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Thailand junta: 'Prayuth displays flagrant disrespect for human rights, democratic norms, and Thailand’s international legal obligations'

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2014-10-15T095117Z_1_LYNXNPEA9E0E2_RTROPTP_4_THAILAND-POLITICSThe United Nations has said that the Thai government’s crackdown on dissent has led to a “shrinking democratic space” in the country. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also emphasized the need for freedoms of speech and assembly in Thailand to be upheld.

The UN statement coincides with a keynote speech to the UN General Assembly by Thai Prime Minister and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha.  The UN address and visit to the US were the first for Prayuth since he toppled Thailand’s elected government in a May 2014 coup. The military takeover and the sweeping crackdown on dissent that followed has been condemned by Western governments as well as the UN, which has expressed alarm about the “chilling effects on freedom of expression” in the country.

In the speech to world leaders in New York on Monday (28 September), Prayuth made no mention of his military takeover, instead highlighting his country’s commitment to sustainable development and "protecting human rights."  Prayuth, who also met Ban on Sunday in New York, insisted that Thailand has "always accorded priority to protecting and promoting human rights for all groups of people.

Criticism of his speech, however, was swift with Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) demanding that the international community "take a stand" in support of democracy in Thailand and against the actions of Prayuth.  Urging governments around the world to press for an immediate halt to human rights violations and a return to democratic civilian rule in Thailand, Santiago warned that the international community’s "failure to take serious measures" to push for a return to democracy in Thailand is sending a "dangerous signal" to the rest of the region.

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Santiago, a Malaysian MP, said: "Prayuth has increasingly demonstrated a flagrant disrespect for human rights, democratic norms, and Thailand’s international legal obligations." Thailand’s military rulers appear to have little intention to return the country to democratic civilian rule anytime soon, he said. The military-appointed legislature’s recent rejection of its own draft constitution, further delaying the timeline for elections, is the most recent evidence of this fact, said Santiago.

From the EU side, veteran British Socialist MEP David Martin said: "It is disappointing that Prime Minister Prayuth did not hint at a timetable for a return to democracy in Thailand at the UN General Assembly. His pledges on human rights sadly run contrary to the restrictions on freedom of expression the country is currently experiencing."

Elsewhere, UK Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, a member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told this website: "Prayuth and his fellow generals have slowly but surely eroded democratic norms. Freedom of speech has also fallen casualty to the cull on liberty. This perversion of the justice system is just one example of the Bangkok generals’ preference for abusing the tools of power."

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He added: "Europe should be concerned, not only for the sake of Thailand, but for the wider region East. The minds of European leaders are rightly occupied with how best to tackle the tide of migration which the continent now faces but the EU must be prepared to take an equally decisive stance elsewhere." During his meeting with Ban the general explained the need to delay elections in Thailand as the draft constitution had been rejected by the National Reform Council.

Fraser Cameron, of the Brussels-based EU-Asia Centre, said: "The EU will be very disappointed about Prayuth’s UN speech which failed to name a date for elections and which dismissed international concerns over the crack down on human rights in Thailand."

This year, the UN General Assembly is being held under the theme of 'The United Nations at 70: the road ahead for peace, security and human rights' and Ban expressed his condolences over the Erawan Shrine bombing in Bangkok which killed 20 people and wounded more than 100 in August.

2015 is a special year for the UN as it is celebrating its 70th anniversary and, in a 10-minute speech, Prayuth chose to focus on the Thai government's recent adoption of the 'Agenda 2030' programme. Protesters, however, were more concerned with human rights issues in the country. They lined the streets holding placards and shouting slogans as the general made his first appearance at the UN General Assembly.

Later, Prayuth told the gathering that Thailand was "undertaking comprehensive reforms on several fronts to make our country stronger and better in the hope that we will achieve security, prosperity, sustainability and pave the way toward resilient democracy.”

The general's legitimacy is regularly called into question on social media and in occasional demonstrations by those willing to defy a ban on protests and risk trial in military court and having their assets frozen. Prayuth is also under increasing pressure as Thailand’s economy slows, exports shrink and household debt rises.

There is no firm date for a return to elections and civilian rule, with the previous timeline delayed earlier this month when the junta’s reform council rejected a proposed draft constitution. Over the weekend Prayuth met with a group of U.S. investors and claimed Thailand would “definitely” become a democracy by mid-2017.

Despite widespread concerns about the situation in the country, Thailand has won endorsement by the group of 77 developing nations (G-77) to chair the 51-year-old bloc at the UN for 2016-2017. G-77 is the largest inter-governmental organisation of developing countries in the UN. The move may benefit Thailand's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member seat for the 2017-2018 term.

Rights groups said the UN General Assembly was an opportunity for the international community to pressure Prayuth and his appearance at the UN comes in the wake of a new report by Human Rights Watch that says more than 200 websites about the political and human rights situation in the country have been blocked for having content the junta considers threatening to national security. Since May 2014, HRW says the National Council for Peace and Order has summoned at least 751 people to report to the military authority. Asylum seekers have seen their rights "violated", it says, with 109 ethnic Uighurs being forcibly repatriated to China on 9 July.

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Belgium

Clashes break out in Brussels in protests over coronavirus restrictions

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Police and protesters clashed in the streets of Brussels on Sunday (21 November) in demonstrations over government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, with police firing water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators throwing rocks and smoke bombs, witnesses said, write Christian Levaux, Johnny Cotton and Sabine Siebold, Reuters.

About 35,000 people took part in demonstrations, police said, which began peacefully before violence broke out.

Protesters wearing black hoods threw stones at police as they advanced with water cannon at the main junction in front of the European Union Commission headquarters, Reuters journalists said.

Facing up to the police lines, the protesters held hands and chanted "freedom". One protester was carrying a placard reading "when tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty".

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Police forces stand guard as people protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures near the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Protesters also threw smoke bombs and fireworks, the newspaper Le Soir reported. The situation calmed down later, police said.

Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday (17 November), mandating wider use of masks and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country's fourth COVID-19 wave. Read more.

There have been 1,581,500 infections and 26,568 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country of 11.7 million people since the pandemic began. Infections are increasing again, with 13,826 new cases reported on average each day.

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Violence has also broken out in anti-restriction protests in Belgium's neighbour the Netherlands in recent days. On Friday, police in Rotterdam opened fire on a crowd.

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: Commission receives payment request from Spain for €10 billion under the Recovery and Resilience Facility

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The Commission has received the first payment request from Spain under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for a disbursement of €10 billion in financial support (net of pre-financing). Spain's overall recovery and resilience plan will be financed by €69.5 billion in grants. Payments under the RRF are performance-based and contingent on Spain implementing the investments and reforms outlined in its recovery and resilience plan. This first payment request relates to 52 milestones covering several reforms in the areas of sustainable mobility, energy efficiency, decarbonisation, connectivity, public administration, skills, education and social, labour and fiscal policy.

The Commission now has two months to assess the request. It will then send its preliminary assessment of Spain's fulfilment of the milestones and targets required for this payment to the Council's Economic and Financial Committee. More information on the process of the payment requests under the RRF is available in this Q&A. More information on the Spanish recovery and resilience plan is available here.

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Belgium

'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King'

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'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King' is a children's art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium.

The successful art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium in La Louvière, the birthplace of Surrealism in Belgium that ended on 24 October gave the opportunity to nearly 300 local primary and middle school students in just one week to depict their vision of friendship between China and Belgium.

On 17 October, during the opening ceremony, Françoise Ghiot, Laurent Wimlot, aldermen of La Louvière, and their guests from China and Belgium attended the event. Counsellor Yang Qing, wife of the Chinese Ambassador to Belgium, also recorded a video for the inauguration of the event.

Counsellor Yang Qing said in her speech that she admired the exhibition held in La Louvière. Using pure and innocent artistic perspective, extraordinary creativity and imagination, the children have well defined the cultural elements of both countries. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium with children’s eyes, sincere feelings, those future ambassadors of friendship have expressed their visions of a better collaborative future between the two nations.

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Ghiot said in her speech that she was very happy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium to see children’s paintings from China. The art exhibition opened a skylight of artistic exchange for local children.

This children's art exhibition was jointly curated by the city of La Louvière, the Nardone Gallery, and Yellow Vitamines. Through the LPGA (Little Painter Global International Art Exhibition), covering 40 cities and 500 aesthetic education training institutions in China, 5000 children’s work were collected and 200 were finally selected to focus on Belgium. With the innocent help of children's brushes, imagination and understanding, art and culture provided an ideal medium to understanding differences and strengthening the bond between China and Belgium.

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