Day: July 3, 2020

Holidays to test Thailand’s easing of virus restrictions

BANGKOK — Thai authorities urged vigilance Friday as the country celebrates its first long holiday weekend after lifting most restrictions imposed to fight the spread of the coronavirus. No new local infections have been reported in Thailand in more than a month.

The four day holiday starting Saturday, incorporating two Buddhist holy days, is expected to see Thais return en masse from the cities where many work to their family homes in rural areas. Such reunions usually take place during April’s Songkran festival, but this year those holidays were cancelled and travel strongly discouraged due to the pandemic.

The Transport Ministry has said it is expects 7.6 million people nationwide to be travelling between provinces.

Officials from the special government centre set up to deal with the pandemic expressed concern Friday about the large number of travellers flocking to high-risk places.

“We eased measures for high risk activities therefore you should stay vigilant all the time,” said Taweesin Witsanuyothin, a spokesman for the centre.

Thailand has had 3,180 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 58 deaths, surprisingly low numbers for a country that is a major travel hub whose largest share of tourist arrivals last year came from China, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated.

Thailand’s government began imposing social distancing rules and closing down gathering places in mid-March, and at the beginning of April barred scheduled passenger flights from abroad.

For more than five weeks now, the small number of new infections found in Thailand have been limited to infected Thais returning from abroad on special repatriation flights.

Buoyed by the lack of local transmission of the virus, the government has been easing its restrictions in phases, evaluating the results as they proceed.

As part of the latest easing that came into effect Wednesday, establishments considered high-risk, such as nightclubs and massage parlours, were allowed to reopen and long as they follow social distancing rules.

Face masks must still be worn in many public places.

Although scheduled passenger flights are still banned, the government has been slowly moving toward readmitting foreign visitors.

Beginning this past Wednesday, the government began allowing the entry of maximum of 200 foreigners daily who would be able to travel on the repatriation flights that bring Thai citizens home.

The allowed foreigners — including those legally working in Thailand and their families, those with residence permits, spouses and children of Thais, medical tourists and students — must quarantine for 14 days.

At Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok’s main international gateway, health officials installed a new coronavirus testing laboratory that will have results ready within 90 minutes.

The machine has a capacity of 80 tests per hour and will be operating 24 hours a day, officials said. The authorities said they are planning to construct more labs for Thailand’s six other international airports.

“The government now starts to ease restrictions, opening up our country, little by little. So we are taking care of that,” said Dr. Suwich Thammapalo, director of the Office of Disease Prevention Control. “In the future, the testing could expand to tourists as well.”


Associated Press writer Busaba Sivasomboon contributed to this report.

Tassanee Vejpongsa, The Associated Press

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French court OKs end to Rwanda genocide investigation

PARIS — The Paris appeals court on Friday upheld a decision to end a years-long investigation into the plane crash that sparked Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, citing lack of sufficient evidence.

The probe has damaged France-Rwanda relations for years, because it targeted several people close to current Rwandan President Paul Kagame. His supporters denounce the investigation as an attempt to exonerate France’s suspected role in the genocide.

French investigating judges decided in 2018 to drop the probe, and family members of those killed in the crash appealed the decision. The Paris appeals court on Friday upheld it, according to a court official. Lawyers for the families can further appeal the ruling to France’s highest court, the Court of Cassation.

The 1994 plane crash killed Rwanda’s then-President Juvenal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu. Militants from the Hutu majority blamed minority Tutsis for the death, sparking a slaughter that killed 800,000 people.

The plane had a French crew, and Rwanda has long accused France of complicity in the genocide, which France denies. The cause of the crash has long been a contentious issue.

Relations between Rwanda and France were under strain for years after the genocide, but have improved somewhat under French President Emmanuel Macron, who created a commission tasked with investigating France’s role in Rwanda before and during the genocide.

Friday’s ruling came as one of the most wanted fugitives in Rwanda’s genocide, who was arrested in May outside Paris, is awaiting a decision on extradition.

The Associated Press

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Mount Rushmore, and the United States’ white supremacist-in-chief

Mount Rushmore (Image: Jéan Béller/Unsplash)

Paha Sapa is the traditional name the Lakota people give the sacred centre of their universe. The region is also known as The Black Hills, in South Dakota, home of Mount Rushmore, itself named after a gold rush lawyer and speculator.

The Mount Rushmore monument features the sculpted heads of four U.S. presidents — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt — blasted out of the ancient granite between 1927 and 1941 by 400 workers, directed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Earlier, he was recruited by the Daughters of the Confederacy to carve the huge, Stone Mountain memorial to Confederate leaders in Georgia.

While he left that project in a dispute, Stone Mountain allowed Borglum to hone his mountain carving skills, enabling the Rushmore monument. Borglum was close to the Ku Klux Klan and was likely a member.

On Friday July 3, kicking off this weekend’s Independence Day holiday, President Donald Trump is rallying at Mount Rushmore with a fighter jet flyover and fireworks, which are banned in the area due to extreme forest fire potential. With 7,500 people expected, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a staunch Trump ally, declared, “we won’t be social distancing.” Face masks will not be required.

This “comeback” event occurs as the U.S. suffers an explosion of COVID-19 cases and a charged, national debate on how to deal with statues and symbols enshrining systemic racism.

Tribal governments and activist organizations in the region are calling for the event’s cancellation. “The lands on which that mountain is carved and the lands he’s about to visit belong to the Great Sioux nation,” Oglala Sioux president Julian Bear Runner told The Guardian. “He doesn’t have permission from its original sovereign owners to enter the territory at this time … It’s going to cause an uproar if he comes here.”

Trump’s ill-timed, inflammatory spectacle is reminiscent of his failed June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was scheduled to fall on Juneteenth, a day that celebrates the end of slavery in 1865, at a venue not far from the scene of one of the worst massacres of African Africans in U.S. history, the Tulsa race massacre of 1921.

Under pressure, Trump moved his rally to June 20, the day after Juneteenth. One million people preregistered for the rally, but local police estimated that only 6,500 actually attended, with thousands of empty seats in the auditorium and an outdoor stage built to accommodate 40,000 overflow attendees left vacant. It was a public relations disaster of epic proportions for the Trump/Pence campaign.

The U.S. government acknowledged tribal sovereignty over the Black Hills in two separate Fort Laramie Treaties, in 1851 and 1868, committing the land “for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupancy of the Sioux.” In the 1870s, gold was discovered there, and the U.S. army drove the Indigenous people out. The decades-long armed Indigenous resistance to the waves of settler colonists effectively ended with the army’s brutal massacre of Lakota women, children and the elderly at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.

The resistance never died, though, despite the poverty and violence institutionalized by the reservation system. In the late 1960s and 1970s, occupations of Alcatraz Island and Wounded Knee highlighted Native American demands for justice.

More recently, during the Standoff at Standing Rock, representatives from over 200 tribes from throughout the Americas successfully delayed the Dakota Access Pipeline. Indigenous frontline resistance is still at the fore, continuing to challenge the DAPL as well as the Trump-approved Keystone XL pipeline, the Alberta tar sands in Canada, and at numerous resource extraction sites in the Amazon.

Indian Country has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and tribes have taken action to protect themselves. Both the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux enforced road blocks, allowing in only reservation residents and guests. Governor Kristi Noem threatened legal action, and appealed to the Trump administration for help. After the White House threatened to withhold COVID-19 relief funding, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed suit against Trump in federal court. The case is pending.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier has joined Julian Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux in calling for the removal of the Mount Rushmore Memorial. Said Frazier, “Nothing stands as a greater reminder to the Great Sioux Nation of a country that cannot keep a promise or treaty than the faces carved into our sacred land on what the United States calls Mount Rushmore.” Vigorous, Indigenous-led protests are planned.

This week alone Trump re-tweeted a video of a supporter shouting “white power!” and signed an executive order to preserve monuments, including Confederate statues. From Tulsa to the Black Hills, our white supremacist-in-chief fans the flames of division he hopes will propel him to reelection.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: Jéan Béller/Unsplash

July 2, 2020

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