SPOTLIGHT: EURO 2016 ON EDGE
The Euro 2016 soccer tournament starts Friday in France. By some accounts, it is the worldâ€™s third biggest sporting event, after the World Cup and Summer Olympics. This yearâ€™s contest will last for a month around the countryâ€™s biggest stadiums and is expecting to bring 2.5 millions fans to attend games in the ten host cities. After the past 18 months marked by terrorist attacks and economic crisis, the French daily Le Parisien noted on its front page yesterday that the tournament could be the opportunity for the country to â€œfinally have fun.â€
That may be wishful thinking. Today marks the seventh consecutive day of a national rail strike that has match ticket-holders all over Europe worried. Talks between national rail management and unions made progress overnight, but although â€œthe end is near,â€ as Le Monde puts it, no final agreement has been reached. The strike could be over as soon as tomorrow or Thursday, but not all unions have shown the same enthusiasm for the preliminary agreement.
On the other hand, the revelation yesterday that a French far-right extremist was reportedly plotting to carry out as many as 15 terror attacks against French synagogues and mosques during the tournament cast a chill around the country. Earlier, the weekly Le Point also reported French intelligence services had put 85 members of the Euro 2016 security personnel under surveillance. Away from the spotlight, France has been practicing disaster scenarios in stadiums. Perhaps the French Open tennis tournament can offer some optimism ahead of the soccer competition: Despite stepped up security, and even heavy rains, the annual affair, which ended Sunday, was drama free. The only bad omen for local soccer fans: no French players in the finals.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- Indian Prime Minister Modi meets with President Obama in Washington.
- Last six U.S. election primaries.
ISTANBUL BLAST KILLS AT LEAST 11
At least 11 people were killed and 36 wounded this morning in central Istanbul when a car bomb struck a police bus during the morning rush hour, Hürriyet reports. A remote-controlled device was reportedly detonated as the vehicle passed through the busy Vezneciler district.
â€" ON THIS DAY
The governor of Minnesota has declared this â€œPrince Day,â€ in honor of the late singer, who would have turned 58 today â€¦ That, and more, in our 57-second shot of history for June 7.
CLINTON ON THE BRINK OF NOMINATION
The Associated Press, followed by several media outlets, determined last night that Hillary Clinton has reached the number of delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination in the U.S. presidential race. Challenger Bernie Sanders disputes the tally, ahead of todayâ€™s final round of primaries, which include the biggest state of California.
ISIS LOSING GROUND
Syrian rebel fighters, backed by U.S. forces, have surrounded the ISIS-held city of Manbij, near the Turkish border, following an assault launched last week, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, on the other side of the jihadist groupâ€™s so-called â€œcaliphate,â€ Iraqi security forces have made significant progress by closing in on ISIS-held territory around the city of Fallujah, according to CNN.
SILVIO BERLUSCONI HOSPITALIZED
Silvio Berlusconi, the 79-year-old billionaire and former three-time Italian prime minister, checked in this morning to San Raffaele hospital in Milan with heart-related problems, Corriere della Sera reports.
Tuesdayâ€™s front page of the Chinese state-run daily Renmin Ribao features President Xi Jinping in front of American and Chinese flags as he spoke at China-U.S. bilateral talks in Beijing. Check it out here.
NORTH KOREA PLUTONIUM SITE REACTIVATED
North Korean authorities have switched back on the Yongbyon nuclear facility, which has been the reclusive countryâ€™s main source of plutonium for its nuclear weapons program, The Korea Times quotes the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano as saying yesterday in a press conference in Vienna.
Reporting for French business daily Les Echos, Benjamin Quénelle draws the portrait of Pavel Durov, Russiaâ€™s 31-year-old social media mogul, now forced into exile after quarrels with the Kremlin: â€œâ€˜Heâ€™s first and foremost an introvert,â€™ said Matvei Alekseev, a former VKontakte employee. Durov is single and often dresses in black. â€˜It's difficult to work with him. He doesn't speak much.â€™
Alekseev doesn't hide his admiration for Durov, who is considered an â€˜Internet Robin Hoodâ€™ for placing civil liberties above all else in an authoritarian country. Durov ultimately decided to leave Russia in order to defend his freedom as an entrepreneur. â€˜Unfortunately, the country is incompatible with internet business at the moment,â€™ he said at the time, after being forced to give away financial control of VKontakte to pro-Kremlin businessmen.â€
Read the full article, "Russiaâ€™s Zuckerberg" â€" Pavel Durov Wages War On State Power.
â€œWhat kind of president is François Hollande? I help this country more than he does,â€ Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has just finished his final season with French club PSG, said in an interview with Le Monde published this morning.
PERU PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES STILL NECK AND NECK
Former Wall Street economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the countryâ€™s former authoritarian leader, are neck and neck, with 95% of the votes processed by this morning. With 50.23%, Kuczynski has a â€œrazor thin leadâ€ over Fujimori, at 49.77%, the Peruvian Times reports. Final results are expected later this week.
MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
Dental Work â€" Copán, 1989
Collaroy Beach, located on Australiaâ€™s east coast, near Sydney, has narrowed by almost 50 meters, after huge waves and high tides caused severe erosion for a second consecutive night, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. A major storm that has been battering the countryâ€™s east coast for several days has left at least three dead and three others missing.
â€" MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH
- Welcome To El Bronx, Colombiaâ€™s Capital Of Violence And Vice â€" El Espectador
- Indonesia, Learning To Talk About Sexual Violence â€" KBR
- African Startup Hub, Rwanda Attracts Ubers And Universities â€" Le Monde
SAY â€œSPACE CHEESEâ€
MIT researchers may have found a way to take the first picture of a black hole (so far considered way too distant from us).
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.
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".
- Long Shielded, Thailand's Monarchy Facing Hard Questions Amid ... ›
- French Monarchist Lessons For A Broken American Democracy ... ›
- Thailand To Belarus: The Divides Of Democracy Protesters ... ›