Welcome to Friday, where President Biden suffers a blow as the vote on his trillion-dollar agenda gets delayed, Australia and South Africa are set to ease COVID restrictions, and a wild encounter leaves Shakira shaking. For Russian daily Kommersant, Anna Geroeva reports on how Lake Baikal, the world's largest and oldest lake, is silently being crippled by plastic pollution.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Biden avoids shutdown but sees agenda delayed: U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill to keep the government funded through Dec. 3, thus avoiding a partial federal shutdown and, but delaying a vote on his $1 trillion infrastructure plan — a setback caused by divisions within the Democratic Party.
• COVID update: Australia will lift its international travel ban in November, a month ahead of schedule while South Africa eases restrictions to the country's lowest level alert. Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda said "human error" caused the contamination of Moderna vaccines with metal particles, which led to a recall last summer.
• EU postpones trade talks with Australia amid AUKUS row: A long-planned round of free trade talks between the European Union and Australia has been delayed for a month in the wake of a dispute over Canberra's decision to cancel a major submarine contract with France.
• Ethiopia to expel UN officials: Ethiopia is expelling seven senior United Nations officials, accusing them of "meddling in the internal affairs of the country." Pressure is growing on the government over its humanitarian aid blockade of the Tigray region, where thousands of people are facing famine conditions.
• UK police urge citizens to challenge plain-clothes officers: The British Metropolitan Police has issued advice to citizens and especially women to call 999 or shout for help if they don't trust an officer or challenge their legitimacy if the officer is wearing plain-clothes. Pressure on the police is mounting after the murder of Sarah Everard by an officer who used his warrant card and handcuffs to kidnap her.
• Japan princess to marry a commoner: The Imperial Household Agency, in charge of Japan's royal family affairs, announced that Princess Mako, niece of Emperor Naruhito, would marry her fiancé, a commoner named Kei Komuro, on Oct. 26 — a controversial union that requires her to give up her royal status.
• Shakira vs. wild boars: Colombian singer Shakira says she was recently attacked by wild boars while in a park in Barcelona, with the aggressive hogs proceeding to snatch and destroy her purse. The attack is not a rare occurrence, with an increasing number of wild boars roaming the city centers of European capitals.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"Who with whom?," asks German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, as the country's parties face tough negotiations ahead to form a coalition government following the federal election last weekend and the narrow victory of the Social democrats.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
As Japan's government lifts the latest COVID-19 state of emergency that prevailed for the last six months, orders for beer kegs and bottles were up by 230% in the run-up to Friday's reopening, compared to the previous week.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Microplastics in Lake Baikal, world's largest freshwater lake at risk
Fishing nets, industry and other human-caused dumping are poisoning Russia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest, deepest (and oldest) lake. Bigger than all the North American Great Lakes combined, it's at risk after 25 million years of life, reports Anna Geroeva in Russian daily Kommersant.
💧🧪 A new study looking at microplastics was conducted on the southeastern coast of the lake and the Small Sea in Southern Siberia. These places are not the most populated on the Baikal shore but the water sampling areas were chosen not by chance: all of them are touristic areas, so they are considered to have a significant human impact. Olesya Ilyina, head of the expedition to Baikal, says, "In terms of water surface area, the concentration of particles corresponds to a high level of plastic pollution and is comparable to their content in man-made freshwater bodies, such as the North American Great Lakes."
🗑️ Lake Baikal is filled with polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene, the decay products of various household packaging materials. Dr. Maxim Timofeev, director of the Research Institute of Biology at Irkutsk State University, says that microplastic particles get into Baikal waters in different ways: Plastic is largely carried by the Selenga River that goes from Mongolia to Russia and flows into the lake. The second source of pollution is spontaneous garbage dumps and the third is the sewage treatment plants. Another way for plastic to get into Baikal waters is through cheap Chinese-made polymer fishing nets.
🌍 The ratio of plastic particle size groups in Baikal is not significantly different from the Pacific garbage patch. According to biologists, in Baikal, microplastic particles make up 34.3%; in the North Ocean garbage patch it's 52.5% and in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans it's 34.9%. At the same time, larger-sized pollutants — from 1.01 to 4.75 mm — in the waters of Lake Baikal make up 56.2% of particles, almost as much as was found in the three oceans: 57.5%.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"I risked my life and my freedom to return."
— Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is back from his Ukraine exile, despite threats to arrest him should he set foot on his home soil. Saakashvili, who stands accused of abuse of power during his time in office (2004-2013), is calling for protests as the country is set to hold local elections this weekend.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
- Rent-A-Friend: A Solution For The Lonely People Of Japan ... ›
- Ethiopia's Civil War: Ethnic Atrocities Recall Balkans - Worldcrunch ›
- What Is The True Risk Level For The Great Barrier Reef ... ›
- Biden On Trade: Trump-Like Protectionism, With A Smile ... ›
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.
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".
- Long Shielded, Thailand's Monarchy Facing Hard Questions Amid ... ›
- French Monarchist Lessons For A Broken American Democracy ... ›
- Thailand To Belarus: The Divides Of Democracy Protesters ... ›