Thai Tensions, Buying A World Cup, Red Hot Ferrell

Thailand's military held firm Friday, a day after suspending the constitution and taking power.
Thailand's military held firm Friday, a day after suspending the constitution and taking power.

Friday, May 23, 2014

At least five people died in fresh fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian groups near Ukraine’s eastern city of Donetsk, with an AFP photographer saying that four of the dead appeared to be rebels and the fifth a member of a “volunteer force attached to the military.” Earlier, Reuters reported that a convoy of Ukrainian self-defense fighters had been attacked by pro-Russian gunmen using automatic weapons and snipers. Yesterday, at least 13 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a firefight south of Donetsk. RT, meanwhile, quotes witnesses from the separatist side in Luhansk as saying that Ukrainian troops yesterday had opened fire on some of their own fighters who refused to obey orders and surrendered.

According to Interfax, the U.S. State Department is, however, confident that the recent violence won’t have a “significant impact” on Sunday’s presidential election, which some expect “Chocolate King” Petro Poroshenko to win in the first round.

The Thai army has summoned political leaders for talks today, including recently ousted Prime Ministers Yingluck Shinawatra and Niwattamrong Boonsongpaisan. One day after taking power, it has also banned some 150 politicians and activists from leaving the country, The Washington Post reports. The Bangkok Post, meanwhile, warns of the danger of sanctions from foreign countries, saying that although the $6 million in U.S. aid to Thailand’s military is “insignificant,” losing it “will cause a loss of face and dent the image of the Thai military.” In its editorial, the newspaper denounces the coup as a move that “will only cause the situation to deteriorate further.” Newspaper The Nation, however, argues that the coup is an opportunity that could lead to “real sweeping reform.”

In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Karim Janker, German artist Ignacio Uriarte explains how and why he became fascinated with creating art that documents and comments on the tedium of office life. “I work with the themes that I know best,” Uriarte says. “I worked in an office for 10 years, so I can’t now act as if I’m an artist in the bohemian tradition. Because the materials I use anchor my art in the real world, my work holds a mirror up to people. Everybody can relate to the objects I use.”
Read the full interview, The Monotony Of Office Life Is This Artist's Reigning Inspiration.

At least 21 people were killed and more than 30 injured after a mortar hit a pro-Bashar al-Assad rally yesterday in southern Syria, just a week and a half before an election that the incumbent president is expected to win, AP reports. The attack came as Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution to refer Syria to the international criminal court over war crimes. “The vetoes today have prevented the victims of atrocities from testifying at The Hague,” U.S. ambassador Samantha Power said. The Russian Foreign Ministry replied that the draft resolution is “filled with biased assessments and intends to place all responsibility for the massive violations of human rights in Syria on the government.”


UK’s Financial Conduct Authority has ordered Barclays Bank to pay a 26 million pound fine ($44 million) for manipulating the price of gold, explaining that the bank failed to "adequately manage conflicts of interest between itself and its customers." According to ITV, this is the first time that such a fine has been issued. Barclays in one of the four banks that sit in the “Gold Fixing” mechanism, which sets the price of gold twice a day. Earlier this year, The Financial Times published an article (it was later removed) revealing that “global gold prices may have been manipulated on 50% of occasions between January 2010 and December 2013.”

What's the cost of victory? Ninety-one euros ($124), says Belgium. According to an unusual poll conducted for ING Bank, Belgians would be willing to pay to see the country's Red Devils team win the World Cup.

Based on antibodies found in the blood of Tanzania children, American scientists have developed a new type of vaccine against malaria, which kills about 600,000 people every year, The Independent reports. “Most vaccine candidates for malaria have worked by trying to prevent parasites from entering red blood cells,” said Dr. Jonathan Kurtis. “We’ve taken a different approach. We’re sort of trapping the parasite in the burning house.” The vaccine proved efficient on mice and will soon be tested on monkeys, with phase one of clinical trials expected within a year and a half.

“Do you play for the Lukewarm Chili Peppers?” Comedian Will Ferrell asked his look-alike, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, on Jimmy Fallon’s show last night. Fans of the two men have been waiting months for this. And yesterday, NBC's Tonight Show turned dreams into reality by staging a traditional "drum-off" between Ferrell and Smith. See the video and read more here.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

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.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk 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.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!