RUSSIA PROPOSES SYRIA CEASEFIRE
Russia has proposed a ceasefire in Syria starting March 1, but U.S. officials responded that it should start immediately, AP reports. Washington officials belief that Moscow, which has been aiding Syrian government troops with airstrikes, is buying itself time to â€œcrush moderate rebel groups,â€ AP reports. The proposal is expected to be debated today at a meeting in Munich with representatives of foreign countries engaged in Syria.
- Tensions remain high between the U.S. and Russia, with both sides trading accusations of bombing Aleppoâ€™s two main hospitals yesterday. The Pentagon said that Russian warplanes had destroyed the two buildings, but Russiaâ€™s Defense Ministry responded this morning that no Russian planes had flown over Aleppo and said the strikes had been carried out by â€œtwo U.S. Air Force A-10 attack aircraft that entered Syrian airspace from Turkish territory,â€ Reuters reports.
- Intense fighting around Aleppo continues, and has caused at least 50,000 people to leave their homes, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. About 30,000 of them are said to be stranded on the closed Turkish border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted in strong terms to EU and UN pressure for Turkey to open its borders, threatening to send them to other countries. Read more from AFP.
- At least 470,000 people are now believed to have died since the start of the Syrian war nearly five years ago, according to a new report from the Syrian Centre for Policy Research cited by The Guardian. About 11.5% of the Syrian population have been killed or injured and 45% have been displaced. Overall economic losses are estimated at $255 billion.
NATO TO PATROL AEGEAN SEA
NATO will develop plans to patrol the Aegean Sea in a bid to stop illegal migration and people smuggling into Europe, AP reports. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement earlier today in response to requests from NATO members Germany, Turkey and Greece.
Bernie Sandersâ€™ massive primary victory in New Hampshire Tuesday also proved to be a financial boon. Hillary Clintonâ€™s rival raised at least $7.1 million in just over 24 hours, with an average donation of $34, Bloomberg reports.
HONG KONG STOCKS TUMBLE
Shares in Hong Kong suffered their worst start to a lunar year since 1994, falling 3.9% as the Hang Seng Index reopened today. European stocks also plunged in early trading, with French and German equities down more than 3% after one hour in reaction to what The Wall Street Journal describes as â€œa cautious tone from the Federal Reserveâ€ yesterday and new oil price lows.
â€œIf I'd been at the Bataclan or one of the cafés, I would have opened fire,â€ Donald Trump told French magazine Valeurs Actuelles three months after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in which 130 people were killed in Paris. â€œMaybe I would have died, but at least I would have taken a shot,â€ the pro-gun billionaire said. Offering his view on the European migrant crisis, Trump said the old continent was facing â€œcollapseâ€ and â€œrevolutions.â€ He added, â€œUnfortunately, France isnâ€™t what it used to be, nor Paris.â€ Read more about it here.
OREGON PROTESTERS TO FINALLY LEAVE
The weeks-long standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge could end today after the armed protesters agreed to walk out of the FBI-surrounded building sometime this morning. This came hours after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the father of protest leader Ammon Bundy, was arrested over a conspiracy charge to interfere with a federal officer, The Oregonian reports. The charges date back to a 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundyâ€™s own ranch.
For the first time since the end of the Third Reich, Mein Kampf has been republished in Germany. With copyrights having expired on Jan. 1, the Institute of Contemporary History of Munich has released a critical, annotated edition of the only book written by Adolf Hitler, first published in 1925. And itâ€™s a best-seller. Again, Géraldine Schwarz writes for Le Monde. â€œA development of obvious importance in Germany, the â€˜officialâ€™ return of Mein Kampf is basically a non-event in the Arab-Muslim world, where it never it left. There, the infamous book has long been in circulation and available for purchase.â€
Read the full article, Mein Kampf And The Nazi Role In Arab Anti-Semitism.
FRANCE APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
French lawmakers in the lower house approved constitutional changes yesterday, almost three months after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, Le Monde reports. Under the highly controversial measures, people with two nationalities found guilty of terrorist offenses would be stripped of their French citizenship and the ongoing state of emergency would be enshrined in the constitution. Senators in the upper house are expected to review the changes next month.
ON THIS DAY
In todayâ€™s video shot of history, we offer the Worldcrunch version of a Whitney Houston/Margaret Thatcher mashup.
TRIAL OF AUSCHWITZ GUARD, 94, BEGINS
Reinhold Hanning, a former Nazi guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp, will appear in court today for what could be one of the last trials of former Nazi officials. The 94-year-old Hanning has been charged with the murders of 170,000 people from January 1943 to June 1944. â€œThis trial should have happened 40, 50 years ago,â€ camp survivor Justin Sonder said yesterday at a press conference. â€œBut now it is not too late to show what once happened.â€ About 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz, most of them Jews. Read more from Deutsche Welle.
MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD
DENGUE SPREADS WILDLY IN SAO PAULO
While most of the medical worldâ€™s attention is focused on the Zika outbreak, Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reports that the number of cases of dengue fever, also transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is multiplying dangerously in São Paulo, with an average of about 30 new patients every day since the beginning of 2016. Thatâ€™s 40% higher than in 2015 and doesnâ€™t include suspected cases that are still being investigated.
A FUTURE NOBEL?
Fully 100 years after Albert Einstein theorized the existence of gravitational waves, scientists are expected to announce today that theyâ€™ve finally found evidence to support Einsteinâ€™s prediction.
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.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
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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