In The News

Missiles Fired At Kabul Airport, New EU Travel Restrictions, Octopus Shell Shock

Welcome to Monday, where U.S. defense systems intercept missiles fired at Kabul's airport, Hurricane Ida leaves New Orleans in the dark and researchers find you don't want to mess with your octopus lady. Meanwhile, Italian daily La Stampa takes the (extreme) temperature of farming as recurring droughts hit the country.

Missiles Fired At Kabul Airport, New EU Travel Restrictions, Octopus Shell Shock

Switzerland's Marcel Hug comptes during day 6 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

John Walton/PA Wire/ZUMA
Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger



• Rockets aimed at Kabul airport intercepted: U.S. anti-missile defenses intercepted as many as five rockets fired at Kabul's airport early Monday. The attempted attack, for which no one has claimed responsibility, comes after last week's deadly suicide attack at the airport and less than 48 hours before the United States is due to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

• Missile and drone attack in Yemen kills 30: A missile and drone attack on a key military base in the South of Yemen killed at least 30 troops on Sunday and wounded at least 65. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the country's civil war, which has been going on since 2014.

• COVID-19 update: The European Union is expected to reinstate travel restrictions on visitors from the U.S., Israel, Lebanon and three Balkan countries, according to a new report Monday. New Zealand, which has largely been virus free, extended its lockdown by another two weeks after a Delta variant case was imported from Australia.

• New Orleans loses power as hurricane Ida strikes: Hurricane Ida has made landfall in Louisiana with 150mph (240km/h) winds that left the city of New Orleans without power. The storm claimed its first victim on Monday. President Joe Biden has declared Ida a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts.

• North Korea restarts nuclear reactor: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), North Korea appears to have restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. The UN Watchdog said the reactor has been discharging cooling water since July, which suggests it is operational again, the first sign of operational activity since December 2018.

• Messi's Paris debut: Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi made his debut with French team Paris Saint-Germain, where he came off the bench in the second half of the Ligue 1 game against Reims. It's Messi's first appearance since he joined PSG from Barcelona where the 34-year-old had played his entire career.

• Female octopuses throw shells at annoying males: Researchers studying octopuses were taken aback when video footage showed a female throwing shells and rocks at a male who the scientists said had been attempting to mate with her. They then studied other octopuses in the wild and found that females were generally more likely to exhibit this type of behavior


The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on Hurricane Ida as the storm made landfall in Louisiana with 150mph (240km/h) winds. It arrived on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that caused more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage.


Italy's record droughts: How it looks from the farm

Giovanni Bedino, a 59-year-old Italian farmer, has been working the land since he was 15. "I love this job, but a year like this takes away your love," he told Turin daily La Stampa. "We couldn't water the fields and nothing came down from the sky. I remember, the summer of 2003 was a very difficult one — but it wasn't even close to this year. I have never seen such a drought."

🇮🇹 The earth is cracking in Italy's northwest region of Piedmont: the crops and the animals suffer. Italy has been ravaged by fires and storms, like Greece, Turkey and much of southern Europe.

⛅ Italy has recorded 1,200 "extreme" meteorological events — a 56% increase from last year. Wildfires ravaged the southern regions of Sardinia, Calabria and Sicily. The town of Florida, in Sicily, is thought to have recorded the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe: 48.8 °C. Meanwhile, heavy rainfall devastated other parts of the country.

🚜 Coldiretti, Italy's largest agricultural association, has just summed up the bill for this Italian summer: The damages to agriculture, it says, amount to €1 billion. Wheat yields have fallen 10%; cherries 30%, nectarines 40%. Tomato and corn crops have also suffered heavy losses.

💧 This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground. In northern Italy, the area that's bearing the brunt of the crisis is Cuneo province, near the French border. Livio Quaranta, the president of the consortium that manages water in 108 municipalities, says there are now no permanent snowfields on this entire stretch of the Alps: "The snow cover has changed: It doesn't remain on the ground for long — it just washes away, because of higher average temperatures."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com





3 hours

China is imposing strict new restrictions about when minors can play video games, limiting access to three specific hours each week, over growing fears of gaming addiction. Users under the age of 18 would only be allowed to play games from 8 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with online gaming companies barred from providing services to minors outside of these hours.




For us, our trophy is to get to the gate.

— says Khalida Popal, a founder of the Afghanistan women's national football team. She told The Guardian about a small dedicated team that helped the team, most of them teenagers, and other female athletes make it to the Kabul airport and to flee the country.

✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger



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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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