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The Latest: AstraZeneka Halted, Zulu King Dies, $69m JPG

People flee their homes in Makassar City, eastern Indonesia, where heavy rains have caused massive floods during monsoon season.
People flee their homes in Makassar City, eastern Indonesia, where heavy rains have caused massive floods during monsoon season.

Welcome to Friday, where additional countries suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine, Alexei Navalny's whereabouts are unknown, and South Africa mourns the King of the Zulu. Argentine daily Clarin also shares the story of a legendary Buenos Aires ice cream shop, which has been forced to close for good.

• More countries halt AstraZeneca vaccine: Following Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, Thailand becomes the first Asian country to suspend the vaccine over sporadic reports that it produces blood clots, and at least one death attributed to an AstraZeneca vaccination.

• Turkey and Egypt resume diplomatic contact: The two nations have had their first diplomatic contacts since 2013 when two of the world's largest Muslim-majority nations broke off ties over the war in Libya.

• Alexy Navalny moved from jail: The Kremlin critic and democracy activist has been moved from jail and his whereabouts are currently unknown, according to his lawyers.

• Prince William denies racism: Asked by a journalist about recent allegations by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Harry & Meghan), Prince William responded that the British royals were "very much not a racist family.".

• South Africa King dies: The King of the Zulu people Goodwill Zwelithini has died from diabetes, aged 72.

• Myanmar court extends detentions: Myanmar's military has extended detentions of six journalists, claiming that the journalists provoked unrest when covering the protests. They have not had access to lawyers.

• JPG file sells for $69 million: A digital collage by the artist "Beeple," called Everydays — The First Five Thousand Days has sold for $69 million, breaking a record in the world of digital art.


"Extra vaccine caution in Denmark," titles Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, as the country's National Board of Health suspends the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for two weeks following multiple reports of blood clots, including one fatal case.

How an iconic Buenos Aires ice cream shop melted away with COVID

It's only now that the news is finally spreading. Founded in 1902 by the Cocitori family, El Vesuvio, Argentina's oldest heladería (ice-cream shop), is no more. The legendary Buenos Aires establishment had actually stopped operating shortly before the pandemic began. Its most recent owner was no longer able to keep it afloat, reports Nora Sánchez in Argentine daily Clarin.

Located at 1181 Corrientes Avenue, between Libertad and Cerrito streets, the shop is remembered for the iconic image, in its front window, of a smoking Mount Vesuvius, the Italian volcano after which the heladería was named. Mariano Marmorato was the last owner of the establishment, which for decades had doubled as a sweets and pastry shop and even offered tango shows. But in recent years business was slow. Others who have shops in the area and knew him say that Marmorato also struggled with health problems.

El Vesuvio has an important place in the entire history of ice cream in Argentina. Early in the 20th century, its founders, Mr. and Mrs. Cocitori, brought in one of the country's first ice cream-making machines. It consisted of a copper cylinder with a hollow space around it for ice and salt, to keep the interior part cold. To make the ice cream, two people had to crank the machine by hand for two hours, mixing the milk, cream and sugar inside.

El Vesuvio was synonymous with tango, and its customers included the world's best dancers, including Carlos Gardel. In 2002, the author and composer Ben Molar made reference to El Vesuvio in a text that was later included in a 2009 book called Heladerías de Buenos Aires (Ice Cream Shops of Buenos Aires). "On my regular walks along Corrientes Street, together with Jorge Luis Borges and with the great painters Raúl Soldi and Raquel Forner, ... we'd dip into the unforgettable Vesuvio and taste their rich hot chocolate with churros (Borges said ‘no!" to the churros) and delicious ice creams."

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Pandemic forces French to buy their frogs from a vending machine

In the Franche-Comté region of eastern France, t'is the season right now for… ribbit, ribbit… frogs (of the edible variety). Mais oui!


Yes, grenouille season really is a thing. But it's also short lived (like the delectable amphibians themselves), lasting about a month that they're available at markets and restaurants in certain French regions.


For the Auberge du Château de Vaite in Champlive, near the city of Besançon, a normal frog season can bring in as much as one-third of their annual earnings, proprietor Béatrice Beauquier recently told the local daily L'Est Républican.


"Frogs are a historic thing for us," she said. "For a long time now our reputation has been based on them."


The problem, of course, is that this is anything but a normal year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, France's countless restaurants are still barred from serving sit-down customers.


While others have turned to Deliveroo, UberEats and other delivery apps, the Château de Vaite restaurant came up with a novel solution: using a vending machine to offer grenouilles-to-go.


Starting this weekend, customers can stop by at Château de Vaite (anytime, 24/7!) and grab a meal of frogs on the fly. They go for 16 euros ($19) a dozen, and come either ready-to-cook or prepared with cream and wine as a cassolette.


Yes, French and non-French connoisseurs alike, the pandemic has also brought us this ...

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1.6 million

According to a study published in the Human Reproduction journal, about 1.6 million twins are born each year worldwide, with one in every 42 children born a twin — a number on the rise due to the improvement of medical techniques such as IVF as well as delayed childbearing. Twinning rates have particularly risen in Asia (+32%) and North America (+71%) over the past 30 years.

It doesn't fit with the times that Deutsche Bank is having a coronavirus party.

— Fabio De Masi, a member of Germany's parliament, reacts to news that Deutsche Bank paid Chief Executive Christian Sewing 7.4 million euros in 2020, up 46% from a year earlier. De Masi noted that the bank has benefited indirectly from multiple public bailouts.

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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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