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Why are Thai students protesting against King Vajiralongkorn? | Thailand News

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In the biggest and boldest protests since Thailand’s 2014 coup, students and young activists – intent on shaking up a stultifying political order – are taking on the country’s most powerful players: King Maha Vajiralongkorn and general-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Borrowing from Harry Potter, the Hunger Games and other pop culture hits, the protesters have been holding near-daily demonstrations for more than a month.

They are calling for systemic democratic reforms – the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment of opponents, amendments to the constitution – as well as curbs on the king’s powers, a long-standing taboo in Thailand where criticism of the monarchy is punishable with up to 15 years in jail.

“It’s all very exciting,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic and prominent critic of the monarchy who lives in exile in Japan. “The protesters are young; they are social media savvy. They use new and creative tactics in their protests. They have many different leaders. And most importantly, they have clear demands. This could be a new turning point in Thai politics.”

The triggers of the protests – which appear to be gathering momentum, recently drawing in high school students and labour unions – are wide-ranging.

Key among them is the close ties between the monarchy and the military, an alliance some protesters have denounced as “enemy to the principles of democracy”. 

Prayuth, who seized power after Thailand’s second coup in as many decades, scrapped the country’s constitution in 2014 and had the military write a new charter that increased the king’s powers and entrenched the pro-military royalists.

The document, ratified in April 2017, months after King Vajiralongkorn took the throne, removed the need for the monarch to appoint a regent when he travelled overseas, and allowed the military to appoint a 250-member Senate that was to have a say in selecting the new prime minister.

In the long-delayed general election that was finally held in March last year, the pro-military Palang Pracharat came second but Prayuth remained prime minister, with the backing of the unelected Senate and the support of smaller parties.

‘Closer to an absolute monarchy’

At the same time, King Vajiralongkorn was moving to consolidate his personal position.

In July 2017, the military-appointed legislative assembly amended the royal property law to give the king full control of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the crown’s estimated $30bn fortune.

Then, in October of last year, the king also placed two army units directly under his control, moves Joshua Kurlantzick at the Council on Foreign Relations, called an indication of Vajiralongkorn’s intent to push the country “closer to an absolute monarchy”. 

Writing in the World Politics Review, Kurlantzick said the new king was not like his late revered father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who intervened in politics in secret or via proxies. Instead, Vajiralongkorn has “managed to maneuver himself to the centre of Thai politics, decreasing the power of both the army and politicians along the way”.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha standing in front of a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn while receiving a copy of a July 16 speech by the monarch at a ceremony in Bangkok [File: Handout/ Royal Thai government via AFP]

The new king’s overt involvement in politics – combined with his preference to spend much of his time outside Thailand, even during the coronavirus pandemic – prompted a backlash, with critics taking to Twitter in March to question the role of the monarch. The hashtag #whydoweneedaking started trending and on March 22, it was used more than 1.2 million times, prompting a government minister to warn Thais against breaking laws on online content.

Thongchai Winichakul, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the 2014 coup “brought back strong waves of ultra-royalism” to Thai society, boosting the king’s standing. At the same time, “it is no secret that the coup regime remains in power due to the support of the palace,” he said. 

Crackdown

To make matters worse, the entrenchment of the monarchy and the military in Thai politics was accompanied by a crackdown on critics and dissidents.

Late last year, the Constitutional Court disqualified Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 41-year-old billionaire popular with young voters, from the parliament for holding shares in a media company on the date he registered as a candidate for the election.

Then, in February, the top court went on to dissolve Thanathorn’s fledgeling pro-democracy Future Forward Party, which rode a wave of popular support to win the third-highest number of seats in parliament. The disbanding of the party prompted protests at the Chulalongkorn University in central Bangkok, with students laying out a funeral wreath labelled, “RIP Democracy”.

“The rapid rise and success of the Future Forward Party in the 2019 election was phenomenal,” said Thongchai. “The main source of its success is the young generation. In retrospect, it represented the brewing dissatisfaction that is erupting today. The Future Forward Party was outspoken on many issues including opposing the building up of military force under the direct command of the palace.”

He added, “Only politically naive people would believe that the party’s dissolution has nothing to do with its progressive politics and its criticism of the monarchy.” 

The student protests, after subsiding briefly because of the pandemic, resumed in June with the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a dissident who was kidnapped from outside his apartment in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. He was the ninth Thai activist to have disappeared from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam after fleeing the 2014 coup, according to rights groups.

The demonstrations gathered pace in late July, with several protesters burning portraits of Prayuth near the Government House in the capital, Bangkok, and scores more staging a run around the city’s Democracy Monument, singing an altered jingle to the Japanese cartoon, Hamtaro. The revised lyrics described the government as hungry hamsters devouring taxpayer money.

A Harry Potter-themed protest followed on August 3, with hundreds of people dressed in wizard costumes waving chopstick-wands in the air and casting mock-spells to protect Thai democracy. There, for the first time in decades, Anon Nampa, a 35-year-old human rights lawyer, openly called for reforms to the monarchy. 

“We must be able to speak about this publicly,” he told the crowd. “If we don’t discuss it, we will never be able to fix the problem … I speak so that the institution can exist in the society rightfully, under a democracy with the king as head of state.”

Harry Potter-themed pro-democracy protest in Bangkok

Anon Nampa, right and other pro-democracy protesters dressed as wizards attend a Harry Potter-themed protest demanding the resignation of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Thailand, August 3, 2020 [Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]

A group of students followed up Anon’s speech with an even more detailed call for reform, presenting a 10-point plan on August 10, calling on the king not to “endorse further coups” and to revoke the country’s harsh lese majeste laws.

The declaration from the Student Union of the Thammasat University lambasted the “mutually beneficial” ties between the army and the military, saying, “Such a situation constitutes an enemy to the principles of a democracy with the king as head of the state.”

‘Young people are fed up’

On August 16, an even larger crowd of more than 10,000 people gathered in Bangkok, in support of the students’ call for democracy and monarchy reform. Two days later, pupils at more than a dozen Thai high schools raised the three-finger Hunger Games salute, while many others sported white ribbons in a show of support for the protesters.

Students show support for the student-led democracy movement outside the Education Ministry in Bangkok

Students make the three-finger salute as they hold placards to show support for the student-led democracy movement outside the Education Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, August 19, 2020 [Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]

Matthew Wheeler, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the growing protests showed that “many Thais, especially young people, are fed up” with the current social and political order.

“The king is at the pinnacle of this hierarchy,” he said. “The government, born of a coup d’etat, has borrowed legitimacy of the monarchy to justify seizing power and instituting a political order that reserves power for an unelected elite.”

As the protests mount, the government has cracked down by arresting student leaders, rappers and activists, including Anon, the human rights lawyer, for taking part in the demonstrations. It has also moved to shut down online forums for debate, including a Facebook Page called the Royalist Marketplace, run by Pavin, the exiled academic in Japan.

But with Prayuth saying the king did not want prosecutions under the lese majeste laws, none of those detained has been charged under the harsh laws.

Wheeler said the students protests had put Prayuth’s government in a tough spot.

“The government will not easily relinquish their power and privileges. But there is little they can do at this point to quash the movement, short of repression on a massive scale that would hardly serve their interests,” he said. 

“It is also likely that any crackdown will cause a backlash against the government and greater support for those demanding change.”



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million

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Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe

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A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.



Source – observer.ug

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News

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Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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