TIME Thailand

Thai Court Drops Murder Charges Against Former PM and Deputy

Former Thai Prime Minister Vejjajiva and his then deputy Thaugsuban arrive at the Department of Special Investigation in Bangkok
Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters Former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, left, and his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban arrive at the Department of Special Investigation in Bangkok on May 14, 2013.

The decision will infuriate Red Shirt opponents of May's military coup

Murder charges against former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his erstwhile deputy Suthep Thaugsuban were dropped Thursday. The charges related to a bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters in central Bangkok in 2010 that claimed more than 90 lives.

Thailand’s Criminal Court ruled that it could not hear the case as the two accused held public office at the time of the deaths and were acting under emergency powers, reports the Bangkok Post.

Only the Supreme Court could hear the case, the bench added, and the nation’s anticorruption body must decide whether it should be referred upward. However, any decision could take years.

The protesters who Suthep and the Oxford-educated Abhisit stood accused of killing were ardent Red Shirt backers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed in a military putsch in 2006.

Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinwatra was elected prime minister in 2011, but she was removed in another coup on May 22, following six months of fierce antigovernment protests spearheaded by the firebrand Suthep.

Red Shirt supporters of the Shinawatra clan are sure to be incensed by the court’s decision, but have been cudgeled into silence by a raft of extrajudicial detentions and intimidatory tactics by the Southeast Asian nation’s new military rulers.

TIME Ukraine

Washington and Kiev Say Moscow Is Sending Heavily Armed Troops Into Ukraine

A group of Russian servicemen, who are detained by Ukrainian authorities, attend a news conference in Kiev
Valentyn Ogirenko—Reuters A group of Russian servicemen, taken prisoner by Ukrainian authorities, are presented at a news conference in Kiev on Aug. 27, 2014. Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had captured a group of Russian paratroopers who had crossed into Ukrainian territory on a "special mission," but Moscow said they had ended up there by mistake

Putin shrugs and says the war is none of his business but a "domestic matter" for Kiev

Ukrainian and U.S. officials accused Moscow of sending heavily armed columns across the border into Ukraine on Wednesday — a move that Washington says is likely part of a “Russian-directed counteroffensive” against Kiev.

During a press conference in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said reports indicated that “additional columns of Russian tanks, multiple rocket launchers, and armored vehicles” entered southeastern Ukraine this week, sharply escalating the five-month-old conflict.

“These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely under way in Donetsk and Luhansk. Clearly, that is of deep concern to us,” Psaki told reporters.

In Kiev, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told the New York Times that an armored Russian column entered the town of Amvrosiyivka on Wednesday in what was likely an attempt to expand the current multipronged counteroffensive against Ukrainian troops.

Separatist forces have long claimed that they use weaponry captured from Ukrainian arsenals. However, American officials argue that the hardware in rebel hands includes highly sophisticated air-defense systems — equipment that the Ukrainian armed forces are not believed to posses, according to the Times.

Ukraine went on to accuse the Kremlin of directing troops toward the coastal city of Mariupol, in what appears to be a bid to draw Ukrainian forces away from the heavy fighting near the rebel strongholds in Luhansk and Donetsk.

The escalation of the conflict comes only hours after an inconclusive round of talks wrapped up between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus on Tuesday night.

Following the meeting, Putin described the increasingly violent war in Ukraine as a purely domestic affair.

“Frankly speaking, we cannot discuss any conditions for a ceasefire or possible agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk,” Putin told reporters, according to a transcript published by his office. “This is not our business; it is a domestic matter of Ukraine.”

Putin’s remarks came less than 24 hours after Ukrainian authorities said they captured at least nine Russian paratroopers inside the country earlier this week.

Russian officials later went on to explain that the presence of members of an elite Russian airborne division in Ukraine was likely the result of an accidental incursion that occurred during a patrol.

Putin brushed off the incident — explaining that such incursions aren’t really that big a deal.

“After all, Ukrainian service members entered our territory with armored equipment,” said Putin. “And we didn’t have any problems.”

The U.N. estimates that more than 2,000 people have been killed since the pro-Russia uprising kicked off in April. The fighting has also displaced close to 400,000.

TIME Hong Kong

Prominent Hong Kong Democracy Campaigners Raided by Antigraft Officers

Jimmy Lai, chairman and founder of Next Media, speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in Taipei
Nicky Loh—Reuters Jimmy Lai, chairman and founder of Next Media, speaks during an interview in Taipei on Nov. 29, 2010

The swoop comes just as the city prepares for long-threatened Occupy Central protests

Updated: 8:38 a.m. EST on Thursday.

Hong Kong anticorruption officers raided the home of media mogul and outspoken democracy advocate Jimmy Lai early Thursday morning, just days before Occupy Central protests are slated to commence in the city’s financial heart.

“ICAC [Independent Commission Against Corruption] was here,” Lai told reporters outside his home, according to the South China Morning Post. “They’ve all gone now and there is no further comment.”

According to documents leaked in July, Lai, who runs Next Media and founded the hugely popular Apple Daily newspaper, has donated more than $1.2 million to pan-democratic causes over the past year.

Pan-democrat lawmaker and Labour Party leader Lee Cheuk-yan had earlier admitted that he received a total of $190,000 from Lai, which allegedly stayed in his personal account for a short time before being moved to that of his party.

Under Hong Kong law, donations to political parties are lawful and do not even have to be disclosed, but payments to individuals holding political posts are prohibited.

ICAC officers also swooped on Lee’s home on Thursday and banking documents were seized, reports the Post.

The ICAC said in a statement that it launched the raids after receiving a complaint. “The Commission investigates every case impartially, without fear or favour and in strict accordance with the law,” it said. “The ICAC, as always, has no political consideration in enforcing the law.”

Nevertheless, the raids come at a time of high political tension in Hong Kong. Authorities in Beijing are meeting this week to discuss how to administer the Special Administrative Region’s next leadership election in 2017.

Hong Kong residents have been promised the right to elect their own Chief Executive, the territory’s highest post, by that year, but the Chinese Communist Party wants a veto over which candidates can stand.

Democracy activists claim this will ensure a Beijing proxy controls the city of 7 million, and have organized the Occupy Central protests to press their demand for freer nominations. A July 1 pro-democracy rally drew as many as 172,000 people, according the University of Hong Kong.

Sources told local media that Beijing is mandating a 1,200-member nomination committee that will then approve two or three candidates for Chief Executive. Hong Kong’s pan-democrats have indicated such a system would be unacceptable, and so Occupy Central may commence as early as Sunday, when a separate though aligned pro-democracy rally has also been planned.

This leaves the possibility open for violent confrontations, as police have indicated they would forcibly remove anyone seeking to block the city’s teeming business district.

TIME China

These Aren’t Wrestlers, They’re Chinese Women Modeling the Latest Beachwear

Headed for the beach? Don't forget your facekini

When you look at Kevin Frayer’s slightly unsettling images, you ask yourself if masked Mexican wrestlers have invaded the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao. But no.

The lucha libre look is just the latest in beachwear, a must-have for women worried about getting too much — or, um, any — sun. And while they may look a little frightening — “other people may worry you plan to rob a bank!” observed one netizen — they are the talk of the town, from China’s stodgy state press to supposedly chic French fashion magazines.

The facekini, or lianjini in Chinese, first made waves in 2012, when a bunch of Chinese women were photographed wearing them in Qingdao. An Aug. 19 report in Xinhua, China’s state newswire, said 58-year-old resident Zhang Shifan created the look to protect herself from jellyfish and the summer sun.

Pale skin is prized in China — so much so that the slang term for an attractive woman is bai fu mei, or fair, rich, beautiful — but even Zhang said she was caught off guard by the level of interest. “I’m so surprised that this mask is so popular,” she told Xinhua.

That makes all of us, auntie.

TIME ebola

CDC Director: Ebola Is ‘Worse Than I’d Feared’

Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden testifies during a hearing before the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Aug. 7, 2014 in Washington.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a hearing before the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Aug. 7, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Tom Frieden told CNN the Ebola outbreak is "much bigger" than anyone anticipated

In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, said the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a “much bigger problem than anyone anticipated.”

“It’s even worse than I’d feared,” Frieden said in an interview with CNN in Liberia.

Liberia is one of several West African countries at the epicenter of the world’s largest outbreak in history of the deadly virus. Over 1,400 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The virus has also spread to Nigeria, where the outbreak has killed five people and prompted the shuttering of public schools until October.

But Frieden says hope is not lost; Ebola can be stopped.

“We can stop Ebola,” he said Wednesday, noting that the virus is spread through contact with body fluids, which has often come as a result of caring for the sick and during burial after the infected have perished. “We need to work together to care for people so that they can get the support they need without spreading in communities.”

He added, “The sooner the world comes together to help Liberia and West Africans, the safer we will all be.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama and Congress Play Hot Potato With War Powers in Syria

President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, Mass. during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014.
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014

Few savor the idea of voting for military action with the midterm elections looming

White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted a photo of President Barack Obama and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough taking a meditative walk on the White House grounds Monday. It was a small reminder of the infamous walk the pair took nearly a year ago when Obama decided to go to Congress for permission to bomb Syria. That proposition turned out badly: congressional support cratered and Obama was left to scramble a diplomatic solution.

On a gorgeous Monday evening nearly a year later, the pair in their shirtsleeves could have been discussing almost the same dilemma: How does Obama continue to bomb Iraq and begin aerial strikes on Islamist militants in Syria without permission from Congress?

There are some in Congress who are calling on Obama to push through a War Powers Resolution. Article II of the Constitution grants the President the power to defend the country. But Article I gives only Congress the power to declare war. So, what in a post-war-on-terrorism era constitutes an actual war? In 1973, afraid of Vietnam mission creep, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which requires the President to consult Congress 60 days after engaging in hostilities. If you count bombing a foreign country as hostile — as the U.S. did against militants in northern Iraq on Aug. 7 — then the 60 days expires Oct. 7.

Theoretically, if Congress cares about not further weakening its oversight of the President’s ability to bomb whatever country he pleases, lawmakers will move to pass a War Powers Resolution in the next month. Presidents, including Obama, have argued that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional. But a turf fight over who gets to go to war is the last thing on Congress’ mind weeks before the midterm elections.

“Congress does not have the political will to approve a War Powers Resolution when the American people have very little appetite for war,” said Ron Bonjean, a former senior Republican congressional aide. “Getting the approval of Congress before the November elections to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq would likely require an attack on American soil or a very imminent threat of danger. Members of Congress want to secure their own re-elections and this type of vote could be the defining factor in several tight Senate races across the country.”

Thus far, the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees in the House and Senate, which would have jurisdiction over a War Powers Resolution, have been waiting to hear what Obama wants to do. Congress has a spotty history of authorizing hostilities under this President. The House only succeeded on its third try in passing a tepid authorization for action in Libya — more than three months after U.S. involvement in Libya actually began. On Syria, both chambers balked at authorizing hostilities after Obama asked for support in the wake Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. When congressional support disappeared, Obama was forced to make a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of chemical weapons, rather than using force against Assad.

Few Republicans, a Senate Republican aide told TIME, want to vote to support the President, especially in election season. If Obama were to ask for money for his actions — a back-door way of showing congressional support for military action without having to outright condone it — that vote would be easier as it would be a vote for the troops, the aide said.

“The GOP must fear losing what feels like big momentum right now with the chance that the President will get a rally around the flag effect,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t sense that, through the midterm prism, the Democrats’ concern would be as great.”

Still, voting to expand hostilities in Iraq isn’t the most popular thing with Democrats either: Obama got elected in part because of his early and strong opposition to the war in Iraq — a “clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past,” as then candidate Obama called it in a March 2008 speech. It’s ironic that before his last midterm-election fight, he finds himself struggling to persuade Congress to return to a country he prided himself on leaving.

The most likely path here is that Obama will continue to do what he’s been doing, and probably expand attacks into Syria, using the Article II justification. As the White House has argued, he’s protecting Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq. By that measure, wherever America has an embassy, or citizens in peril, Presidents in the future will now have the precedent to engage in hostilities to protect them.

Last year, as Obama paced the grounds with McDonough, the constitutional-law Professor in Chief damned the politics and worried about going beyond previous precedent. A year later, and he’ll have no choice but to bow to the realpolitik of midterm elections.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser