TIME Thailand

The Military Vows to Rule Thailand Until 2016 and Ramps Up Political Purges

Poompanmuang, chief of Royal Thai Police, stands among antique Buddha statues that were seized during an investigation into Chayaphan, a former commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, at a military base in Bangkok
General Somyot Poompanmuang, chief of Royal Thai Police, stands among antique Buddha statues that were seized during an investigation into former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayaphan, at a military base in Bangkok on Nov. 26, 2014 Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters

News comes as Justice Minister announces "indefinite" imposition of martial law

Thailand may be ruled by a military dictatorship until 2016, a senior junta official has revealed. His comment came as a purge of political rivals intensified in the Southeast Asian nation.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, Thai Finance Minister Sommai Phasee said elections “may take, maybe, a year and a half.” Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-Ocha had previously vowed to hand power back to the people before the end of 2015.

“Everything depends on the road map, so we must see first if the road map can be completed,” explained Sommai. “Elections take time to organize.”

The news comes after Thai Justice Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya revealed martial law would remain “indefinitely.” He also disclosed that police top brass had been detained for corruption offenses involving tens of millions of dollars.

Former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief Pongpat Chayapan and 16 associates were charged this week with various embezzlement offenses — including operating gambling dens, hording cash and gold, and taking bribes from oil smugglers — as well as insulting the nation’s revered royal family.

Thailand has the world’s strictest law governing lèse majesté, or royal defamation. Under Article 112, sentences range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment and human-rights activists frequently say the legislation is used as a tool of political oppression.

However, it is “quite unusual for lèse majesté to be used against high-ranking police officers — against their own people,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political scientist at Japan’s Kyoto University.

Analysts say the latest arrests are evidence of Prayuth fortifying his position rather than tackling corruption. A staunch royalist, the 60-year-old appears to be targeting the institution of the police, which is known to back the powerful family of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

However, others say the purge is more related to the sensitive subject of royal succession. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, beloved by Thais, will be 87 on Dec. 5 and is ailing. His heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, does not command anything like the same veneration.

Bhumibol is also the world’s wealthiest monarch, worth an estimated $30 billion, and many ascribe Thailand’s ongoing political tribulations to jostling for control of this vast treasure chest.

Deposed CIB chief Pongpat is known to be close to the Crown Prince — he frequently wears a pin with a photo of the royal couple’s son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti — and three of his associates arrested Wednesday are relatives of Vajiralongkorn wife, the Royal Consort Princess Srirasm, including her brother, Natthapol Akkharaphongpricha.

There are many conflicting theories about what is happening. Some suspect it could be a schism within the royal family itself, or even an attempt by the nation’s new leaders to cloister Vajiralongkorn from powerful allies. However, Srirasm comes from humble means — she’s a former waitress — and so the targeting of her kin could be an attempt to expunge the more rakish elements of the Crown Prince’s circle before the succession.

What’s indisputable, though, is that “this is about using Article 112 as a political weapon to undermine political opponents,” says Pavin. “I don’t think this is as simple as being just about corruption, not at this point in Thai politics.”

No matter what the cause, some say the opportunity to root out bad apples should not be missed. “We should take this opportunity to clean up all the corrupt police,” Chuwit Kamolvisit, a former Thai brothel owner now enjoying a coda as an anticorruption politician, tells TIME. “If we cannot trust the top police like Pongpat, then how can we trust the rest of the Thai police?”

That said, there’s little evidence that Thailand’s military government is best placed to administer this remedy. Over the past six months of military rule, habeas corpus has been suspended, strict censorship imposed and hundreds of people threatened and imprisoned for trivial acts of defiance — like giving the three-finger salute used in The Hunger Games movies.

Meanwhile, General Prayuth’s younger brother — assistant army chief Lieut. General Preecha Chan-Ocha — was recently revealed to have amassed $2.5 million in net assets. He has not been investigated.

Asked whether top military generals are also corrupt, Chuwit chuckles nervously. “This is Thailand,” he says, “there is corruption everywhere.”

TIME Pakistan

Militants Gun Down Pakistan Health Workers as Polio Crisis Intensifies

Hospital staff stand near the bodies of anti-polio drive campaign workers who were shot by gunmen, at a hospital morgue in Quetta
Hospital staff stand near the bodies of antipolio campaign workers who were shot by gunmen, at a hospital morgue in Quetta, Pakistan, on Nov. 26, 2014 Naseer Ahmed—Reuters

There have been 260 new cases of polio diagnosed in the South Asian nation this year

Public-health workers continue to be gunned down at will by Islamic militants across Pakistan, where ongoing attacks against vaccination teams have hampered the government’s ability to rein in a spiraling polio crisis.

On Wednesday, heavily armed militants in the Baluchistan region capital of Quetta mowed down members of an antipolio campaign, leaving four public-health workers dead and three others injured. Survivors of the ambush chided government officials for failing to provide sufficient security for the team.

“Two men on a motorcycle stopped our car and started shooting. No security arrangements were made,” one of the victims told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “We called everyone, but no one came to our rescue.”

The bloody scene in Quetta this week has sadly become all too familiar in conflict-riven Pakistan. On Monday, near the city of Peshawar, gunmen mounted on a motorcycle shot and injured another polio health worker. A Taliban splinter group later claimed responsibility for the attack and issued a statement deriding the polio vaccine as “dangerous to health” and “against Islam,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The uptick in brazen attacks against health workers has saddled Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s embattled administration with renewed criticism, after he made boisterous promises during his campaign in 2013 to make peace with Taliban forces.

“Such cowardly attacks against our goal of polio-free Pakistan will further strengthen our resolve to stamp this menace out of the country,” Ayesha Raza Farooq, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s focal person on polio eradication, said in a statement on Monday. “I urge the provincial government to take all measures necessary to protect the polio teams and ensure safe conduct of polio campaigns.”

The militants’ suspicion of vaccination programs has been fueled in large part by the bogus hepatitis B campaign crafted by U.S. clandestine officials searching for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, which later lead to the dramatic killing of the al-Qaeda chief by Navy Seals.

In 2012, Taliban forces operating in the country’s tribal belt banned polio vaccinations and began openly attacking public-health officials trying to administer inoculations. More than 60 public-health workers have been killed in the country since the declaration.

Since 2012, transmission of the virus has been most intense in the country’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). But following an offensive launched by the Pakistani military against insurgents in FATA’s North Waziristan in June, close to 1 million people fled the area. As a result of the exodus, the polio epidemic has spread to other parts of Pakistan that had previously been unexposed to the highly contagious virus.

In the onslaught’s wake, public-health officials claim to have vaccinated more than 1 million people in the past few months, including 850,000 children under the age of 10, who were previously inaccessible, according to the Global Polio Initiative. Still, polio continues to spread across the country.

Public-health officials confirmed this week the existence of 260 new polio cases in Pakistan this year — a fourfold increase since the same duration in 2013, according to the New York Times. Pakistan is one of just three countries where polio remains endemic.

TIME Egypt

Egypt Jails 78 Boys for Being at a Muslim Brotherhood Rally

Morsi supporters stage rallies on Rabaa's 1-year mark
Anticoup protesters shout slogans as they march at al-Haram Street during a demonstration on Aug. 14, 2014, in Cairo, marking the first anniversary of the killing of hundreds of Morsi supporters by security forces Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The youngest are 13 years old; sentences range up to five years

Seventy-eight boys have been sentenced to up to five years in prison by an Egyptian court for being present at Muslim Brotherhood protests.

The boys, between the ages of 13 and 17, were sentenced for taking part in a rally calling for the return of President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted in 2014, the BBC reports.

But a defense lawyer for the boys says some of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ever since Morsi was deposed, Egyptian authorities have been cracking down on thousands of his supporters and indeed on any opposition. At least 1,400 people have died and more than 15,000 are in prison.

A draft antiterrorism law was approved Wednesday, giving the government blanket powers to ban opposition groups on charges such as harming national unity and disrupting public order.

[BBC]

TIME Yemen

American Among Hostages Targeted in Yemen Raid

"We found the eight hostages chained. We found al-Qaida cell phones and documents"

(SANAA, YEMEN) — U.S operation forces took part in a rescue mission that freed eight hostages in a remote corner of Yemen, but a Yemeni official said Wednesday that it did not liberate five others, including an American journalist and a Briton who were moved elsewhere by their al-Qaida captors days before the raid.

Eight hostages — including a Saudi— were liberated in the joint U.S.-Yemeni operation, a rare instance of American forces intervening on the ground in Yemen. A member of the Yemeni anti-terrorism forces was quoted on a website connected to Yemen’s Defense Ministry, saying that the mission searched for a group of hostages from several nations in an eastern province, but when the commandos arrived at the cave where al-Qaida militants had chained and covered the hostages in blankets, the American and four others were already gone.

A senior U.S. official had earlier confirmed U.S. involvement and said no American was rescued, without elaborating whether the operation had intended to free one.

The mission was carried out in a vast desert area dotted with dunes called Hagr al-Saiaar, an al-Qaida safe haven where local tribes offer them protection near the Saudi border.

The operations come as U.S. drone strikes target militants amid a Shiite rebel power grab in the politically unstable, impoverished nation and fierce battles between al-Qaida and Shiite rebels.

Yemenis initially gave no mention of American involvement in the operation and said its special forces and anti-terrorism units carried out the raid alone.

However, a Yemen Special Forces member identified only as Abu Marouf gave a detailed account of the operation to the semi-official Yemen Defense Ministry online portal, named Sept. 26.

He said that his unit received intelligence information about al-Qaida militants moving hostages chained in shackles and covered with blankets in pickup trucks to Hagr al-Saiaar where they kept them in caves. He added some 30 troops, including snipers, were deployed in the early hours Tuesday some seven kilometers (four miles) from the caves, which he described as 10 meters deep and 30 meters wide.

Divided into four groups, he said he was among the main group that stormed the entrance of the cave then engaged in a shootout that ended with the killing of all seven kidnappers.

“We found the eight hostages chained. We found al-Qaida cellphones and documents,” he said, adding that the hostages said five of their companions had been moved out to an unknown location. He listed nationalities of the other hostages as an American journalist, one Briton, one South African, a Yemeni and a fifth believed to be Turkish. He did not identify them.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is considered by the U.S. to be the world’s most dangerous branch of the terror network and has been linked to several failed attacks on the U.S. homeland. Yemen has seen both foreigners and Yemenis targeted in kidnap attempts, either for ransom, political reasons or over suspicions that victims worked as spies helping Americans carry out the drone strikes.

The strikes targeting suspected militant gatherings are increasingly unpopular in Yemen due to civilian casualties, legitimizing for many the attacks on American interests. The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has been closed several times recently over militant threats.

The site shed light on the riskiness surrounding the operation. Other Yemeni officials said that one of the main tribes in the area is led by the well-off Waqash al-Saiaari, who gave shelter to the militants. They say al-Qaida set up large training camps in the area.

Members of al-Qaida affiliates from this area were recently arrested while trying to flee the country after alleged involvement in the beheading of 16 Yemeni soldiers in August.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

 

TIME Hong Kong

Seven Hong Kong Police Officers Arrested for Allegedly Beating Democracy Activist

Attack was captured by local TV news crew

Seven Hong Kong police officers have been arrested on suspicion of beating a political activist who was taking part in the city’s pro-democracy protests.

The police force stated that the officers had been arrested on suspicion of “assault occasioning actual bodily harm.”

The case concerns Civic Party member and social worker Ken Tsang, who was lead away and then assaulted by a group of police officers following clashes between protesters and police in the early hours of Oct. 15.

Caught on video by a local TV news crew, the incident instantly became a cause célèbre and severely aggravated tensions between citizens and the police.

TIME Cricket

Australian International Cricketer Phillip Hughes Dies Aged 25

Tributes have poured in for the young star

Australian international cricketer Phillip Hughes has died at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The 25-year-old was in critical condition after he was hit on the head by a ball while batting during an important domestic game in the city on Tuesday.

The incident sent shock waves through the cricket world and was a reminder that, despite its genteel reputation, cricket can be a highly dangerous sport.

Hughes was struck on the rear left side of the head below the helmet by a short, fast ball — known in cricketing parlance as a bouncer — delivered by New South Wales bowler Sean Abbott.

Denser and heavier than baseballs, cricket balls can reach speeds of 100 m.p.h., turning them in potentially lethal projectiles — even when players are wearing protective gear, as the example of Hughes tragically shows.

Hughes, who grew up on a banana farm outside Sydney, had undergone emergency surgery and was kept in an induced coma until passing away on Thursday afternoon, local time.

Tributes have poured in for the young star, who was the first Australian batsman ever to score a century in his debut for his national side in the one-day form of the game.

TIME Uruguay

Watch Uruguay’s President Give This Homeless Man Money During a TV Interview

"I want you to be President forever!"

Correction appended: Nov. 27, 2014, 2:25 a.m. E.T.

Uruguayan President José Mujica was talking to journalists in the capital Montevideo on Tuesday night when a homeless man asked him for some change.

“Give me a coin of yours, Pepe,” the man said.

“Look, brother,” replied the President, “I don’t have a coin but don’t cry!”

Mujica then handed the man a 100 peso bill.

The man shouted, “I want you to be President forever!” to which Mujica replied, “No, no … You’re crazy!”

The footage aired on Uruguay’s Teledoce TV channel.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated that President José Mujica gave a homeless man a $100 bill. He gave the man a 100 peso bill.

TIME person of the year

Narendra Modi Leads TIME’s Person of the Year Poll

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India waves to the crowd as he arrives to give a speech during a reception by the Indian community in honor of his visit to the United States at Madison Square Garden, Sept. 28, 2014, in New York. Jason DeCrow—AP

India's leader is well ahead of the Ferguson, Mo., protesters and Russia's Vladimir Putin

Vote Now for TIME’s Person of the Year.

Narendra Modi, the newly elected Indian prime minister, has a significant lead in TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year polls, with 11.1% of the vote as of Wednesday evening. The leader of the world’s largest democracy has raised hopes among Indians that he’ll invigorate the country’s economy and tear down the bureaucratic red tape that has slowed development.

Should Narendra Modi Be TIME’s Person of the Year? Vote Below for #TIMEPOY

The Ferguson, Mo., protesters now stand at 8.8% as of late Wednesday, edging out Russian President Vladimir Putin (5.9%), who was TIME’s Person of the Year in 2007, and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever, Malala Yousafzai (5%).

The earlier bump for the protesters came amid violent unrest in the St. Louis suburb and subsequent demonstrations that rippled across the U.S. Thousands expressed solidarity with slain 18-year-old Michael Brown’s family following the grand jury announcement not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for causing his death. Crowds from New York to Los Angeles gathered and chanted the rallying cry, “Black lives matter.”

Since 1927, TIME has named a person who for better or worse has most influenced the news and our lives in the past year.

The Person of the Year is selected by TIME’s editors, but readers are asked to weigh in by commenting on any TIME Facebook post that includes #TIMEPOY, tweeting your vote using #TIMEPOY, or by heading over to TIME.com’s Person of the Year voting hub, where Pinnion’s technology is recording, visualizing and analyzing results as they are received. Votes from Twitter, Facebook and TIME.com’s voting hub are pooled together to create the totals displayed on the site. You can see the results of the poll and vote on your choice for person of the year here.

TIME Environment

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon Is Easing Up

An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers near the city of Novo Progresso
An aerial view of a tract of the Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers near the Brazilian city of Novo Progresso, Pará state, on Sept. 22, 2013 © Nacho Doce / Reuters—REUTERS

In fact, it just fell to its second lowest level in 25 years

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has fallen to its second lowest level in 25 years, according to the country’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Teixeira said 4,848 sq km of forest were cut down between August 2013 and July 2014, compared with 5,891 sq km during the same period a year earlier, the Associated Press reports.

The drop is a surprise, since environmental groups have been warning of an increase following the adoption of a controversial 2012 bill that eases clearing restrictions for small landowners.

“The major message is O.K., is good: Brazil has been advancing,” says Marco Lentini, coordinator of the Amazon program for WWF’s Brazil branch, while cautioning: “It doesn’t mean that the deforestation issue is over.”

The Amazon rainforest, considered an essential natural defense against global warming, is gradually being razed to make way for cattle grazing, soy plantations and logging. Sixty percent of the forest is found in Brazil, which has pledged to reduce deforestation to 3,900 sq km per year by 2020.

[AP]

TIME

Ebola Vaccine Is Safe and Effective, According to First Study

Trials of a vaccine against Ebola show that it is safe and able to trigger an immune response against the virus

In the first results from tests on an experimental Ebola vaccine, researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) report for the first time Wednesday that the shot is safe and that it leads to an immune response among healthy volunteers. The vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline, was tested in 20 participants in the US at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda.

“This tells us that this is kind of a positive signal about moving to the next stage,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID.

MORE: We’re Getting Closer to Vaccines and Drugs for Ebola

The vaccine is meant to protect uninfected people from Ebola, and, if effective, would be tested next in populations in high-risk areas such as west Africa, where the outbreak is ongoing, to immunize them against the virus. It does not contain live Ebola virus, but does contain snippets of its protein coat, just enough to alert the immune system to produce antibodies and immune cells that can recognize and destroy any live viruses that people might eventually encounter. The pieces of Ebola protein are introduced to the body via another virus, one related to the common cold that infects chimps.

The shot was tested in two doses among 10 people each; it triggered antibodies and immune cells that in primate studies were enough to protect them against a challenge of Ebola up to 10 months later. Whether that’s also the case among people won’t be known until the vaccine is tested among thousands more in west Africa, including health care workers and family members of ill patients, who are most vulnerable to getting exposed to the virus.

Only two people reported brief fevers after getting vaccinated.

MORE: Here’s How the Ebola Vaccine Trial Is Doing

The vaccine is one of two that scientists are preparing to test in the outbreak zone beginning in early 2015. Another candidate uses an entirely different approach involving a live Ebola virus that has been crippled so it can’t reproduce once it infects a person. The advantage to that system is that it might launch a stronger and more robust immune response than the NIAID and GSK shot, which may require a boost after several months to maintain strong immune protection against Ebola. “At the end of the day, you don’t know which is the most effective until you test them, and that’s the point,” says Fauci.

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