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Pressure Mounts On Merkel, Syria Talks, Cruz The Comedian

Pressure Mounts On Merkel, Syria Talks, Cruz The Comedian

PRESSURE ON MERKEL MOUNTS

In stark contrast to the popularity German Chancellor Angela Merkel has enjoyed for most of her 10 years in office, a full 40% of Germans now want her to resign over what they believe is her misguided open-door refugee policy, a poll published today shows. The survey was conducted before yesterday’s announcement that migrants from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia would likely be refused asylum, as politicians try to reduce migrant numbers.


OPPOSITION BOYCOTTS SYRIA PEACE TALKS

Syrian opposition groups are boycotting peace talks set to begin in Geneva today that are aimed at trying to end the country’s five-year civil war, Swiss newspaper Le Temps reports. Opposition representatives said their conditions, including that the Syrian government forces end airstrikes and sieges, haven’t been met. But the coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee told Al-Arabiya that they could still go to Geneva later.


U.S., UK SPIED ON ISRAELI AIR FORCE

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reports today that American and British intelligence spied on Israeli air force missions in Gaza, Syria and Iran. According to the Tel-Aviv-based paper, the U.S. National Security Agency and its British counterpart GCHQ hacked into the onboard cameras' live feeds of drones. See Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page here.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

As Monday’s crucial Iowa caucus approaches, to be shortly followed by New Hampshire and other key state primaries, the world is most definitely watching what has become an almost surreal race for the White House. Between now and November’s general election, Worldcrunch will deliver a regular sampling of global coverage from all languages and corners of the world. Among this week’s bounty of foreign-press coverage is a whimsical envisioning of a Trump presidency from Spanish daily El Mundo, in which Trump travels to Las Vegas to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Trump International Casino. It comes a day after he calls The Wall Street Journal “garbage propaganda directed by an immigrant named Rupert Murdoch, who at 85 should be in a nursing home.” The man bringing the two world leaders together is none other than Silvio Berlusconi.

Read the full article, Denmark On Trump, Mexico On Rubio, Italy On Sanders.


DEADLY ATTACK ON SAUDI ARABIAN MOSQUE

At least five people were killed after an attack today on a Shia mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, where ISIS terrorists also attacked two Shia mosques last year. An initial explosion was reportedly followed by gunfire between security forces and gunmen. According to Al-Arabiya, one suspect has been arrested.


423

Photo: Pedro Mera/Xinhua/ZUMA

At least 423 people disappeared in Mexico last year, the country’s National Human Rights Commission reveals in its latest report. At least 11 of these cases are believed to be “forced disappearances.” According to the organization, the Mexican government has failed to meet “urgent demands” to take action on “forced disappearances and torture,” El Debate reports. A year ago, the commission denounced the country’s “serious problem” with disappearances, the best-known cases being those of 43 students who’ve been missing since September 2014.


JAPAN’S NEGATIVE INTEREST RATE

The Bank of Japan has adopted a negative interest rate of -0.1%, warning that it could push the number “further into negative territory” if necessary, Bloomberg reports. The controversial move, under which commercial banks will have to pay a fee on part of their reserves, is intended to encourage them to lend in a bid to boost Japan’s flagging economy. The Guardian warns that it could eventually spark a currency war.


ON THIS DAY


Sleeping Beauty, the first gas-powered car and Yves Saint Laurent â€" all in today’s shot of history.


UN PEACEKEEPERS FACE SEX ABUSE CHARGES

The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said there had been more allegations of European peacekeepers, including French soldiers, sexually abusing children in the Central African Republic, AFP reports. According to Zeid, one 7-year-old girl “said she had performed oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and a sachet of cookies.” Fourteen French soldiers are under investigation in France over the allegations, and a total of 26 cases involving UN peacekeepers have been reported.


FAREWELL PAUL KANTNER

Paul Kantner, a founding member of psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, has died at the age of 74.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



TWO LE MONDE REPORTERS ARRESTED

The French Foreign Ministry and newspaper Le Monde are demanding the “immediate release” of French journalist Jean-Philippe Remy and British photojournalist Phil Moore, who were arrested yesterday afternoon in Burundi. Burundi’s Security Ministry said the two Le Monde staffers had been “arrested in the company of armed criminals” and taken to a secret location for questioning, AFP reports. Tensions inside the east African country have been high since President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for an unconstitutional third term in April 2015. Amnesty International said it had found evidence that dozens of people killed by security forces have been buried in recently dug mass graves.


VERBATIM

“I’m a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly,” Ted Cruz joked during last night’s Republican presidential debate in Iowa, after being asked by Fox moderator Megyn Kelly about the “elephant not in the room.” He continued, “And Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon. And now that we’ve got the Donald Trump portion out of the way … .” Even Jeb Bush, one of Trump’s favored targets, poked fun at the absentee candidate who boycotted the event. “We always had such a loving relationship during the debates, and in between the tweets,” Bush said. “I kind of miss him. I wish he was here.”

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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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