Iraq Refinery Battle, Poroshenko's Peace Plan, Balotelli/Queen Kiss

Kurdish forces are trying to reclaim the eastern Iraq city of Jalawla, after it fell to al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents.
Kurdish forces are trying to reclaim the eastern Iraq city of Jalawla, after it fell to al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Iraq army is still trying to push back ISIS jihadists, who are surrounding the country’s biggest oil refinery in Baiji. The Iraqi air force, meanwhile, claimed to have killed as many as 70 fighters in air strikes just north of Baghdad to prevent the group’s advance towards the capital. Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that 300 military advisers would assist Iraqi security forces, hinting at the possibility of a “targeted and precise military action” that could reach beyond Iraq and also into Syria.

Later today Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko is due to present a 14-point peace plan to end ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine. The plan, which was leaked to the Ukrainian media, is said to propose decentralized powers, early local and parliamentary elections, and the creation of a 10-kilometer buffer zone on the border with Russia, the BBC reports. This comes as fights in the east continue despite an announced ceasefire from Ukrainian troops earlier this week. According to Reuters, separatists refused to lay down their weapons, and a spokesman for Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” claimed that 300 pro-Russian fighters were killed yesterday.

“If we beat Costa Rica, I want a kiss, obviously on the cheek, from the UK Queen,” Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli tweeted Thursday night. If England is to stay in the World Cup, Italy must beat Costa Rica tonight and Uruguay next week.

At least 34 civilians were killed and more than 50 were wounded in a car bomb explosion in a government-controlled area near the Syrian city of Hama. According to state-backed news agency Sana, “Terrorists blew up a truck loaded with about three tons of explosive materials,” causing extensive damage to the village’s buildings. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll could rise, given the critical condition of some of the wounded. More than 160,000 people are believed to have died since the conflict began over three years ago.

As Clarin’s Pablo Maas writes, the digital economy promised to create markets that were by definition fluid. But even in the so-called "sharing" economy of mobile applications, there are bound to be winners and losers. “They break into regulated markets like hotels or passenger transport without paying the costs (taxes, municipal fees, insurance) that raise the price of their established competitors' services,” the journalist writes of companies such as Uber, which has inspired taxi drivers to protest across Europe and the United States. “They have emerged from Sillicon Valley, where a concentration of investment funds gives them enormous financial leverage. Even before being floated on the capital markets, such firms can attain colossal price tags, $10 billion in the case of Airbnb and $18 billion for Uber.”
Read the full article, Uber And Friends: Old Math Of The New Economy.

The number of people forced to flee their homes because of conflicts around the world has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II, a report by the United Nations’ Refugee Agency shows. Speaking from Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said that the figure, driven up by the situation in war-torn parts of the world such as Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, showed that “we are not facing an increasing trend, we are really facing a quantum leap.” In 2013 alone, 10.7 million people were newly displaced. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit,” Guterres warned. Read more from The New York Times.


Gerald "Gerry" Goffin, the New York-born songwriter behind the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman," died Thursday in Los Angeles at age 74.

The hunt for missing flight MH370 will move south following the release of new data suggesting that the plane could have crashed in an area located 1,800 kilometers west of Perth that was first searched after the aircraft went missing three months ago, Australia’s ABC reports.

Ever dreamed of being able to switch from a Cockney to a Glaswegian accent at will? This woman can do those and at least 15 others. Watch expand=1] and learn.

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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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