Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to face trial for royal insult

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to face trial for royal insult
Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra‘s return from self-exile was interpreted as part of a political bargain between his Pheu Thai Party and the conservative establishment. (AP)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to face trial for royal insult

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to face trial for royal insult
  • The former prime minister will also be indicted for violating the Computer Crime Act
  • Thaksin had been in self-imposed exile since 2008, but returned to Thailand in August last year

BANGKOK: Thai prosecutors said Wednesday former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be indicted for defaming the monarchy, three months after he was freed on parole on other charges.
Thaksin will not yet be indicted because he had filed a request to postpone his original appointment on Wednesday with proof that he has COVID-19, Prayuth Bejraguna, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, said at a news conference.
The attorney general’s office scheduled a new appointment for Thaksin’s indictment on June 18, Prayuth said, adding that Thaksin will also be indicted for violating the Computer Crime Act.
Thaksin had been in self-imposed exile since 2008, but returned to Thailand in August last year to begin serving an eight-year sentence. He was released on parole in February from the hospital in Bangkok where he spent six months serving time for corruption-related offenses.
On his return, he was moved almost immediately from prison to the hospital on grounds of ill health, and about a week after that King Maha Vajiralongkorn reduced his sentence to a single year. Thaksin was granted parole because of his age — he is 74 — and ill health, leaving him free for the remainder of his one-year sentence.
His return was interpreted as part of a political bargain between his Pheu Thai Party and the conservative establishment — longstanding rivals — to stop the progressive Move Forward Party from forming a government following its victory in last year’s general election.
After his return, the attorney general’s office said it had revived an investigation into whether Thaksin almost nine years ago violated the law against defaming the monarch, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Thaksin was originally charged in 2016 with violating the law for remarks he made to journalists when he was in Seoul, South Korea, a year before that, but the investigation could proceed only after he was presented with the charge in person in the hospital in January, officials said. Thaksin had denied the charges and submitted a statement defending himself.
Prosecutor’s spokesperson Prayuth said there is enough evidence for the attorney general to indict Thaksin. He said the prosecutors have already prepared their statement and documents to present to the court next month.
Since his release, Thaksin has maintained a high profile and is believed to be wielding influence in the government led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. One analyst believes Thaksin’s growing influence has angered the ultra-conservatives and that the indictment is their response.
“It is designed to keep Thaksin under control. This is keeping him on a leash. If he doesn’t behave then this charge can be activated and could land him in jail. This is to curtail his movement and his maneuvers and to remind him, sending him a signal in a way, to know who’s in charge and to know he should not overstep the boundary,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, at professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.


Thaksin granted bail, media reports, as Thai court cases raise risk of political crisis

Thaksin granted bail, media reports, as Thai court cases raise risk of political crisis
Updated 59 min 56 sec ago
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Thaksin granted bail, media reports, as Thai court cases raise risk of political crisis

Thaksin granted bail, media reports, as Thai court cases raise risk of political crisis
  • Thaksin’s is the first of four high-profile cases involving key political players that are before the courts on Tuesday
  • The cases involve some of Thailand’s most powerful politicians, including its current prime minister

BANGKOK: Influential former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a powerful backer of the ruling government, was granted bail on Tuesday, local media reported, avoiding pre-trial detention for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a 2015 interview.
Thaksin’s is the first of four high-profile cases involving key political players that are before the courts on Tuesday, in the latest legal wrangling that could see Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy plunged into a new period of uncertainty.
The cases involve some of Thailand’s most powerful politicians, including its current prime minister, and could deepen a decades-old rift between the conservative-royalist establishment and its opponents, such as the populist ruling Pheu Thai party and the opposition Move Forward party.
Thaksin sought bail from a court in Bangkok shortly after the Attorney General formally indicted the 74-year-old billionaire for an offense that carries a maximum jail sentence of up to 15 years for each perceived royal insult.
Public broadcaster ThaiPBS and other local media reported the court had accepted 500,000 baht ($13,600) bail.
Separately, the Constitutional Court will conduct a hearing in a case lodged by a group of senators that could potentially see Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin dismissed from office for breaching the law in appointing a lawyer with a conviction record to his cabinet.
The same court will also hear a case seeking to disband the popular opposition Move Forward Party for their campaign to amend the country’s royal insult law, following a complaint by the Election Commission.
The court is expected to announce the next hearing or verdict date for cases involving Srettha and Move Forward on Tuesday.
The Constitutional Court will also rule whether the ongoing selection process for a new upper house, which started earlier this month and is scheduled to conclude in early July, is lawful.
If the court cancels or delays the process, it would temporarily extend the term of military-appointed senators who have a played crucial role in the formation of the previous government.
POWERFUL COURTS, RATTLED MARKETS
“The political parties and representatives that voters have chosen are being systematically and repeatedly stymied,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, told Reuters.
A single petition can bring down a sitting, elected government or oust a prime minister, he said, outlining the power of the country’s courts.
“There’s a judicial assertiveness that has been damaging to Thailand, subverting popular will and popular mandates.”
Such tensions have previously triggered violent street protests, dissolutions of political parties, airport closures and military coups that have hamstrung the economy.
Thai stock markets have been rattled by the spectre of a political crisis. The main stock index dropped to its lowest level since November 2020 on Monday, but was up more than 1 percent on Tuesday morning.


South Korean soldiers fire warning shots after North Korean troops intrude for second time this month

South Korean soldiers fire warning shots after North Korean troops intrude for second time this month
Updated 18 June 2024
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South Korean soldiers fire warning shots after North Korean troops intrude for second time this month

South Korean soldiers fire warning shots after North Korean troops intrude for second time this month
  • Around 20 to 30 North Korean soldiers, while engaging in unspecified construction work on the northern side of the border, briefly crossed the military demarcation line

SEOUL: South Korean soldiers fired warning shots to repel North Korean soldiers who temporarily crossed the rivals’ land border Tuesday for the second time this month, South Korea’s military said.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said around 20 to 30 North Korean soldiers, while engaging in unspecified construction work on the northern side of the border, briefly crossed the military demarcation line that bisects the countries as of 8:30 a.m. It said the North Korean soldiers retreated after the South broadcasts warnings and fired warning shots and the South’s military didn’t spot any suspicious activities after that.
The South also fired warning shots on June 11 after another group of North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the MDL. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Tuesday’s incident occurred in a different area along the central frontline region. It said it doesn’t believe the North Korean soldiers intruded the border intentionally and that the North did not return fire.
The South’s military said North Korean has been increasing construction activity in frontline border areas, such as installing suspected anti-tank barriers, reinforcing roads and planting land mines.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff also said it recently observed several explosions suspected to have been caused by mines in areas where North Korean soldiers were deployed for construction work, but that the activities continued despite an unspecified number of injuries or deaths.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said it anticipates North Korea will expand its border construction activities, which it said could be aimed at making it harder for North Korean civilians or soldiers to escape to the South as Pyongyang’s leadership attempts to strengthen its control over its people.
The border intrusions come as tensions rise between the war-divided rivals, who in recent weeks have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare and made it clear they are no longer bound by their landmark military agreement in 2018 to reduce tensions.
The Koreas’ heavily fortified border, referred to as the Demilitarized Zone, has occasionally been a site of bloodshed and violent confrontations between the rivals. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near 248-kilometer-long border, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides. It’s a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.


White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’

White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’
Updated 18 June 2024
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White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’

White House slams ‘cheapfake’ clips portraying Biden ‘freezing’
  • In one video, an apparently disoriented Biden appears to wander away from fellow world leaders while watching a skydiving display during a G7 summit in Italy last week

WASHINGTON: The White House on Monday criticized Republicans for spreading videos purported to show President Joe Biden’s mental and physical decline, saying the images had been deceptively cut and manipulated.
“It tells you everything that we need to know about how desperate Republicans are here,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, branding the clips as “cheapfake” videos.
Outlets including the New York Post and an official Republican social media account have shared several seemingly damning short videos in recent days of the 81-year-old president.
In one video, an apparently disoriented Biden appears to wander away from fellow world leaders while watching a skydiving display during a G7 summit in Italy last week.
But Jean-Pierre said the footage was misleadingly edited, and Biden instead was moving to give a thumbs up to the parachutists.
“This was widely fact checked ... including by conservative media,” she said at a media briefing, adding “if you run that tape a little bit longer than you’d see ... what was happening.”
Earlier in the week NBC also debunked the claim, posting footage caught by its own cameras from another angle online which showed Biden interacting with the parachutists just a few feet away.
Another widely-shared clip was a close-up shot of Biden standing still as world leaders danced close to him during a concert at the White House — which opponents said showed a state of confusion.
“The president stood there listening to the music, and he didn’t dance. Excuse me. I did not know not dancing was (...) a health issue,” Jean-Pierre said of the video.
And on the weekend, the New York Post again shared a video appearing to show Biden getting lost on stage during a fundraising event in California, before being pointed to an exit by former president Barack Obama.
Andrew Bates, another White House spokesman, said on X that Biden was instead waiting on the stage to appreciate the applause from his supporters.
And Eric Schultz, a senior Obama adviser, posted a link to the Post article on X, writing: “this did not happen.”
Biden’s main rival in the November election, Republican Donald Trump, has made Biden’s advancing age one of his main campaign rallying points, trying to position himself as an energetic alternative — despite being, at 78, just three years younger.
Whoever wins the vote will set a new age record.
Biden is already the oldest man to hold the office and would continue to be so, while if Trump wins, he would become the oldest ever at an inauguration.
 

 


Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
Updated 18 June 2024
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Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
  • Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants

ATHENS: Greece rejected Monday a BBC investigation that alleged its coast guard caused the deaths of dozens of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, denying accusations it had broken international law.
In an investigation published on its website on Monday, the BBC counted 43 migrants it said had died in the Aegean Sea after being turned back by Greek coast guards between May 2020 and May 2023.
Nine of the dead were deliberately thrown overboard, the publicly funded British broadcaster added.
Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis denied the claims.
“We monitor every publication, every investigation, but I repeat: what has been reported is in no way proven,” he said, adding the coast guard “saves dozens of human lives each day.”
Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants braving the perilous crossing from Turkiye’s western coast in the hope of reaching the European Union.
Though Athens has always denied the practice, numerous investigations by international media and rights groups have documented its existence, often with video evidence.
The BBC said its investigation examined 15 such pushback operations over a three-year period.
As well as basing its reporting on local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard, the BBC was able to interview eyewitnesses.
They include a Cameroonian national who said he and two other migrants were arrested after landing on the island of Samos in September 2021.
He said the police forced them onto a Greek coast guard boat, beating them as they went, before throwing them out into the water.
He was the only one to survive, with the bodies of his two companions — an Ivorian and another Cameroonian — washing up on the Turkish coast.
The eyewitness’s lawyers are calling for the Greek authorities to open a double murder case into the incident.
The EU said it was aware of the “terrible allegations.”
“Greek authorities, as in all EU member states, must fully respect obligations under the asylum and international law,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists in Brussels.
Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, have entered Greece in recent years from the sea and land borders with Turkiye.
The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.
In 2023, a migrant trawler with hundreds of people on board sank off the Greek coast, killing more than 600 people in one of Europe’s deadliest shipwrecks.
The survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard.
They allege that the coast guard took hours to mount a response to the sinking ship, despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.


Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’

Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’

Reclusive Taliban leader warns Afghans against earning money or gaining ‘worldly honor’
  • UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the invitation to the Doha meeting at the end of June does not imply recognition of the Taliban

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban’s reclusive supreme leader on Monday warned Afghans against earning money or gaining worldly honor at a time when the country is in the grip of humanitarian crises and isolated on the global stage.
Hibatullah Akhundzada gave his warning in a sermon to mark the festival of Eid Al-Adha at a mosque in southern Kandahar province, weeks before a Taliban delegation goes to Doha, Qatar for UN-hosted talks on Afghanistan.
This is the first round of talks the Taliban will attend since they seized power in August 2021. They weren’t invited to the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan in the first round, and they snubbed the second round because they wanted to be treated as the country’s official representatives.
No government recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, whose aid-dependent economy was plunged into turmoil following their takeover.
UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the invitation to the Doha meeting at the end of June does not imply recognition of the Taliban.
Akhundzada reminded Afghans of their duties as Muslims and made repeated calls for unity in his 23-minute sermon.
Messages by him and another influential Taliban figure, Sirajuddin Haqqani, to mark a religious festival in April showed tensions between hard-liners and more moderate elements who want to scrap harsher policies and attract more outside support.
In Monday’s message, Akhundzada said he wanted brotherhood among Muslims and that he was unhappy about differences between citizens and Taliban officials. Public dissent over Taliban edicts is rare, and protests are swiftly and sometimes violently quashed.
He said he would willingly accept any decision to remove him as supreme leader, as long as there was unity and agreement on his ouster. But he was unhappy about differences and disagreement between people.
“We were created to worship Allah and not to earn money or gain worldly honor,” Akhundzada said. “Our Islamic system is God’s system and we should stand by it. We have promised God that we will bring justice and Islamic law (to Afghanistan) but we cannot do this if we are not united. The benefit of your disunity reaches the enemy; the enemy takes advantage of it.”
The Taliban have used their interpretation of Islamic law to bar girls from education beyond the age of 11, ban women from public spaces, exclude them from many jobs, and enforce dress codes and male guardianship requirements.
Akhundzada told Taliban officials to listen to the advice of religious scholars and entrust them with authority. He said officials shouldn’t be arrogant, boast, or deny the truth about Islamic law.
Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, who has written several books about Afghanistan and the Taliban, said Akhundzada’s appeals for unity were a sign of desperation because he refused to spell out the real issues facing Afghans such as unemployment, economic development, and building a consensus for social reform.
“I would not be convinced that this was a meaningful speech if I were the Taliban,” said Rashid.
Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, said Akhundzada’s focus on unity may also be preemptive and meant to nip in the bud any possibility that rifts could flare up again.
He also questioned if the audience being targeted went beyond Afghans to focus on the global Muslim community.
“Operationally speaking, the Taliban don’t have transnational goals. But the supreme leader looks to command respect beyond Afghanistan’s borders,” said Kugelman.