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Paris Attackers Named, French MPs Gather, UNESCO’s Birthday

Paris Attackers Named, French MPs Gather, UNESCO’s Birthday

PARIS TERROR ATTACKERS NAMED

As Paris continues to mourn its dead, five of the seven dead ISIS terrorists responsible for Friday night’s attacks have been identified, Twitter">Le Figaro reports. Four of them were French citizens: Omar Ismaïl Mostefaï, 29, who blew himself up at the Bataclan concert venue, where close to 90 people were killed; Bilal Hadfi, 20, who lived in Belgium and detonated his suicide belt outside the soccer stadium where France and Germany were playing; Brahim Abdeslam, 31, who also lived in Belgium and blew himself up on the terrace of a Parisian café, wounding several people around him; and Samy Amimour, 27, known to Interpol and who was previously charged and under surveillance as a potential terrorist. All of them were known to the French police as potential threats. The fifth identified attacker, 25-year-old Ahmad Al Mohammad, was the Syrian-born person whose Syrian passport was found outside the Stade de France. He traveled to Europe among other migrants fleeing the Middle East and registered in Greece and Serbia in early October, France 2 reports.

  • According to RTL, the suspected mastermind of the attacks is a 27-year-old Belgian citizen Abdelhamid Abaaoud, described as one of the “most active ISIS executioners in Syria.” His name is connected to a series of recently foiled attacks in Belgium, and he’s also linked to the attack on a Thalys train in August, according to AP. His current location is unknown, though he’s believed to be in Syria.
  • As part of a manhunt in Belgium this morning for Salah Abdeslam, the brother of one of the perpetrators who is also believed to be connected to Friday’s massacres, a gunfight broke out in Molenbeek, a Brussels suburb and jihadist hub. There are conflicting reports about Abdeslam's detention, with RTL Belgium first announcing that he was arrested alive, before RTBF reported that the man arrested was not Abdeslam. He’s a 26-year-old Belgian-born French citizen who was stopped at the French-Belgian border Saturday morning as he returned from Paris. Shockingly, the authorities knew he had rented a car that carried some of the perpetrators during the attacks, but he was allowed to drive on.
  • The French police have executed at least 168 raids across France since this morning, making 23 arrests, and seizing heavy weaponry, Libération reports. Most of these operations aren’t directly connected to Friday’s attacks, but the state of emergency President François Hollande declared grants the police exceptional powers, and authorities appear determined to destroy potential jihadist cells. “Terrorists won’t destroy the Republic, the Republic will destroy them,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said to conclude this morning’s press conference.
  • The International Business Times reports that a new ISIS video has been released, warning countries participating in Syrian airstrikes against the group that they will suffer France’s fate. It also threatens attacks in Washington, D.C.
  • The latest Paris death toll stands at 129, with 352 wounded, nearly 100 of those critically. Follow the latest updates in English from The Guardian. French daily Le Monde has a list of the victims known so far.

    Photo: Ania Freindorf/ZUMA

FRENCH MPs GATHER, OPPOSITION WADES IN

French lawmakers are preparing to gather for an exceptional meeting in Versailles today. According to Le Figaro, Hollande will ask them to extend the state of emergency for three months, up from the 12 days the constitution allows. But the government is facing criticism from the opposition over its foreign and domestic policies.

  • Speaking to radio station Europe 1 this morning, former center-right Prime Minister François Fillon said that “no war has ever been won by bombing,” an allusion to French involvement in the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. French warplanes launched a series of airstrikes last night against ISIS positions in Raqqa, the organization’s Syrian “capital,” in response to the attacks. Echoing previous statements from former president and now political rival Nicolas Sarkozy, Fillon said France should fight alongside Russia and Iran in the region. “When you’re at war, you don’t content yourself with three strikes a week. You need a strategy to win the war, and at the moment, we just don’t.”
  • Alain Juppé, another center-right leader and potential 2017 presidential candidate, said the attacks have made him revise his “neither ISIS nor Assad” position, explaining that the country now needed to “make priorities.”
  • National Front leader Marine Le Pen also urged Hollande and the government to reverse its policy and to revise its alliances with the countries that have “an ambiguous relationship with terrorism,” she said in veiled references to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, Le Monde reports. At home, she said that France must “annihilate Islamism” and “deport” those who preach extremist Islam.
  • Speaking this morning on RTL, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that terrorists could strike again in France and in Europe. “France must live to the fullest, but with the threat of terrorism,” he said, adding that the threat would remain “for a long time.” And it concerns not just France, as British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that seven terrorist attacks had been foiled in the UK during the last six months.

OBAMA, PUTIN REACH TALK SYRIA AT G20

Sunday’s G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, was largely overshadowed by the terrorist attacks in Paris, and global leaders expressed their support for France and their commitment to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. According to The Guardian, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met on the summit sidelines and agreed on the need for “a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition.” This came one day after world leaders gathered in Vienna for a summit on Syria and agreed on a roadmap for an 18-month political transition there.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

The 2016 presidential campaign has been peculiarly disconnected from the real world of problems, crises and governing, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes for The Washington Post. “It took the catastrophe in Paris to narrow the gap â€" and even a monstrous terrorist attack may not shake the trajectory of a contest that operates within a logic of its own,” he writes.

Read the full article, The Paris Attack Could Redefine The U.S. Presidential Race.


22 YEARS

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit North Korea this week and is expected to meet leader Kim Jong-un, becoming the first UN chief to visit the isolated country in 22 years, since Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993, Yonhap reports.


ISRAELI FORCES KILL TWO PALESTINIANS

Two Palestinians were shot and killed this morning by Israeli security forces who were destroying a West Bank home belonging to a Palestinian accused of having killed an Israeli, AFP reports quoting army sources. According to the Israeli army spokesman, Israeli troops came under attack during the operation, with hundreds of Palestinians throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. The latest escalation of violence in Israel and the West Bank has killed 83 Palestinians and 12 Israelis.


MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD



JAPAN RETURNS TO RECESSION

In another setback for “Abenomics,” the Japanese economy contracted in the third quarter, dropping 0.8% compared to the previous year, meaning the country has fallen into recession for the second time under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Bloomberg reports.


ON THIS DAY


Perhaps it’s apt that today is the 70th anniversary of UNESCO, which was founded, among other reasons, to pursue peace and cultural understanding among nations. More in your daily 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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