The World Today for March 22, 2023

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Rubber Duck Politics


Thai authorities sentenced a man to jail for two years for peddling calendars featuring rubber ducks in monarchic regalia because insulting the Thai king is illegal in the southeast Asian country. As the BBC noted, the rubber duck happens to be a symbol of the pro-democracy movement in the country, leading critics to charge that the police were enforcing the law not to protect the head of state per se, but to crack down on free speech.

“I feel it’s just a duck, why does it have to be so serious?” said the convicted man Narathorn Chotmankongsin, 26, in an interview with WAtoday, an online newspaper based in Western Australia. Chotmankongsin, who is now out on bail pending appeal, added: “The content is not rude, it didn’t name anyone. And it could be positive. Unless you put your interpretation into it (it’s just cute ducks).”

Such moves are part of a trend that dissident Thais say represents the government’s response to civil unrest stemming from inflation, higher living costs, stagnant wages, and other economic issues as well as political dissatisfaction. Last year, as Voice of America reported, for example, protesters took to the streets in the capital of Bangkok and other cities to voice their displeasure over the country’s constitutional court allowing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to remain in office, as he has been since taking over in a coup in 2014.

Three years later he and his military allies issued a new constitution limiting the prime minister to eight years in office. Opponents said that limit was reached in 2022, but the court ruled that he had not yet served his full term as the constitution took effect in 2017, and he could remain in office until elections are held this May – in which he is standing again for PM.

Now the constitution does not assure pro-democracy activists that the May election will be free and fair. The election rules are designed to favor the large establishment parties like Prayuth’s United Thai Nation political party, noted Bloomberg.

Security forces have clashed with these activists, especially those under the age of 18 who have been among the most vocal critics of the junta’s rule as well as the unfettered power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who assumed the throne when his father died in 2016. Almost 300 minors are now in jail and face years in prison, often on charges of sedition or insulting the monarchy, according to Amnesty International.

The crackdown has quieted the youth movement. “The valiant effort young Thais sustained for two years against an unwavering regime has left many of them feeling burnt out,” the Diplomat wrote.

While the youth protest movement may be quiet for the moment, they likely won’t be silent during the elections.


Green Light


A Swedish court ruled Tuesday that hundreds of climate activists, including well-known advocate Greta Thunberg, can sue Sweden’s government for having an “insufficient climate policy,” Al Jazeera reported.

In November, Thunberg and 600 other young activists in a group called Aurora brought a class action lawsuit against the government of Sweden, saying it had to do more to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) in order to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Aurora is requesting the court to rule that Sweden must reduce emissions by at least 6.5 to 9.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, applicable retroactively to 2019.

The Nacka District Court approved the lawsuit after the group tweaked its claim. It added that the Swedish government has three months to respond to the lawsuit before the case can be heard or settled.

The litigation marks the latest example of climate activists suing governments and companies in recent years, according to the Associated Press.

In one of the most well-known cases, Germany’s highest court decided in 2021 that the government needed to adjust its climate goals in order to avoid unjustly burdening the young.

The German government responded by moving the deadline for achieving “net zero” emissions forward by five years to 2045, and increased the number of ambitious short- and medium-term actions it would take to get there.

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the “climate time bomb is ticking,” and urged wealthy nations to reduce emissions more quickly after a new UN scientific assessment indicated that there was not much time left to address climate change.

Killing the Messengers


Ecuadorian authorities began investigating a series of letter bombs addressed to TV and radio stations this week, an act officials and press advocates have described as “an absolutely clear message to silence journalists,” CBS News reported.

Interior Minister Juan Zapata said the letter bombs were sent to at least five journalists in different cities, including the capital Quito. He added that all the letter bombs consisted of USB sticks, which potentially carried explosive material.

Police in the port city of Guayaquil said one envelope contained a USB stick that exploded when a journalist plugged it into a computer. The explosion slightly injured journalist Lenin Artieda of the Ecuavisa TV station.

Law enforcement officials said that the USB drive likely carried RDX, a military-grade explosive.

Ecuador’s prosecutor general, meanwhile, launched an investigation into the “terrorism,” but did not say why the news stations were targeted.

Press groups and government officials strongly condemned the attacks.

The letter bombs underscore the issue of rising insecurity in Ecuador, a country located between Peru and Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producers.

The Latin American nation has become a hub for the global drug trade in recent years: In 2021, Ecuadorian authorities seized a record 210 tons of narcotics, mostly cocaine.

Ecuador is currently dealing with criminal gangs fighting for control of drug trafficking routes. President Guillermo Lasso has declared war on gangs that control the drug trade from prisons rife with violence – more than 400 inmates have been killed since 2021.

In 2022, Ecuador’s murder rate rose to 25 per 100,000 inhabitants, from 14 per 100,000 residents the year before.

Stumbling Forward


Sudan’s army leaders and main pro-democracy forces will establish a new civilian-led government next month in an effort to restore the African nation’s transition to democracy following last year’s military coup, the Associated Press reported.

Officials said this week the two factions stated they will sign an agreement on a political settlement in early April to form a transitional government by April 11.

Since October 2021, Sudan has been plunged into chaos following a military coup that removed the country’s Western-backed transitional government. That takeover upended the African country’s move to democracy which came about due following mass anti-government protests that led to the ousting of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir.

Amid international pressure, the military junta and the country’s largest pro-democracy group signed a framework agreement in December to establish a new civilian-led transitional government to usher Sudan toward elections.

But consensus-building has been slow and some of the country’s thorniest political issues, including security sector reform and transitional justice, remain unresolved.

Major political players – including rebel groups and some pro-democracy advocates – have rejected the deal, with some saying they have been targeted by the junta for complaining about it, Africanews wrote.

Observers noted that Sudan’s political transition would almost certainly result in new flows of cash entering the country.

Since the coup, international aid has dried up. Bread and gasoline shortages, exacerbated in part by the war in Ukraine, have become the norm, further destabilizing Sudan’s already-fragile economy.


Odin’s Man

In 2020, archaeologists uncovered a treasure trove in Vindelev, central Denmark, which included Roman coins that had been reworked into jewelry.

Among them was a fifth-century gold disc, known as bracteate, depicting some runic inscriptions and the image of a person.

Recently, academics closely studied the precious artifact and discovered that it contained the earliest mention of the Norse god Odin, NBC News reported.

“He is Odin’s man,” said linguist Krister Vasshus, who helped decipher the inscription on the gold disc. He added that the bracteate also features the name or nickname “Jaga” or “JagaR,” who might have been the king or ruler of the place where the disc was made.

Vasshus and other researchers noted Odin existed as a concept or deity long before the bracteate’s creation, but it was still an exciting find.

“(This) can tell us something about the relationship people had with their gods and possibly even how divine rulership was organized in Scandinavia at this time,” he said.

Odin appears in various pre-Christian belief systems across northern Europe in the centuries following the collapse of the Roman empire. He was known as Wōden to the Saxons, who colonized England in the fifth and sixth centuries.

Father of the god of thunder, Thor, some traditions consider Odin as the ruler of the Norse deities.

Before the discovery of the Vindelev hoard, the first mention of Odin was a brooch discovered in southern Germany dating from the latter half of the sixth century.


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