U.S.-Russia Deal, Deadly Congo Protests, Papal Brain Tumor?

U.S.-Russia Deal, Deadly Congo Protests, Papal Brain Tumor?


Washington and Moscow officials signed an agreement yesterday to regulate flights over Syria in a bid to avoid potential clashes in the skies between U.S. and Russian aircraft as the rival countries engage in separate operations against jihadists, The New York Times reports. But the deal doesn’t include intelligence sharing, and the Pentagon insisted the agreement doesn’t “constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia’s policy or actions in Syria,” which it called “counterproductive.”

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Moscow last evening for talks with Vladimir Putin about the ongoing Russian operation in Syria. It’s believed to be the first time the leader has left his country since the beginning of the war in March 2011.
  • According to Iraqi political sources quoted in Russian media Sputnik, the Iraqi Parliament will vote before the end of the month to request Russian support in fighting ISIS there, despite Washington’s opposition.
  • Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would stick to his pledge to withdraw Canadian fighter jets from Syria and Iraq, where they have fought ISIS as part of the U.S.-led coalition. Read more from The Globe and Mail.


Photo: Danilo Balducci/ZUMA

New UN figures show that at least 502,500 migrants have arrived in Greece since the beginning of this year. According to the website Greek reporter, the continued migration has put the country under intense pressure because infrastructure is severely lacking. It reported yesterday that more than 27,500 people were on Greek islands, either waiting to be registered or to be transported to mainland Greece, with the vast majority of them eager to continue to other European countries.

  • The Parliament in Slovenia has, meanwhile, passed new legislation granting the army the power to perform border guard duties. Prime Minister Miro Cerar announced he would ask the European Union for “police backup and financial help” after seeing more than 20,000 asylum seekers arrive since Saturday. The tiny landlocked country of two million said yesterday it was overwhelmed by the influx.


In what it characterizes as an international scoop, Italian daily La Nazione reports today that Pope Francis has a curable brain tumor, which the Vatican no doubt has been trying to keep secret. “The Pope Is Sick,” is the newspaper's front page headline today, the same day the Vatican characterized the report as a “complete lie.” Read more in Le Blog.


“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time. He wanted to expel the Jews,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told the 37th World Zionist Congress. He claimed that it was a Muslim, Jerusalem’s then-Mufti, who convinced the Nazi leader to exterminate European Jews. His comments sparked a social media storm, even as violence between Israelis and Palestinians continues to rise,” Haaretz reports.


The Mexican government has accepted recommendations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and has relaunched its investigation into last year’s disappearance of 43 students in the southern city of Iguala, El Universal reports. The new investigation will be conducted with five international experts and will aim to “rectify the historical truth.” Prosecutors had previously concluded the students had been killed by a drug gang after being handed over to criminals by the police, but relatives and international experts have challenged the initial findings.


On this day in 1944, the first World War II kamikaze attack occurred. In 1980, Kim Kardashian was born. What a day. This, and more, in your 57-second shot of history.


At least four people died in two of the Republic of Congo’s main cities yesterday during protests against 72-year-old President Denis Sassou-Nguesso’s bid to secure a third term in office, Le Monde reports. Protesters reportedly torched three police stations after being told that planned demonstrations had been banned. A leader of the opposition, which called for “civil disobedience,” told the newspaper that police forces were responding with tear gas and live ammunition fired into the air. A referendum is scheduled Sunday to decide whether the incumbent can run for a new term, something the country’s constitution officially prohibits. Sassou-Nguesso served as president between 1979 and 1992, and again since 1997.



Suspended for three months by FIFA’s Ethics Committee for a 2 million Swiss franc payment from Sepp Blatter, former French soccer star Michael Platini denies any wrongdoing, and still says he’s the right man to be the next president of the global soccer organization. In an exclusive interview with Le Monde, he’s indignant that he’s been dragged into the web of suspected corruption. “What annoys me the most is being tarred with the same brush as the others,” Platini tells journalist Raphaelle Bacqué. “I find it disgraceful to have my name dragged through the mud. For the rest, my lawyers are following the FIFA procedures and will take it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if necessary. I hope all this will be done quickly.”

Read the full article, Michel Platini Interview: I’m Not A Money Man.


Shares of luxury sports car maker Ferrari will make their debut on Wall Street today, as the company raised $893 million in an initial public offering yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reports. Ferrari, controlled by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, was valued at close to $10 billion, with shares priced at $52.


Remember Ahmed, the Texas “clock boy”? He’s moving to Qatar after accepting a scholarship to study in Doha.


Great Scott! Today is the day when Marty McFly travels through time to find a 2015 with hoverboards, flying cars and no lawyers, and the Internet is loving it. So here’s what Back to the Future II got right â€" and what it got terribly wrong.


Don’t panic, but there might not be enough Legos for everyone this Christmas.

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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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