Welcome to Wednesday, where India's COVID death toll surpasses 200,000, two Spanish journalists are killed and Citizen Kane loses to a marmalade-loving bear in a hat. From the West Indies, Le Monde"s Jean-Michel Hauteville also looks at the controversial legacy of French national hero Napoleon Bonaparte.
• India's death toll tops 200,000. U.S. eases mask rules: Having again topped the country's deadliest day, India's overall death toll due to COVID-19 surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask for modest-sized outside activities, Some 43% of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
• Journalists killed in Burkina Faso: Two Spanish journalists and an Irishman have been killed in eastern Burkina Faso after they were abducted. The three Europeans were part of an anti-poaching patrol in Pama Reserve and were ambushed by gunmen believed to be jihadists.
• Historic U.S. spending plans: U.S President Joe Biden is about to unveil an additional $1.8 trillion federal investment in education, child care and paid family leave, as he delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress. Last month, Biden set up a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to help reshape the country's economy.
• Eight killed in an "illegal" Latvian hotel: Eight people were killed after a fire broke out at an "illegal" tourist hotel in Riga, Latvia's capital city.
• France arrests Italian leftists terrorists decades later: Seven Italians, on the run since their convictions decades ago in Italy for left-wing terrorism, have been arrested in France.
• Switzerland to hold referendum on same-sex marriage: The country will hold a referendum on whether to authorize same-sex marriage after opponents of a bill that recognised same-sex marriage gathered enough signatures to set up a vote.
• When a suspected hand grenade turns out to be a sex toy: A German police bomb squad was called to investigate a hand grenade in a Bavarian forest, and revealed on Tuesday that the suspected weapon was in fact a sex toy.
Spanish daily El Correo reports on the death of two Spanish journalists who were killed after they were kidnapped during an ambush in Burkina Faso by gunmen believed to be jihadists. The journalists were making a documentary on poaching in the region of Pama.
Cancel Napoleon? French West Indies decry emperor for slavery role
As France and its overseas departments mark 200 years since Napoleon's death, his role in spreading slavery to the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique is prompting more and more to reverse his heroic legacy, writes Jean-Michel Hauteville in Paris-based daily Le Monde.
Many people in the French Caribbean blame Napoleon Bonaparte for reversing what had been gained overseas during the French Revolution. In February 1794, the National Convention (the parliament during the Revolution) passed a decree that freed all slaves and made them French citizens. And it wasn't just slavery that was abolished. "It is often forgotten, but the new Constitution of 1795 also put an end to the colonial regime and made Guadeloupe, Guyana and Santo Domingo state départements, subjected to the same law as the French mainland," recalls Frédéric Regent, a historian of ancestry in Guadeloupe.
All of this changed, however, when the man who was still known simply as Bonaparte came to power. "One month after the Coup of 18 Brumaire, Article 91 of the Constitution of 1799 restored colonial status with specific laws," says Frédéric Regent. For the French colonies, this setback would have lasting consequences: They'd have to wait all the way until 1946 to become French départements for good.
Historian Frédéric Régent argues that it's understandable to organize ceremonies to commemorate Napoleon's death. "To commemorate does not necessarily mean to honor: After all, we commemorate the Vél" d'Hiv Roundup," he says. But he also refutes the argument that says that the Emperor should be pardoned because he was only a man of his time. "Napoleon made a choice," Régent says. "Many of his contemporaries were against slavery, and in particular a whole assembly of deputies, who had abolished it in 1794."
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Sinhala for "burqa", as Sri Lanka has just approved a proposed ban on wearing full-face veils, including Muslim burqas, in public.
Author of Italian thrillers arrested for staging parents' murder-suicide
As a published author of futuristic thrillers, Marco Eletti has a knack for intrigue and unlikely plot twists. But police say his latest storyline doesn't add up, and have arrested the 33-year-old from the northern province of Reggio Emilia on suspicion of the brutal murder of his father and attempted murder of his mother, La Repubblica reports.
Eletti said he arrived at his parents' house Saturday in the hamlet of San Martino in Rio to find his 58-year-old father beaten to death with a hammer, and his 54-year-old mother near death with knife wounds to her wrists and arm.
But the Italian Carabinieri are questioning his version of events, accusing the novelist of drugging his parents before the deadly assault, with the idea to construct the scene to look like there had been a violent exchange between the spouses, with the wife killing herself after she'd realized her husband was dead. The mother is in a coma, but is expected to survive, reports regional daily Il Resto del Carlino.
Eletti, whose books include La regola del numero sette (Rule Number Seven) Punto d'impatto (Point of Impact), denies any involvement. Police say they've found multiple clues and pieces of evidence including gloves and rope that point to the son, who they say plotted to kill his parents over a dispute about the family inheritance.
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Citizen Kane no longer holds the top spot on the popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes. The Orson Welles 1941 classic, viewed as one of the greatest films of all time, lost one percent of its perfect "fresh" rating after a negative review from 80 years ago was added to the website. It is being replaced by Paddington 2.
The country has a right to know who contributed to the thousands of deaths, and they should be punished.
— Senator Renan Calheiros, a veteran lawmaker overseeing the Brazilian Senate inquiry into the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, responded to President Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to undermine the probe.
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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.
"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.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
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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