Welcome to Friday, where a train crash in Taiwan leaves dozens dead, Niger has historic peaceful transfer of power and Egypt has a salty new tourist attraction. Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg also reveals why Russia is leaking secrets to the press about the international negotiations trying to resolve its conflict with Ukraine.
• Dozens dead in Taiwan train crash: A train crash killed at least 48 people and left 66 injured in eastern Taiwan. The express train, carrying about 500 passengers, derailed in a tunnel after hitting a construction vehicle that had rolled onto the tracks.
• Toll in Tigray: Nearly 2,000 victims have been identified by researchers studying the conflict since it exploded, last year. Those killed include infants and people over 90, the report says.
• Aung San Suu Kyi charged: Myanmar protesters call for "guerilla strikes' as country faces a new wireless internet shutdown and following charges filed against detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi for violating state secrets, punishable by up to 14 years of prison.
• Peaceful transition in Niger: Mohamed Bazoum gets sworn in as Niger president in the country's first peaceful transfer of power since its independence in 1960. The inauguration comes just days after the government says it thwarted a military coup attempt.
• Dutch leader Rutte survives vote of confidence: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte narrowly survives a no-confidence vote over accusations he lied about coalition talks.
• G7 to double help for poorer countries to cut CO2 emissions: Deputy secretary general of the UN, Amina Mohammed calls on the world's richest group of countries to double their financial support to poorer countries to help them cut their CO2 emissions.
• Egypt's salt mountains become a tourist attraction: Images of people sliding down "snowy" mountains of Port Fouad went viral on the internet. The salt mountains quickly became a tourist hit, attracting Egyptians from all across the country to enjoy the unique landscape.
"Flirt with coup," titles Brazilian weekly magazine Istoé, after President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the Defense minister and led to the resignations of the three chiefs of the country's armed forces — "the worst military crisis in more than 40 years' and a "dangerous gamble that threatens democracy," writes the weekly.
Minsk or Normandy? Russia prefers impasse with Ukraine instead
We've seen a flurry of reports this week of rising tensions in the long-simmering showdown in eastern Ukraine. But the broader context is one of stalemate, writes Alexander Demchenko on Ukranian news website Livy Bereg. In order to circumvent French and German mediation, the Kremlin is leaking secrets to the press as a de facto policy of stalling in its seven-year-long conflict.
Due to their sensitive nature, international negotiations come with certain requirements: first, don't disclose their details; and secondly, what has not been signed and agreed upon is not fit for implementation. The Russian newspaper Kommersant has published details of what should have been confidential communications among the so-called Normandy Format negotiating countries (Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France) regarding new approaches to finding a peaceful settlement of the contested region of Donbas.
Since its creation in 2014, the Normandy Format has managed to ink several deals on prisoner exchange, yet has repeatedly failed to end the war in the eastern Ukrainian territory between Kyiv and pro-Russian insurgents. Ceasefire agreements are constantly broken and there are weekly reports about injured or killed Ukrainian soldiers who remain on the borderline of the occupied territories. At the same time, there is another forum for trying to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), dubbed the Minsk Protocol.
Dmitry Kozak, a Russian negotiator and close ally of President Vladimir Putin, recently blamed the "very strange confidentiality of the Normandy negotiations' for blocking progress. This major Russian power broker was issuing a public warning to all sides of the Normandy Four that Russia would leak information about the talks. Why? Because Moscow does not need any progress on peace. It prefers to constantly hold Ukraine by the gills. It actually likes neither negotiations at the level of the Normandy Format nor the Minsk agreements.
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Mickey Mouse & Winnie The Pooh swindle and grope their way through eastern France
Cartoon characters parading down the streets are usually synonymous with childhood glee, theme parks and carnival floats. But as French daily Le Parisien reports, recent encounters with the beloved icons such as Mickey Mouse or Winnie the Pooh have been followed by calls to the police in eastern France.
Since last month, multiple reports to authorities and posts on social media have warned that at least four men wearing Disney costumes were busy swindling, catcalling and groping passers-by in the city centers of Strasbourg and Mulhouse.
According to France 3 Régions, the men, believed to be in their 40s, approached people — often underage teenage girls — offering to take pictures with them and demanding money, before touching them inappropriately.
As Le Parisien reports, a since deleted video posted on Instagram recently showed several individuals beating up one of the costumed men after he harassed a passer-by.
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A massive fire at a pig-breeding facility in Alt Tellin, northeastern Germany, has killed an estimated 55,000 animals.
People told me that the Netherlands would be the first and the last country ... the rest of the world won't follow you.
— On the 20th anniversary of world's first same-sex marriages after the landmark Dutch law that made it legal and binding, LGBTQ activists reflected on the progress around the issue with more than two dozen countries having followed suit.
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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