MH17 Report, Kerry Visits Mideast, iPhone 6 Unveiling

Floods in Pakistan and India have left at least 405 people dead
Floods in Pakistan and India have left at least 405 people dead

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dutch experts this morning published their preliminary report into the causes of the July 17 crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine. The report stopped short of saying whether a missile had hit the aircraft, explaining instead that it broke in mid-air after being hit by “a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside.” The description matches the theory that the crash was caused by shrapnel from a missile, The Guardian writes.

The full report is expected to be finished within a year of the crash. The experts explained they needed to do further research to determine the cause “with greater precision.” The evidence released so far neither confirms nor rules out the responsibility of either Russia or Ukraine, as both sides use the missiles believed to have caused the damage, a BBC correspondent explained.

Last week’s heavy monsoon rainfalls over northern India and Pakistan have caused massive floods, leaving at least 405 people dead and thousands homeless, AP reports. Reporting about the difficult rescue operations, The New York Times explains that “a very large number” of people were still stranded yesterday with no food or water.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry begins a days-long visit to the Middle East today during which he will meet with officials from several allies, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to build a broad regional coalition against ISIS, AFP reports. His trip comes one day after he hailed the formation of a more inclusive government in Iraq as a “major milestone.” But Bloomberg warns that Kerry’s task will not be an easy one because rival countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran will be wary of any move that might benefit the other. Meanwhile, CNN quotes two officials as saying that they are very close to identifying the killer with a British accent who is seen on the videos of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff last moments.

Soaring carbon dioxide emissions sent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a new record in 2013, a new UN report says.

Pro-Union parties in the UK are launching an 11th-hour attempt to woo Scottish voters into voting against independence in next week’s referendum, as new polls show both camps neck and neck.

As Economic Observer’s Sun Qizi reports, Chinese capital is flowing to South Korea, thanks to the popularity of South Korean television in China. “It’s estimated that by 2015 more than 370 million China households will be watching web television,” the journalist writes. “South Korean television dramas have over 1.5 billion fans worldwide, a third of which comes from China,” says Han Jiyuan, director of South Korea’s Investment Promotion Bureau.
Read the full article, TV Drama Is Driving A South Korean-Chinese Trade Boom.


During her visit to China, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the “military-to-military ties” between the two countries had “grown and strengthened,” but she warned that the two “face challenges, and we certainly need to avoid any incidents that could complicate the relationship.” Her comment was a reference to an incident involving Chinese and U.S. aircrafts last month, which further strained the relationship between Beijing and Washington. Rice’s visit lays the foundation for President Barack Obama to visit Beijing in November, when he is expected to meet with his counterpart Xi Jinping. According to the Chinese press, Rice’s meetings with Chinese officials “has created a good atmosphere for the presidential visit.” Read more from the BBC.

Today is like Christmas for Apple fans. The company is expected to release its new iPhone later today, and rumors suggest that the Cupertino giant might also (finally) unveil its “iWatch.” Read more from The Verge.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


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.

👑 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." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip 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.

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"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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