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Syrian Hospital Hit, Cruz’s Last Chance, English Fairytale

Syrian Hospital Hit, Cruz’s Last Chance, English Fairytale

ENGLISH SOCCER FAIRYTALE COMES TRUE

Photo: Tolga Akmen/London News Pictures/ZUMA

They were a 5,000-1 longshot to win England’s Premier League at the start of the season, but the fairytale came true last night as Leicester City FC clinched the title when Chelsea and Tottenham drew, making it impossible for the latter to overtake Leicester, with two games left. The small club’s win is being called the “most unlikely triumph in the history of team sport” for many reasons:

  • In March 2015, the “Foxes” were battling against relegation, after a seven-game spell without victory.
  • Leicester City’s budget for this year (132 million euros, $153 million) was four times smaller than what the Big Four (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City) spend.
  • Since 1996, only these four clubs had successively won the Premier League.
  • In 2008, Leicester City was playing in League One, the third tier in the English soccer system.
  • According to bookmakers at the start of the season, it was more likely that Bono would become the new pope (2,000-1), that Kate Middleton would have triplets (1,000-1) or that Kim Kardashian would become president of the United States (2,000-1).
  • Former England striker, current BBC soccer pundit and longtime Leicester fan Gary Lineker described the event as “the biggest sporting shock of my lifetime.” A few months ago, he had promised to host his show, Match of the day, in his underwear if Leicester indeed won the title.
  • Jamie Vardy, the squad’s star striker, invited his teammates last night to watch the Chelsea-Tottenham game. Luckily, someone was filming at the final whistle.
  • Before next season, Leicester City’s Thai owners will have to try and keep their victorious squad, as richer clubs are expected to make lucrative offers to acquire top players.
  • Here’s the front page from the hometown Leicester Mercury daily.

HOSPITAL HIT NEAR ALEPPO, DOZENS FEARED DEAD

Dozens of people were reportedly killed or wounded this morning when a rebel rocket hit a Damascus hospital, according to the AFP, which quoted Syrian state television. Overnight, at least seven other people were killed in government-held areas of Aleppo. Read more details from Reuters.


LAST CHANCE FOR TED

Indiana will vote today in a new round of Republican and Democrat primaries that may be decisive in the two parties’ presidential nominations. Ted Cruz is making what is probably his final attempt to stop real estate mogul Donald Trump from reaching the 1,237 delegates that would secure him the nomination. “If we win, it’s over,” Trump was quoted as saying yesterday by The Washington Post. As for the Democrats, the Indiana primary “will probably do little to loosen Hillary Clinton’s tightening grip on her party’s nomination,” The New York Times wrote.


â€" ON THIS DAY

The “Godfather of Soul” would turn 83 today. That, and more, in today’s 57-second shot of history.


EU COULD GRANT TURKS VISA-FREE TRAVEL

Turkey could be granted conditional visa-free travel to the European Union’s Schengen area, as part of a deal in which Ankara takes in refugees who have crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece. The deal must, however, first be approved by the European Parliament and EU member states. More from the BBC here.


REFUGEE SELF-IMMOLATES IN AUSTRALIA NAURU CAMP

A 21-year-old Somali refugee is in critical condition after setting herself on fire yesterday in an Australian refugee detention camp on the island of Nauru, Australian broadcaster ABC reports. This is the second self-immolation by a refugee on the island in a week, after a 23-year-old Iranian died last Wednesday. Refugee advocates have criticized Australia’s strict immigration policy, saying it leads to such desperate situations.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

As deadly forest fires are currently raging in northern India, drought and water shortages in the western state of Maharashtra are pitting Indians against each other, Bismillah Geelani reports for KBR: “While every drop of water is a struggle, one local government official had no qualms about wasting 10,000 liters of water just to settle the dust that was blown around by his helicopter as he arrived to assess the situation.

Anger is also brewing against the government for allowing seven matches of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament to be played in the state. Keeping the grounds green requires huge amounts of water.”

Read the full article, India’s Water Crisis Turning Brothers Into Enemies.


â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

An Island After My Own Heart â€" Staffa, 1978


SOUTH KOREA FEARS NORTH NUCLEAR TEST

The South Korean defense ministry has warned North Korea could attempt to carry out another nuclear test ahead of or during a rare party congress set to start on Friday, according to The Korea Times. North Korea has recently carried out three failed launches of intermediate-range missiles.


DATE SET FOR SPANISH ELECTION

A new general election in Spain will take place on June 26. The date was confirmed this morning when the country’s King Felipe VI signed the documents confirming the dissolution of parliament, El País reports. The country has been without a government since divided results in December’s parliamentary elections.


â€" MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

BRAZIL BLOCKS WHATSAPP

For the second time in five months, a Brazilian judge ordered the country’s main phone operators to block access to the messaging service WhatsApp for 72 hours, as part of an investigation on drug trafficking, the daily Folha reports. Yesterday’s decision, which has sparked anger, will affect more than 100 million users.

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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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