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The Latest: Kabul Airport Gunfight, NZ Extends Lockdown, Bye Bye Don

Welcome to Monday, where chaos continues at Kabul airport, flooding kills at least 22 in Tennessee, and Taiwan hisses at the culling of smuggled cats. Meanwhile, Les Echos invites you to mind the gap and hop on Europe's rekindled love for overnight rail travel.

The Latest: Kabul Airport Gunfight, NZ Extends Lockdown, Bye Bye Don

An aerial photo shows the damage caused by Hurricane Grace in Tecolutla, Mexico, which killed at least eight.


• Kabul airport clash: A firefight erupted at the Kabul airport Monday between unidentified gunmen and U.S., German, and Afghan guards. One guard was killed during the clash and three others were wounded. Thousands of Afghans and foreigners have been at the airport for days, hoping to flee Kabul after the Taliban conquered virtually all of the country last week. So far, 20 people have been killed in the chaos, mostly during shootings and stampedes.

• Turkey reinforces Iran border to block Afghan refugees: New border measures in Turkey are being imposed as the Taliban regain power in Afghanistan. By the end of the year, Turkish authorities hope to add another 64 kilometers to the border wall for fear that Afghan refugees traveling through Iran will attempt to move westward through Turkey.

• COVID-19 update: The nationwide lockdown in New Zealand has been extended again as another 35 COVID cases were reported. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern believes the outbreak has not reached its peak yet. The health ministry of Iran reported more than 680 daily coronavirus-linked deaths, a new daily record, just as nationwide restrictions were lifted. Meanwhile, China has reported no new locally transmitted cases for the first time since July.

• Solar power in Australia (momentarily) overtakes coal: This weekend in Australia, low energy demand and sunny skies led to a drop in coal-generated energy and a slight increase in solar energy, meaning that for the first time, more than half of the nation's electricity came from solar power rather than coal. In those few minutes, low demand and a first for the country, although according to experts, Australia is still far away from peak renewable energy.

• Deadly Tennessee floods: At least 22 people are confirmed dead as rescue crews searched shattered homes after heavy rainfall caused flash floods in the rural town of Waverly, Tennessee.

• Taiwan outraged over cat euthanizations: Animal activists in pet-loving Taiwan are criticizing the decision by authorities to put down 154 cats for public health reasons after the felines were found in an attempted smuggling operation.

• Don Everly dies: The surviving member of influential rock 'n' roll duo the Everly Brothers, died on Sunday at 84. Don Everly and his brother Phil, famous for their close harmonies, were behind 1950s and 1960s hits like "Bye Bye Love", "Wake Up Little Susie" and "All I Have To Do Is Dream".


The city of Gijón in northern Spain has cancelled its traditional bullfighting festival, after the names of two recently salin bulls ("Feminist" and "Nigerian") sparked outrage. The cancellation was met with "indignant silence" by Gijon's bullfighting organizers, as shown on today's front page of Spanish daily ABC.

All aboard Europe's night-train revival

After years of letting overnight rail travel fade into oblivion, France and other European countries are rushing to reverse course. Doing so will be easier said than done, however, reports Les Echos.

The rebound follows a long period of neglect. In the early 1980s, France had up to 550 stations served by several dozen night routes. Across the continent, only a handful of central European countries kept a network worthy of the name. Austria in particular stands out in this regard, with a network of lines that connect to a multitude of destinations: Prague, Warsaw, Hamburg, Rome and even Kiev.

To get a sense of Austria's persistent love for a mode of transport that was said to have no future, last October I boarded a Nightjet train operated by the ÖBB, the Austrian national railway company.The cabin was new and comfortable and the bathroom well equipped with towels and shampoo, even if the hot water didn't seem to work. The welcome pack included a bottle of water, a mini-bottle of sparkling wine, cookies, slippers and earplugs. The dinner, served hot on a tray, at a reasonable price (less than 10 euros) was surprisingly good.

The Austrian company intends to take advantage of the public's renewed interest in night trains. "For the past three years, we have seen a strong demand for night travel," says spokesman Bernhard Rieder. In 2019, the ÖBB welcomed 1.5 million passengers on its Nightjets. "In good years, we don't necessarily lose money on night trains," he adds. "2019 was a very good year."

France is eager to get on board the trend as well. Still, there are obstacles to how far France can go with the revival. "Given the major work to be done on the network, it will be complicated to open many other lines until 2025," Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in an interview with Le Parisien. Orders for new cars from Bombardier or Alstom could take years to complete — at a cost potentially exceeding 1 billion euros.

Read more on Worldcrunch.com



-73%

A recent New Street Consulting Group study shows that although the number of female board members in UK's biggest companies (FTSE 100) has increased sharply since 2015, they still hold non-executive jobs, and are paid 73% less than their male counterparts on average.

Gas cannot be used as a weapon.

— German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday, after a meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev. She was seeking to calm Ukrainian concerns over the nearly completed $11 billion Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, which will provide Europe with Russian gas. If Russia would use this project as a weapon, Merkel would be in favor of new sanctions, she promised.

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Laure Gautherin 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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