. It’s still unclear what caused the fire. Read more about it on Le Blog.


$1.2 BILLION

The Japanese government this morning unveiled its choice for the new stadium to be built ahead of the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. The $1.2 billion project, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, will “maintain harmony with the natural landscape of the neighboring Meiji Jingu Gaien area,” news agency Kyodo reports. Authorities had originally preferred a “spaceship-like” stadium designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, but that choice was abandoned after its estimated cost doubled.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



CHINA CANCELS ZIMBABWE’S DEBT

China will cancel Zimbabwe’s $40 million debt in exchange for the southern African nation adding the yuan, or RMB, to its offering of legal currencies, AFP reports. Zimbabwe, which has been struggling to emerge from a decade of recession that ended in 2008, ditched its own currency in 2009 amid hyperinflation and has been using foreign currencies since. The move highlights an increasingly close partnership between the two countries. The RMB join the U.S. dollar and the South African rand to the currencies approved for public transactions.


ON THIS DAY


It’s was 207 years today that Beethoven premiered his Fifth Symphony. We’ve got The Master, French singer Vanessa Paradis and more in today’s shot of history.

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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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