Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
Pichit Chuenban becomes the third minister to quit Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s cabinet. Above, the Bangkok skyline on May 17, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
  • Pichit Chuenban says his resignation would allow the country ‘to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity’

BANGKOK: A Thai minister at the center of a pending legal complaint seeking the dismissal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin resigned on Tuesday, in an effort to insulate the premier from possible repercussions.
A group of 40 senators lodged a complaint to the Constitutional Court last week against Pichit Chuenban, 65, saying his appointment last month as minister to the prime minister’s office breached the constitution, as he has a criminal record.
The court was due on Thursday to decide whether or not to accept the case, which could lead to Srettha’s suspension.
“Even though I have been vetted and honestly believe that I am qualified by law, this matter is linked to the prime minister,” Pichit said in his resignation letter, shared with media by Srettha’s office.
He said his resignation would allow the country “to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity.”
It was not immediately clear whether the resignation would have any impact on the complaint submitted to the court.
Pichit was jailed for six months in 2008 for contempt of court after an alleged attempt to bribe court officials with 2 million baht ($55,000) hidden in a paper grocery bag.
His law license was suspended for five years by the Lawyers Council of Thailand after the incident. The government has said it carefully vetted Pichit’s qualifications and was confident it could defend his appointment before the court.
Pichit becomes the third minister to quit Srettha’s cabinet, after his foreign minister and deputy finance minister resigned following a cabinet reshuffle last month.
The senators, whose term has ended, are currently lawmakers in a caretaker capacity pending the selection of a new chamber. They have accused Pichit of lacking integrity and ethical standards to hold a ministerial post.
Government critics say Pichit was appointed due to his close relationship with a client, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned to Thailand last year after 15 years in exile. Thaksin, an ally of Srettha, still wields considerable political influence, despite officially being retired.
The government has insisted Pichit was appointed due to his capabilities.


Trump marks his 78th birthday by tearing into 81-year-old Biden as frail and confused

Trump marks his 78th birthday by tearing into 81-year-old Biden as frail and confused
Updated 13 sec ago
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Trump marks his 78th birthday by tearing into 81-year-old Biden as frail and confused

Trump marks his 78th birthday by tearing into 81-year-old Biden as frail and confused
  • Even after becoming the first former president to have been convicted of a felony, Trump has tightened his grip on much of his party’s base and elected officials

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida: Donald Trump marked his 78th birthday on Friday night by addressing a fawning crowd in Florida and repeatedly dismissing his opponent in November’s election, 81-year-old President Joe Biden, as too frail to handle a second term.

“Our country is being destroyed by incompetent people,” said Trump, who devoted large swathes of a jovial speech to poking fun at Biden. “All presidents should have aptitude tests.”
The former president addressed “Club 47” fan club members at a convention center in West Palm Beach, a short drive from the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence. As part of the festivities, organizers brought out a towering, multi-layered cake as audience members tossed red and blue balloons.
Setting on a gold-colored base, the cake featured separate tiers that included a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and the Club 47 logo, an American flag, the phrase “Born in the USA on Flag Day,” a depiction of Trump golfing and the Oval Office fitted gold frames common in many Trump properties as well as Trump and Republican logos.
When Trump took the stage, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” and chanted “USA! USA!” The layer cake was just for show. But backstage there was a sheet cake with vanilla icing and a gold hue that was served to some members of the former president’s campaign staff.

The event in Trump’s adopted home state sold out of 5,000 tickets at about $35 apiece, with closer spots to the stage costing $60, according to Club 47 President Larry Snowden.
“This is the biggest birthday party I’ve ever had by far,” Trump said.
The former president elicited strong cheers by listing his now-familiar campaign plans, including discussing immigration in menacing terms and pledging to reduce regulations, scrap environmental protections to stimulate domestic energy production and cut taxes.
Despite so often scoffing at Biden, even declaring that the president often “doesn’t know where the hell he is,” Trump also offered a seemingly contradictory message to his own supporters. He endorsed early voting, casting ballots by mail and also on Election Day in person, only to later note: “I actually tell our people, we don’t need your vote. We’ve got so many votes.”
Before Trump took the stage, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Byron Donalds, both Florida Republicans, helped warm up the crowd, gushing about Trump and his prospects for winning back the White House.
It was yet another strong show of support for Trump and came a day after Republicans in Congress sang their own rendition of “Happy Birthday” and presented the former president with a cake and gifts during a Thursday visit to Capitol Hill — displaying remarkable loyalty for a former president who was shunned by many of the same lawmakers after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Even after becoming the first former president to have been convicted of a felony, Trump has tightened his grip on much of his party’s base and elected officials. Next month, he is scheduled to accept his party’s presidential nomination for the third time — despite facing sentencing in his hush money case on July 11.
Trump referenced his conviction on 34 felony counts on Friday, declaring, “In the end, they’re not after me. They’re after you and I just happened to be standing in their way.”
Mary Lou and Sue Reardon both came to the event from the Villages near Ocala, about 240 miles (386 kilometers) northwest of West Palm Beach. Both were wearing US flag shirts and matching “Birthday” headbands with candles.
“We just feel like he’s our last hope,” Sue Reardon said of Trump.
Biden will turn 82 shortly after Election Day in November. His campaign marked Trump’s birthday by compiling a listing of “78 of Trump’s historic… ‘accomplishments,’” with links to media coverage of policy proposals including “cutting Social Security and Medicare,” Trump’s presidency during GOP losses in the US House and Senate and several references to his legal cases.
“On behalf of America, our early gift for your 79th: Making sure you are never President again,” Biden campaign spokesperson James Singer added to the birthday wishes.
By contrast, there was no hint of GOP disunity when Trump was in Washington to meet with House and Senate Republicans on Thursday, in his first visit to Capitol Hill since the riot, which was carried out by Trump supporters seeking to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden.
Among those attending was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who endorsed Trump earlier this year despite not having spoken since 2020.
Club 47 is based in Palm Beach County and says on its website that the club’s goal is to keep Trump’s supporters “in our area connected and engaged.” Trump most recently spoke to the club in October, days after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.
Lydia Maldonado, a local Hispanic activist, said Friday’s event is unique compared to any rally nationwide with the former president and that Trump feels comfortable and familiar with this crowd since it’s his hometown.
“The purpose of having this event is pretty much to let him know how much the community here loves him and how much the community supports him,” Maldonado said.
 


US designates Nordic far-right group as terrorists

US designates Nordic far-right group as terrorists
Updated 49 min 55 sec ago
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US designates Nordic far-right group as terrorists

US designates Nordic far-right group as terrorists
  • “The United States remains deeply concerned about the racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist threat worldwide and is committed to countering the transnational components of violent white supremacy,” a State Department statement said

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday designated the Nordic Resistance Movement and three of its leaders terrorists, saying the Scandinavian neo-Nazis pose a threat to Americans.
The State Department added the movement and the leaders to its Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, meaning that any US-based assets will be frozen and that they will be blocked from using the US financial system.
The State Department said it made its finding based on the group’s history of violence rooted in “its openly racist, anti-immigrant, antisemitic, anti-LGBTQI+ platform.”
“The United States remains deeply concerned about the racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist threat worldwide and is committed to countering the transnational components of violent white supremacy,” a State Department statement said.
The group has carried out or attempted to carry out “acts of terrorism that threaten the security of United States nationals or the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States,” it said.
The leaders blacklisted by the State Department, all Swedes, were group’s chief Fredrik Vejdeland, and two other senior figures, Par Oberg and Leif Robert Eklund.
The group, known by its Swedish acronym NMR, professes Nazism and seeks a united “ethnic Nordic” nation.
Founded in 1997 in Sweden as the Swedish Resistance Movement, it saw sister organizations spring up in other Nordic countries until they were united under NMR in 2016.
The group stages protests and produces media arguing against immigration, but has also been linked to violence.
In 2016, a 28-year old man died after being assaulted by NMR members in Helsinki and, according to watchdog organization Expo, several members have been convicted of a series of bombings in Gothenburg in 2016 and 2017.
Finland’s Supreme Court banned the group in 2020.
After takin office in 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration laid out a strategy to counter domestic terrorism that included identifying foreign groups that provide support.
The State Department first designated a white supremacist group as terrorists in 2020 — the Russian Imperial Movement — after years of largely targeting Islamist and far-left movements overseas.
 

 


US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships
Updated 55 min 6 sec ago
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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships
  • The confluence of Russian, Canadian and US vessels in Cuba was a reminder of old Cold War tensions
  • Tensions with the US over communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

HAVANA: A Canadian navy patrol ship sailed into Havana early on Friday, just hours after the United States announced a fast-attack submarine had docked at its Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, both vessels on the heels of Russian warships that arrived on the island earlier this week.

The confluence of Russian, Canadian and US vessels in Cuba — a Communist-run island nation just 145 km (90 miles) south of Florida — was a reminder of old Cold War tensions and fraught ties between Russia and Western nations over the Ukraine war.
However, both the US and Cuba have said the Russian warships pose no threat to the region. Russia has also characterized the arrival of its warships in allied Cuba as routine.
The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, half submerged with its crew on deck, sailed into Havana harbor on Wednesday after conducting “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean, Russia’s defense ministry said.
Canada`s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel began maneuvers early on Friday to enter Havana harbor, part of what the Canadian Joint Operations Command called “a port visit ... in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.”

A group of Cuban pioneers look at the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, part of the Russian naval detachment visiting Cuba, docked at Havana's harbor on June 14, 2024. (AFP)

Hours earlier, the US Southern Command said the fast-attack submarine Helena had arrived on a routine port visit to Guantanamo Bay, a US naval base on the tip of the island around 850 km (530 miles) southeast of Havana.
“The vessel’s location and transit were previously planned,” Southern Command said on X.
Cuba`s foreign ministry said it had been informed of the arrival of the US submarine but was not happy about it.
“Naval visits to a country are usually the result of an invitation, and this was not the case,” said Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío.
“Obviously we do not like the presence in our territory (of a submarine) belonging to a power that maintains an official and practical policy that is hostile against Cuba.”
A Canadian diplomat characterized the Margaret Brooke`s arrival as “routine and part of long-standing cooperation between our two countries,” adding it was “unrelated to the presence of the Russian ships.”
Russia and Cuba were close allies under the former Soviet Union, and tensions with Washington over communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Moscow has maintained ties with Havana.
When asked what message Moscow was sending, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday the West never appeared to take notice when Russia sent signals through diplomatic channels.
“As soon as it comes to exercises or sea voyages, we immediately hear questions and a desire to know what these messages are about,” Zakharova said. “Why do only signals related only to our army and navy reach the West?“
The Russian warships are expected to remain in Havana harbor until Monday.


South Africa’s Ramaphosa re-elected as president after coalition deal

South Africa’s Ramaphosa re-elected as president after coalition deal
Updated 15 June 2024
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South Africa’s Ramaphosa re-elected as president after coalition deal

South Africa’s Ramaphosa re-elected as president after coalition deal
  • Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to put Ramaphosa, back in office for another five years after the May 29 general election
  • The ANC-led broad coalition brings together a majority of the 18 parties in the 400-seat National Assembly

CAPE TOWN: South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected for a second term on Friday, after his humbled ANC cobbled together an unprecedented coalition government.

Lawmakers in Cape Town voted overwhelmingly to put Ramaphosa, 71, back in office for another five years after the May 29 general election that produced no outright winner.
“I am humbled and honored that you, as members of the National Assembly, have... decided to elect me to be the President of the Republic of South Africa,” Ramaphosa said in his acceptance speech.
Last month’s election marked a historic turning point for South Africa, ending three decades of dominance by the African National Congress of the late Nelson Mandela.
The party that led the anti-apartheid struggle won only 40 percent of the vote and, for the first time, lost its absolute majority in parliament.
It has now struck a deal to form what it calls a government of national unity.
“This is a historic juncture in the life of our country, which requires that we must work and act together,” Ramaphosa said.
ANC Secretary General Fikile Mbalula said on Friday the broad coalition brings together a majority of the 18 parties that won representation in the 400-seat National Assembly.
These include the center-right Democratic Alliance (DA), the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party and other smaller groups.
Ramaphosa was re-elected by fellow MPs with 283 votes in a secret ballot.
He saw off a last-minute challenge by Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose candidacy gained 44 votes.
Ramaphosa will be sworn in next week in Pretoria and then unveil his new cabinet.
Earlier, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo had opened the parliament’s first sitting, swearing in MPs in batches ahead of votes on the election of a speaker and deputy speaker.
The first post went to the ANC’s Thoko Didiza and, in a first sign the power-sharing deal was working, the second went to the DA’s Annelie Lotriet. Both are women and Lotriet is from South Africa’s white minority.

Lawmakers cast their ballot one by one in a lengthy ceremony held in a Cape Town convention center, as the parliament building is being rebuilt after a 2022 fire.
EFF members took the oath wearing red overalls and in some cases rubber boots and plastic construction worker helmets.
They declined to support the incoming administration, having refused to countenance joining an alliance with right-wing or white-led parties.
“This is not a government of national unity, this is a grand coalition between the ANC and white monopoly capital. History will judge you harshly,” Malema said, after conceding defeat.
Graft-tainted former president Jacob Zuma’s new party uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), which came third in the election, has disputed the results and its MPs boycotted Friday’s sitting.
“The sitting of the national assembly today as far as we’re concerned is illegal and unconstitutional,” MK spokesman Nhlamulo Ndhlela told AFP.
A former trade unionist turned millionaire businessman, Ramaphosa will preside over a government combining radically different political views.
The ANC is a historically pan-Africanist, progressive party of the left that has overseen welfare and economic empowerment programs for poor, black South Africans.
The largest coalition party, the DA, pushes a liberal, free-market agenda. Smaller parties that are understood to have agreed to join the government range from the left to the far right.
“At the heart of this government of national unity statement is a shared respect and defense of our constitution and the rule of law,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said.

The agreement extended to regional coalitions in Johannesburg’s Gauteng province and in KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma’s MK won the most votes in the latter but was left empty-handed as coalition members managed to get a wafer-thin majority of 41 out of 80 provincial councillors.
Steenhuisen added that the coalition agreement included a consensus mechanism to deal “with the disagreements that will inevitably arise.”
“This is not the end of the process. And the road ahead will not be an easy one,” Steenhuisen said, explaining that the two-week deadline imposed by the constitution to form a government did not leave enough time to iron out all details.
Ramaphosa first came to power in 2018 after Zuma was forced out under the cloud of corruption allegations.
Under his watch South Africa suffered from record power cuts, the economy languished and crime remained rife. Unemployment is at almost 33 percent.
He will now have the arduous task to bridge conflicting views within government to turn around South Africa’s economic fortunes.
“Rapid, inclusive and sustainable economic growth” was listed as a top priority in a draft of the coalition deal.
GDP grew by only 0.6 percent in 2023 and was down 0.1 percent in the first three months of 2024.
 


Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region

Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region
Updated 14 June 2024
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Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region

Ukraine fighting ‘intense’ battles in Donetsk region
  • “The Pokrovsk front... is the most intense in terms of enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian military said
  • In the war-battered town of Selydove near the front line in Donetsk, officials said six people were wounded by Russian aerial attacks overnight

KYIV: Ukraine said on Friday that Russian forces were concentrating their firepower on the Pokrovsk front in the eastern Donetsk region, where overnight strikes wounded at least six people.
The Kremlin annexed the industrial territory in late 2022, months after invading, and its forces are making incremental gains there.
“The Pokrovsk front... is the most intense in terms of enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian military said in a briefing.
In the war-battered town of Selydove near the front line in Donetsk, officials said six people were wounded by Russian aerial attacks overnight.
AFP journalists on the scene hours after the attack saw the interior of a supermarket reduced to heaps of metal and glass under a partially gutted roof.
The force of the explosion, which tore open a neighboring building, also blew out the windows of residential buildings across the street.
Oleg, a 57-year-old resident, said he heard a strange noise at around 9.00 p.m. on Thursday evening.
He thought it was several helicopters flying overhead, until he saw the explosion.
Lyudmila, still in shock, assessed the damage in her flat where the windows had been blown out by the blast.
“Everything was blown away,” the 68-year-old told AFP, her face bruised by the blast.
Kyiv and Moscow staged dozens of drone and missile attacks overnight and during the day Friday.
The two sides have stepped up cross-border aerial assaults in recent weeks, Kyiv targeting Russian energy facilities and Moscow launching retaliatory barrages.
The governor of Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said seven people were wounded when shelling caused a section of a five-story block of flats to collapse in the border town of Shebekino, which often comes under attack from the Ukrainian side.
Emergency services said rescuers were still searching through the rubble.
Russia said it had downed 87 Ukrainian drones, 70 of which had targeted the southern Rostov region that houses the headquarters of its military operation against Ukraine.
The defense ministry said 70 drones were downed over Rostov, six each over Kursk and Voronezh, two each over Volgograd and the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, and one over the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Attacks sparked power cuts in several areas of the Rostov region, its governor Vasily Golubev said on social media.
In the Voronezh region, which borders Ukraine, a fuel reservoir was slightly damaged by falling debris, its governor Alexander Gusev said.
Kyiv meanwhile said that Ukrainian air-defense systems had downed 24 out of 31 Russian drones and missiles fired overnight.
During the day, drone attacks killed a 54-year-old man in the southern Kherson region and wounded a 17-year-old girl in the eastern city of Dnipro, regional authorities said.
Three people were wounded in a drone attack in the eastern Sumy region and several homes were damaged in the neighboring Kharkiv region.