The Latest: COVID Crisis In Indonesia, Pope Surgery, Russian Champagne Troll

Site of Philipine Air Force airplane crash in southern Philippines, which killed 50 people
Site of Philipine Air Force airplane crash in southern Philippines, which killed 50 people

Welcome to Monday, where the Pope is recovering from surgery, an indigenous woman helps Chile move past its Pinochet legacy, and the world record for competitive hot dog eating is broken. From Gaziantep, French daily Les Echos' Catherine Chatignoux looks at the difficult integration of the four million Syrians living in Turkey.

• COVID update: In Indonesia, hospitals have almost exhausted their oxygen supplies as the country is facing the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, with about 2.3 million cases and more than 60,000 deaths so far. Meanwhile, in England masks will become optional, as part of the transition into a period without legal restrictions where the public will have to exercise "personal responsibility."

• Philippines military plane crash death toll rises to 50: A Philippine Air Force plane, carrying 96 military personnel and crew, crashed in the southern Philippines on Sunday after missing the runway and crashing into a nearby village. The death toll of 50 includes several people on the ground.

• Pope Francis "reacted well" to surgery: Pope Francis has "reacted well" after undergoing a planned surgery Sunday for colon diverticulitis, according to the Vatican. Francis, 84, had general anaesthesia during the surgery, the Argentine pope's first known treatment in hospital since he was elected to the papacy in 2013.

• 80 missing in central Japan mudslide: Two days after a devastating mudslide swept through a coastal city in Japan, rescue workers continue to search for survivors. At least three victims bodies have been recovered, and 80 are still missing.

• Miami building demolished: The partially collapsed apartment building in Miami, where 24 people are confirmed dead, was demolished on Sunday night ahead of the arrival of tropical storm Elsa. Search-and-rescue efforts for 121 people still missing have been temporarily suspended.

• Indian dowries still common despite being illegal: A new World Bank study has found that dowry payments in India's villages have not decreased over the past few decades even though the practice was made illegal in 1961. The researchers found that in 95% of the 40,000 marriages that took place in rural India between 1960 and 2008, dowry was still paid.

• Putin sparks sparkling war: New Russian legislation stipulates that the name "champagne" can only be used for Russian sparkling wine. French fizz from the Champagne region, which is widely considered the only to merit the label, must now be referred to in Russia as "sparkling wine." Top champagne brand Moet Hennessy has threatened to ban all sales to Russia.

Chilean daily La Últimas Noticias features the story of Elisa Loncon, a professor from Chile's majority indigenous Mapuche people, who was chosen to lead the constitutional body that will draft the country's new constitution. Chileans had voted last year to tear up the Pinochet-era constitution in favor of a new charter written by citizens.

It's only getting harder to be a Syrian refugee in Turkey

The four million Syrians living in Turkey were already facing great difficulties, and the pandemic only made their lives more uncertain. But there's another truth they know they must face, reports Catherine Chatignoux in French daily Les Echos.

Since arriving in 2015, Adnan, a 35-year-old construction worker from Aleppo, has never been able to find the stability needed to build a better future for his family of five. When the lockdown began last year, even the part-time work dried up in Gaziantep, a city that has swelled to 450,000 new inhabitants since the start of the war in Syria. "I would like to work in a big workshop or a factory, to get a permanent job. But it's very difficult," he said. Few Turkish companies apply for a work permit or pay insurance for Syrian refugees. It is more attractive for them to pay an undeclared half salary.

Without financial assistance, a large majority of the four million Syrians in Turkey would simply not have the means to survive. Of the six billion euros promised to Turkey in 2016 for keeping and managing refugees on its soil, 40% is spent on humanitarian aid. Criticized for making Europe bend to the whim of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who can open his borders at any time — this pact, sealed in the midst of the migration crisis, has finally proven itself useful. Discussions to renew the funds are currently underway.

Convinced the only chance of integration for these Syrian children is through education, Iren Wall, an American who works with refugees in the city of Sanliurfa in southeast Turkey, and her team of teachers are working to give the 2,600 enrolled students a three-month rehabilitation period and upgrading sessions. In one of the rooms of what looks like a small community school, educators teach Syrian, Kurdish and Iranian children to regain their self-esteem, an appetite for learning and the basics of the Turkish language.

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Public playground slide winds up in backyard of politician's relatives

In late May, children in the French town of Saint-Marcel discovered that the slide from the local playground had disappeared overnight. Last week, the local newspaper Paris Normandie reported that the slide had been located, replete with a fresh coat of red paint, in the backyard of a relative of the town's deputy mayor.

Yes, politics has slid this far. Soon after the slide vanished, members of the opposition party, "100% Saint-Marcel," decided to launch an investigation, which eventually discovered the once-public slide was now being enjoyed exclusively by relatives of Eric Pichou, the town's fourth deputy mayor, who also serves as the head of Public Works, Environment and Security for Saint-Marcel.

Remi Ferreira, head of "100% Saint-Marcel," recounted the day the slide went missing as filled with emotion: "This neighborhood has the most children and families in the city, and some children were crying."

The investigation culminated in a hearing on June 25, where "100% Saint-Marcel" argued that Pichou had falsely marked the slide as set to be discarded for safety reasons. The opposition group alleges to have separately verified that the slide was in full operating capacity and did not pose any danger.

Mayor Hervé Podraza, who claimed to have no prior knowledge of the incident, said that the slide in question was one of three in the city shown to have "several non-conformities." Still, Podraza has since demanded Eric Pichou's resignation, citing the "breach in trust" that had taken place.

Both the Mayor's office and the opposition party filed separate complaints about "misappropriation of public property." Nobody was going to just let this one slide.


Competitive eater Joey Chestnut gulped down an impressive 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the annual July 4 International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island. Chestnut broke his own world record, set last year, by one hot dog.

My constitutional rights were abused.

— South Africa's ex-president Jacob Zuma told supporters camped outside his home, as he refuses to surrender to the authorities to start a 15-month jail term for contempt of court. Protesters have vowed to protect Zuma and called for President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down. The former president has also been accused of involvement in a bribery affair.

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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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