Monday, September 1, 2014
UKRAINE FORCES LOSE AIRPORT AHEAD OF TALKS
Ukrainian government forces pulled out of the international airport in Luhansk after an assault by pro-Russian rebels, even as Ukrainian and Russian officials are preparing to meet in Minsk for another round of talks, the BBC reports.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he hoped Monday’s talks would focus on reaching an “an immediate ceasefire, without conditions,” urging Kiev forces to retreat from positions where “they can harm the civilian population.” This came after Sunday’s suggestion by Vladimir Putin that Kiev should discuss the issue of “statehood in southeastern Ukraine” with rebel leaders. Read more from The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko reiterated accusations of “direct and open aggression” from Russia.
U.S., IRAN AND IRAQ ALLIANCE BREAKS SIEGE OF AMERLI
Iraqi soldiers backed by Iran and American strikes have broken ISIS’s siege of Amerli where, according to Al Jazeera, “12,000 people have been trapped for over two months with dwindling food and water.” The New York Times notes that this operation is the first time that the three countries “worked with a common purpose on a battlefield” and that it could mark a turning point in the relationship between Washington and Tehran. According to the UN, at least 1,420 people were killed in Iraq in August.
PAKISTAN POLITICAL CRISIS DEEPENS
The political crisis in Pakistan escalated further after a group of anti-government protesters stormed the state broadcaster PTV’s building Monday while others clashed with the police near government buildings. At least three people were killed today in the violence. Pakistani daily Dawn reports that the army has since “escorted protesters out” of PTV’s offices and secured the building. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has so far refused protester demands to step down, is expected to address the Parliament tomorrow.
ISLAMIST MILITIA CONTROLS U.S. EMBASSY IN LIBYA
Footage emerged this weekend of an Islamist militia group, Dawn of Libya, enjoying the comforts of the deserted U.S. embassy in Tripoli, with the Los Angeles Times characterizing the images as “emblematic of Libya in free fall.” One of the group’s commanders told AP that they have been in control of the residential compound for one week, and the group also controls the Libyan capital and its international airport. Deborah Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was moved with the rest of the staff to Malta earlier this summer, confirmed the footage looks to have been shot at the embassy’s residential annex.
High speed lovers, start your environmentally friendly engines! As French daily Les Echos writes, all eyes are now on the first world championship of electric cars, to be held Sept. 13 in Beijing. Get used to the name: it's called Formula E: “Like Formula One, racers accumulate points through each race, with the winner raking in five million euros. For the first season, all teams are composed of two drivers, using the same car. The French automobile industry is central to the construction of the vehicle: a Spark Renault SRT_01E with a Renault engine, Michelin tires and a Williams battery. Each team has four cars since the battery only lasts for 40 minutes — meaning that in the middle of the race, drivers must make e-pit stops, and jump into another car!”
Read the full article, Formula E, Revving Up A Green Rival To Formula 1.
ISRAEL ANNOUNCES MASSIVE WEST BANK LAND GRAB
Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank announced yesterday the appropriation of 988 acres of land in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, the biggest land grab in 30 years according to anti-settlement group Peace Now. The U.S. State Department urged Israel “to reverse this decision,” saying it was “counterproductive to Israel's stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.” Read more from Haaretz.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
BY THE NUMBERS
An estimated 1.67 billion euro worth of pesetas, the Spanish currency replaced by the euro in 2002, are still sitting in safes, socks, tin cans buried in the ground and under mattresses around the country.
James Brady, Lauren Bacall, Robin Williams and six other notable passings during the past month.
NOT JUST FOOD AND WATER
Japan’s fear of a devastating earthquake in a central part of the country, where more than 40% of the country’s toilet paper supply comes from, has led the government to launch a campaigncalling on people to stock up on loo rolls. Not sure that will be enough to help the stagnant economy though.
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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