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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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Nearly 100 whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand

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Some 97 whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to around midday local time on Sunday.

A power outage and the remote location of New Zealand’s most eastern islands, around 500 miles east off the country’s South Island, meant Department of Conservation rangers did not arrive at Waitangi West Beach until 3 p.m., officials said.

“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement.

Pilot whales — small, toothed whales with a bulging forehead, a short snout and pointed flippers — are sociable creatures, and live in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands.

Two more whales were stranded on Monday and also had to be euthanized, the Department of Conservation said, adding that the whales will be left to decompose naturally.

Sri Lanka rescues 100 beached whales after mass stranding

Representatives from the Indigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust performed a karakii/karakia — a prayer, or incantation — to honor the spirit of the whales on Sunday, the department added.

Mass strandings are common on the Chatham Islands, according to the department, which said that up to 1,000 animals died in a stranding in 1918.

In September, more than 450 pilot whales beached in Tasmania, Australia, in that state’s largest ever beaching. At least a third died during rescue attempts.

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Rubio calls Biden’s national security team ‘polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline’

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In recent days Biden has announced plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — jobs whose occupants require Senate confirmation. The president-elect has also named Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser, a White House role on which the Senate has no say.

Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield and Sullivan join a handful of other high-profile nominees — former Secretary of State John Kerry among them — who have thus far been light on surprises and heavy on experienced hands and veterans of the Obama administration. Biden has not yet announced his pick for Defense secretary, a centerpiece of the national security apparatus, despite widespread speculation that the job would go to Michèle Flournoy.

Rubio ran for president in 2016 and remains one of the GOP’s highest-profile lawmakers. The Florida senator, a child of Cuban immigrants, has been especially vocal on issues related to foreign policy, and his concern about the U.S. relationship with China dovetails with one of the Trump administration’s basic international relations tenets.

Biden has vowed to counter China’s growing influence on the world stage while breaking from President Donald Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign affairs — especially with regard to the United States’ traditional allies, whom Trump at times has alienated and cajoled.

But the president-elect has to walk a fine line with his choices for administration posts that need Senate approval given the razor-thin margins in the chamber and the likelihood that nominees will need to garner Republican support to win confirmation. Some Republican senators have recently indicated a willingness to sign off on Biden’s Cabinet selections — while warning they will sink nominees they believe to be out of the political mainstream — potentially defusing what would be an early standoff in Biden’s presidency.

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The Finance Watchdog Says There’s “Evidence” Neither Ministers Or Businesses Are “Fully Prepared” For Brexit

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no mention of Brexit in his economic update

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The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned there is “evidence” that ministers and businesses are not prepared for “imminent changes” to the economy from Brexit.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire for failing to mention the potential impact of Brexit on the nation’s finances during the spending review, despite the OBR warning a no-deal outcome was a “material risk”.

The watchdog, which modelled a 11.3% contraction of the economy, said the figures were based on a presumption that ministers would strike a free trade deal with Brussels ahead of the 31 December deadline.

But it said the “unresolved nature” of the talks meant that “other outcomes are possible, including that no agreement is reached and the UK defaults to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January 2021.”

The finance watchdog concluded that under that scenario the UK’s GDP would be reduced by a further 2% in 2021, “due to various temporary disruptions to cross-border trade and the knock-on impacts”.

It added: “As these abate, the longer-term effects of lower trade instensity continue to build such that output is 1.5% lower than our central forecast after five years, and 2% lower in the long run…”

The analysis also found that a no-deal scenario would see borrowing likely rise by a further 0.5% of GDP from 2021-22.

And under its worst case scenario, which would also see vaccines failing to control the pandemic, the OBR predicted the additional impacts of a no-deal would lead to national debt reaching 126.3% of GDP by 2025-26.

“The degree of near-term disruption to economic activity associated with defaulting to WTO terms depend in part upon the preparedness of the Government and businesses to manage any additional administrative, regulatory, and customs requirements,” the report said.

“While both have had more time to prepare than when we last considered these issues in our [earlier report], they have also been distracted by the need to deal with the disruption caused by the virus.

“This is likely to have taken up personnel and resources at some businesses that would have otherwise been used to prepare for a no deal Brexit, while also running down cash reserves and inventories making them more vulnerable to shocks,” it went on.

Meanwhile, pointing to work carried out by business groups, the OBR said there was “evidence” that ministers and businesses were still not prepared for Brexit related disruption, even if a deal is signed.

The watchdog added: “We continue to assume that the UK and EU conclude a free-trade agreement (FTA) and that there is a smooth transition to the new trading relationship after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. However, there is evidence that neither the government nor businesses are fully prepared for the imminent changes even if a deal is agreed.”

Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s failure to address Brexit during his economic update, shadow chancellor Anneliesse Dodds, said: “In less than 40 days, we’re due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn’t even mention that in his speech.

“There’s still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he’s done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”

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