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“I am so thrilled to see a lot people turned out to join the protest today,” said Arnon Nampa, one of the protest leaders. “The movement has gone beyond just the youth group — as you see there are more older people, and some of them even attended the protest with their family.”

Nampa, a human rights lawyer, was arrested and briefly detained on August 7 on sedition charges relating to an earlier protest he had attended.

“I am not afraid, I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. The court granted me bail, I should not repeat the same offenses but it doesn’t mean I can’t exercise my rights under the constitution,” he said.

A small but increasingly vocal group is calling for reform of the monarchy — a radical idea in Thailand, where the powerful royal institution is regarded by many with deity-like reverence. The country has some of the strictest lese majeste laws in the world and defaming the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent can mean a 15-year jail sentence.

The law has increasingly been used as a political tool, as ordinary Thai citizens — as well as the government — can bring charges on behalf of the King.

Those who have fallen foul of the law in the past include one man accused of “liking” a Facebook page deemed insulting to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting a sarcastic photo of his pet dog.

But grievances once whispered in the private confines of living rooms are now being publicly aired over speakerphone to thousands of listeners, expressing the extent of protesters’ disillusionment with Thailand’s governing institutions.

“It’s very radical and could be a turning point,” Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, said of the calls for royal reform. Pavin, an exiled Thai dissident himself, said Thailand “has long had a tradition of putting the monarchy above everything else. The monarchy is revered, you have to love it unconditionally.”

A dangerous line

Although absolute monarchy was abolished in Thailand in 1932, the monarch still wields significant political influence.

On August 10, another protest at Bangkok’s Thammasat University laid out a series of 10 demands for reform that boil down to ensuring a genuine constitutional monarchy that places the monarch under the constitution.

King Bhumibol, who reigned for 70 years until his death in 2016, was beloved by many in the country. He was seen as a stable father figure throughout decades of political turbulence, who worked to improve the lives of ordinary Thais and exercised moral authority.
His son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who assumed the throne in 2016 and was crowned in May 2019, doesn’t hold that same moral authority. Due to the lese majeste law, CNN has limits in reporting the full context surrounding the Thai monarch.
Thai police patrol an anti-government rally at Democracy Monument on August 16, 2020 in Bangkok.

Experts say demands for monarchy reform have previously only been made by fringe groups, and protesters are changing the game by talking about such issues so publicly and openly.

“The protests in Thailand are historic because this is the first time in Thailand’s history that urban demonstrators have demanded such reforms,” said Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser at Naresuan University’s Center of ASEAN Community Studies.

“It is important to understand that, with a large group of demonstrators demanding monarchical reform, the cat is out of the bag for the first time, meaning that henceforth monarchical reform is a valid demand for Thai demonstrators.”

Observers say this is a crucial time for Thailand. Calls for monarchy reform could alienate large numbers of protesters, but pushing too hard could spark a violent backlash or a military crackdown, which could ultimately serve to draw more support for the movement.

In July, Prime Minister Prayut said he was “worried and concerned about this movement” and warned protesters against violating the monarchy.

“I feel for our children, youths and university students and I also share their parents’ worries too. But there must be a vigilance about violations, I think people won’t tolerate it and allow an incident like this to happen again.,” he said.

While no protesters have yet been arrested on charges of lese majeste, at least two protest leaders — Nampa and Parit Chiwarak, a core leader of the Student Union of Thailand — were arrested on other charges, before being released.

‘Harry Potter’ chants and ‘Hunger Games’ salutes

The protesters’ anger has been fueled by a multitude of what they say are injustices: from the military’s continued hold on power, the prolonged coronavirus state of emergency — which they say is being used to stifle political opposition and free speech — to a flailing economy that offers them little job prospects, and the disappearance of democracy activists living in exile.

Protest organizers Free People, a coalition of student groups, on Sunday called for the end of military coups and an unelected national government. The sudden transfer of power in 2014 was the 12th time the military had taken over since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Chanting “dictatorship must be destroyed” and “democracy shall prosper,” protesters demanded authorities stop intimidating those who come out to exercise their democratic rights.

Many have taken inspiration from movies to illustrate their demands. Some dressed in Harry Potter costumes and chanted verses from the popular franchise to dispel dictatorship. Protesters have used the Harry Potter theme at previous rallies, with protest leaders saying it represents the fight to remove the military from politics and protect the peoples’ rights and freedoms.

Led by people on stage, protesters sang a Thai version of “Do You Hear The People Sing?” from “Les Miserables.” The song was core anthem of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, which rocked the city for six months in 2019.

Protesters give a three finger salute at a rally at Democracy Monument on August 16, 2020 in Bangkok.

Protesters also flashed the three-fingered salute from the “Hunger Games” movie franchise, which has become a symbol of defiance against the Thai government since the 2014 military coup.

One high school girl attended the protest in her school uniform along with her boyfriend. They used gaffer tape to cover the name of their school and to hide their identities.

“I really wanted to join the protest, my parents don’t know I am here. If I told them they would have stopped me. I want Thailand to be (a place) with more freedom of speech. We are not brainwashed, we know what is happening in Thailand,” said the girl, who didn’t give her name for fear of reprisals.

Her boyfriend, who also didn’t want to give his name, said, “Our country doesn’t belong to just one single group or like-minded people, we should be able to be different and have our own thoughts.”

At schools in Bangkok and southern Thailand on Monday, video posted to social media showed students singing the national anthem while wearing white ribbons and making the three-fingered salute. Traditionally, Thai citizens are supposed to stand still to pay respects to the anthem — played twice daily in public spaces — and the rule is even stricter in schools.

CNN cannot independently verify the videos.

Wanting a fresh kind of politics, young people made their mark on the 2019 elections by turning out to vote for new, progressive, pro-democracy parties. But they were thwarted in part by a military-drafted constitution that enabled the generals to keep hold of power via the Senate led by an unelected Prime Minister.

While the military-backed ruling coalition promised to restore stability to a nation rocked by decades of coups and political crises, many of the country’s young people feel Prayut’s government has done little to improve their economic prospects, restore democracy, or build confidence in the people.

“There are so many injustices in this country,” the high school student said. “The poor are getting poorer, how can people without enough money afford good education. It is impossible.”

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Trump’s ex-Russia adviser Fiona Hill: US increasingly seen as ‘object of pity’

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“We are increasingly seen as an object of pity, including by our allies, because they are so shocked by what’s happening internally, how we’re eating ourselves alive with our divisions,” Fiona Hill, who was a witness in the Trump impeachment hearings, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Tuesday during the Citizen by CNN 2020 conference. “We’re the ones who are creating all this. It’s not the Russians or the Chinese or anyone else. We are doing this to ourselves.”

Asked whether the US is still seen as a model, Hill replied, “Unless we get our domestic act together, no.”

Her comments come on the heels of a recent Pew Research Center survey among 13 nations that found America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among its key allies, with part of the decline linked to the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What is really eroding our standing is what people are seeing happening here in the United States,” Hill, who was a national security adviser until she left the administration last summer, told CNN on Tuesday.

She said it’s the “bungled handling of Covid, on top of race relations, on top of our political polarization and the spectacles that we’re presenting to the outside world is what’s really pushing all of this.”

Hill said it would be “difficult” for NATO to survive under a second term of President Donald Trump, adding that the US needs to “revitalize our commitment to NATO.”

“Right now, most of our closest allies, not just partners and other major players, do not see the United States as leading. They see us as quite the contrary, as being so consumed with domestic problems that we really can’t do anything very much at all,” she said.

During congressional hearings in the 2019 impeachment inquiry, Hill warned that the Republican defense of the President — by peddling Ukraine conspiracy theories — was in danger of extending Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

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House hits pause on spending vote as Hill leaders resume talks

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Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to reach a deal to avert last-minute drama, though the two parties have squabbled for weeks over various funding and policy provisions in the continuing resolution, which would buy more time for negotiations on a broader spending deal.

“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, though he did not comment when asked if he’d spoken with Pelosi.

Without a spending agreement, top Democrats and Republicans would find themselves exactly where they don’t want to be just weeks before the election — perilously close to the Sept. 30 deadline with no agreement to keep the government open.

A deal had appeared to be coming together on Friday, including tens of billions of dollars in farmer payments that Republicans sought in exchange for $2 billion in pandemic-related nutritional assistance that Democrats wanted.

But last-minute objections to the trade relief — including Democratic concerns that the president is leveraging the money to boost his reelection chances — tanked the talks. House Democrats ultimately released stopgap legislation on Monday that lacked both provisions, drawing the ire of McConnell, who tweeted that it “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”

Both Pelosi and McConnell have been adamant about avoiding yet another government shutdown under President Donald Trump, and have supported a bill to extend funding through mid-December.

Senate Republicans on Monday said a lack of relief for farmers in the stopgap spending bill is problematic. But most stressed that it’s not worth shutting down the government in protest and said their side of the Capitol could still attempt to amend the bill.

“We could offer an amendment to try to put it back,” Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of the trade aid on Monday. “Or we could vote against the CR. But I’m for running the government. I’d prefer to keep the government running.”

Asked if Republicans would be willing to spend more on food-related assistance in exchange for the farm aid, Shelby said Tuesday: “I’d listen to reason on that.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, slammed the lack of assistance for farmers. But when asked if Republicans would shut down the government without it, he replied, “No.”

As of Friday, Democrats had dropped a request that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November. Democrats had also failed to secure $3.6 billion in election security grants.

The GOP demands for farm aid, however, have emerged as a sticking point for many rank-and-file Democrats, who have been increasingly irate about Trump’s blatant use of farm aid for political purposes. That includes a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis., last week, where Trump touted the taxpayer money as if it were a gift from him.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the No. 4 Senate Democrat and ranking member of the agriculture committee, this week criticized Trump’s use of the program as a “slush fund” and argued Republicans have been unwilling to agree to stricter guardrails around how the aid can be spent.

“This is not just a political fund for the election,” she said.

Helena Bottemiller Evich contributed to this report.

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Nicola Sturgeon Has Banned Household Mixing In Scotland And Claimed English Measures Do Not Go Far Enough

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has banned household mixing (Credit: PA)

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Nicola Sturgeon has announced a ban on households mixing in Scotland, claiming experts say the restrictions introduced in England by Boris Johnson do not go far enough.

The first minister said the Scottish government’s top experts had warned the curbs announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday would not make a big enough impact on Covid-19 transmission rates.

“The advice given to the Cabinet by the chief medical officer and the national clinical director is that this on its own will not be sufficient to bring the R number down,” she told the Scottish parliament.

“They stress that we must act, not just quickly and decisively, but also on a scale significant enough to have an impact on the spread of the virus, and they advise that we must take account of the fact that household interaction is a key driver of transmission.”

Mr Johnson has imposed a 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry from midnight on Thursday, as well as a legal requirement for those working in the sector, and in retail, to wear masks.

The PM stopped short of preventing different households from socialising with each other outside of local lockdown areas, but said people should work from home wherever possible.

Mrs Sturgeon said she planned to impose similar restrictions on pubs, bars and restaurants but would also go further.

“To that end, we intend as Northern Ireland did yesterday to also introduce nationwide additional restrictions on household gatherings, similar to those already in place in the west of Scotland,” she added.

Earlier in the Commons, Mr Johnson claimed the four nations of the UK were following “similar” restriction plans, despite Northern Ireland announcing on Monday that it would ban socialising between households.

This applies in places like pubs and restaurants as well as in people’s homes.

In Wales, people are not allowed to mix indoors with people outside their own household or support bubble, and meetings or gatherings indoors even within an extended household is limited to six people.

Reports suggest insiders were worried about the prospect of Mrs Sturgeon diverging and implementing a “circuit-breaker” of stricter measures – leaving the actions of Mr Johnson’s government further exposed should they fail.

Some members of the prime minister’s frontbench – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel – are believed to have lobbied for lighter intervention, while other cabinet ministers were in favour of a more drastic approach.

Mr Johnson told MPs: “I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March.  We’re not issuing a genuine instruction to stay at home, we will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.”

He added: “We will continue to act against local flare ups, working alongside councils and strengthening measures where necessary.”

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