The World Today for July 27, 2023

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A Worrying Popularity


When Thai voters cast their ballots for a new parliament in May, they roundly rejected allies of the military that had ruled the Southeast Asian country for nine years, opting instead for the progressive Move Forward and populist Pheu Thai political parties.

But when Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, won the approval of officials in Pheu Thai and six other parties to become prime minister, Thailand’s pro-military and pro-royalist Senate overruled that choice. Now the coalition is hoping that senators will support the Pheu Thai candidate Srettha Thavisin, a real estate mogul and political newcomer, for prime minister, Reuters reported.

The Thai military and supporters of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who technically is apolitical, oppose Move Forward because Pita and other party leaders are seeking to reduce the role of generals and royalists in government. Instead, they want to reform the policies that allow them to protect their positions of power, including the new constitution that the junta drafted in 2017, explained the Washington Post.

Move Forward, for example, wants to amend the 1956 lèse-majesté law that imposes a prison sentence of up to 15 years for anyone convicted of defaming, insulting, or threatening the royal family, noted Nikkei Asia. Pita would reduce the sentence to one year and limit the scope of complaints that could trigger the charges.

Pita’s opponents have filed a lawsuit against him, however, saying the proposal is the equivalent of “overthrowing the state,” a charge that could carry a hefty punishment. Pheu Thai leaders don’t support Move Forward’s proposal.

Pita, incidentally, is also facing a lawsuit that could prevent him from sitting in parliament. He allegedly owned shares in a media company when running for office, violating Thai law. He faces 10 years in jail, a fine, and a ban on participating in politics for 20 years.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha told reporters the vote he had scheduled for Thursday to select a new prime minister would be postponed pending a decision from the Constitutional Court. The state ombudsman has asked the court to rule whether it was legal to bar Pita from being nominated as a prime ministerial candidate a second time, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Thai citizens like Pita. He’s a breath of fresh air, a fighter who has stood up to the conservative forces whom Human Rights Watch accused of committing the “unending repression” of their human rights and freedoms, including the right to express dissent.

“It seems that he is popular among a wide section of the population: the young, the old, the elderly, even the conservatives,” Napon Jatusripitak, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore-based think tank, told the Guardian.

Prayuth Chan-Ocha is the current albeit caretaker prime minister who assumed office in a coup in 2014. As Move Forward, Pheu Thai, and other parties figure out who will replace him, policymaking is stalled, reported Bloomberg. Meanwhile, exports are slowing due to worldwide economic troubles while protests in the streets against the military and royalists’ influence are threatening to dampen the country’s all-important tourism industry.

Those are dire threats that might disappear if people just got what they wanted.


Patterns and Promises


A group of mutinous soldiers from Niger’s Presidential Guard claimed in a televised address late Wednesday to have overthrown the country’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, the Associated Press reported.

Speaking in front of a group of military officers calling themselves the Council for the Safeguarding of the Country, spokesperson Col. Major Amadou Abdramane said the coup was a result of “the continuing degradation of the security situation, the bad economic and social governance.”

The plotters earlier sealed off the presidential palace in the capital Niamey and taken Bazoum and his family prisoner, and all institutions were suspended, the country’s land and air borders were closed and a nationwide curfew was in place, he added.

However, gunfire was reported in Niamey Thursday morning as demonstrators approached the palace, the AP reported.

The president’s office had posted on Twitter Wednesday that the president and his family were well, and that the presidential guards had tried “in vain” to gain the support of other members of the security forces for their “anti-Republican demonstration,” Al Jazeera wrote.

But at the time of Abradmane’s announcement neither Bazoum’s whereabouts nor whether he had resigned were known.

The situation has triggered concerns about yet another coup in West Africa, a region that has experienced a series of military takeovers over the past three years, including in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu condemned Wednesday’s coup attempt and warned that the powerful regional bloc, ECOWAS, would not accept “any action that impedes the smooth functioning of legitimate authority in Niger or any part of West Africa.”

Benin President Patrice Talon was expected to arrive in Niamey Thursday in a bid to mediate between the two sides.

Bazoum was elected in a 2021 vote that marked the first democratic transition of power in Niger, a country that has experienced four military coups since it gained independence from France in 1960.

In March 2021, a military unit attempted to seize the presidential palace just days before Bazoum was to be sworn in.

Niger is a crucial ally for Western powers supporting local troops fighting extremists in a conflict that began in Mali in 2012 and has since spread to neighboring countries.

France moved its troops from Mali to Niger last year, amid souring relations with Mali’s military junta – a recurring pattern in former French colonies in the region.

A New King


Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will resign next month and hand power to his son, an announcement that came just days after his ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) secured a landslide victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

The 70-year-old leader announced the decision in a televised address, saying parliament will confirm his son, Gen. Hun Manet, as the country’s new prime minister on Aug. 22.

Hun Sen had previously hinted he would step down in favor of his son at some point after the July 23 election, adding that he will “still control politics as the head of the ruling party.”

The announcement came three days after the CPP swept the parliamentary vote, winning 120 of 125 seats in the legislature, Bloomberg added. The ruling party ran virtually unopposed after the government had suppressed any meaningful opposition over the years by jailing dozens of critics and shuttering dissenting news media outlets.

Many Western nations criticized the vote, with the United States imposing visa restrictions on individuals “who undermined democracy and implemented a pause of certain foreign assistance programs.”

In power since 1985, Hun Sen has brought Cambodia much closer to China in order to improve its economy, in return for supporting Beijing’s geopolitical aims in the region.

Analysts told Bloomberg that his son could potentially lead to a diplomatic reset between Cambodia and Western governments – but that will depend on how active Hun Sen will be in the country’s politics.

Closing a Chapter


A Belgian court convicted eight men in connection to the 2016 terrorist attacks that rocked the country’s capital, killing 35 people and injuring hundreds, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In March 2016, two separate suicide bombings took place in Brussels, at the international airport and at a metro stop. The terrorist organization Islamic State claimed responsibility.

On Tuesday, the court found six men guilty of murder and two more were convicted on charges of belonging to a terrorist group. Two other defendants were acquitted.

The defendants also included Salah Abdeslam, who is already serving a life sentence in France for his involvement in the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people and injured 350 others, the Guardian wrote.

French authorities allowed Abdeslam, along with four others, to be transported to Belgium to be put on trial for the country’s biggest peacetime attack.

The verdicts mark the conclusion of the largest trial in Belgium’s legal history, involving more than 900 civil plaintiffs, and that lasted several months. Sentencing is expected to take place later this year.


Skin and Bones

The debate about when humans first arrived in the Americas is getting more intense after a new study found evidence that they were already in South America some 25,000 years ago, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Human arrival to the Americas is believed to have taken place around 16,000 years ago, but recent archaeological discoveries have hinted that it was much earlier: In 2013, a study conducted at the Brazilian cave of Toca da Tira Peia revealed that human-made objects found there dated back 22,000 years.

Recently, however, a research team studied artifacts found in the Santa Elina rock shelter in central Brazil, a site rich with cave paintings and stone tools.

They focused on three osteoderms belonging to giant sloths, an extinct behemoth that could grow to 13 feet in length and weighed more than 3,700 pounds.

These osteoderms – bony deposits found within the skin of some animals – had small holes and the researchers closely analyzed these fissures to determine if they were human-made or created by rodents.

Their findings suggested that ancient people had drilled these holes, suggesting that the osteoderms could have been used as ornaments. When the team dated the remains, they turned out to be between 25,000 to 27,000 years old.

This means that humans were already present in South America before the Last Glacial Maximum – the coldest part of the last Ice Age – 21,000 years ago, the authors said.

They told LiveScience that more research of other archaeological sites across South America could help settle the long-running debate about the prehistoric arrivals.

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