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Thailand's former PM Yingluck Shinawatra is acquitted of charges of mishandling government funds

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Thailand's former PM Yingluck Shinawatra is acquitted of charges of mishandling government funds
  • The Thai court has acquitted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of mishandling funds for a government project in 2013.
  • Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was recently released on parole for corruption-related offenses after over a decade in exile.
  • Thaksin, accused of abuse of power and corruption, has been in legal trouble for almost two decades and could face 15 years in prison if convicted of royal defamation.

A Thai court on Monday acquitted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, now living in exile, on charges of mishandling funds for a government project in 2013, the latest legal victory for the powerful family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The ruling came shortly after Thaksin, Yingluck’s brother, was released on parole on corruption-related offenses. Last year, he returned home after more than a decade of self-imposed exile, and was detained in a hospital for six months before being granted clemency because of his age and ill health.

Thaksin’s release, after almost two decades of antipathy between his populist political machine and Thailand’s conservative royalist ruling class, raised speculation that Yingluck also might be returning soon.

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It was the latest favorable verdict for Yingluck, who was prime minister from 2011 until she was forced from office in 2014. In December last year, the same court cleared Yingluck of abuse of power in connection with a personnel transfer she had overseen.

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives at the Supreme Court to make her final statements in a trial on a charge of criminal negligence on Aug. 1, 2017, in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai court on March 4, 2024, dropped a charge against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, now living in exile, for mishandling government project expenditure in 2013. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

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But to return to Thailand without facing prison, she would also need a pardon from King Maha Vajiralongkorn or other form of clemency. In 2017 she was sentenced in absentia for alleged negligence in implementing a rice subsidy program that lost the government a massive amount of money, estimated to be as much as 500 billion baht ($14 billion).

Yingluck and her supporters said she is innocent and was being persecuted in an effort to dismantle Thaksin’s political machine. He was toppled from power by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of abuse of power, corruption and disrespect for the country’s monarchy.

The Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party came to power last year after a general election in a coalition with military parties connected to the coups that twice removed the family from power, and Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtran has since become the party’s leader and a prospective future prime minister.

The judges unanimously acquitted Yingluck and five other defendants accused of mishandling $6.7 million that had been earmarked for a roadshow to tout investors on an ambitious infrastructure plan, according to a statement from a special body under a division of the Supreme Court that handles criminal cases against political officeholders.

Yingluck, now 56, was the first female prime minister of Thailand. Her acquittal shows that the influence of Thaksin’s family is rising again, said Punchada Sirivunnabood, a political scientist at Thailand’s Mahidol University.

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Thaksin’s supporters, who delivered him unprecedented electoral victories, believe his only offense was challenging the power of the country’s traditional elite, led by monarchists and the military and supported by the urban middle class.

His release appeared to reflect a reconciliation with his enemies in Thailand’s conservative elite, who had believed his brash populist politics and electoral popularity posed a threat to them and the monarchy.

Parties supported by Thaksin continued to dominate at the polls after his ouster. However, last year, Pheu Thai managed just a close second-place election finish to the more progressive Move Forward party, whose proposals for reform of the army and the monarchy alarmed the royalist conservative establishment more than a return of Pheu Thai, which had softened its anti-military line and was anxious to get back into power.

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Yingluck’s acquittal is another sign that the establishment has reconciled with the Shinawatras in an effort to face down the rising challenge of the Move Forward party, Punchada said.

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“This is the way the conservative or established institution want this to happen because, by the conservatives themselves, I don’t think they can challenge the expanding popularity of the Move Forward party, so then that’s why they use Thaksin and Pheu Thai as one of the factors that can balance the power with the Move Forward party,” Punchada said.

Thaksin remains in legal jeopardy despite his release. The Office of the Attorney General says it is still investigating a charge of royal defamation that was made against Thaksin almost nine years ago. He could face up to 15 years in prison if he is ever convicted.

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Israel indicts sister of Hamas leader Haniyeh on terrorism incitement

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Israel indicts sister of Hamas leader Haniyeh on terrorism incitement
Israel’s State Attorney on Sunday indicted the sister of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on charges of incitement and showing solidarity with a terror group, after she allegedly praised Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that sparked the six-month old war in Gaza.
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Conservative Brazilians laud Elon Musk at rally in support of Bolsonaro

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Conservative Brazilians laud Elon Musk at rally in support of Bolsonaro

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Conservative Brazilians heaped praise Sunday on Elon Musk at a rally in support of former President Jair Bolsonaro, whose legal troubles are mounting in tandem with the billionaire entrepreneur’s feud with the South American nation’s Supreme Court.

“Brazil Thanks Elon Musk,” read one giant sign in English at the rally alongside Copacabana beach in the seaside city of Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of die-hard supporters of Bolsonaro attended.

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Musk, a self-declared free speech absolutist, is a target in an ongoing investigation over the dissemination of fake news by supporters of Bolsonaro. Musk said the social platform X wouldn’t comply with a high court justice’s order to remove certain accounts accused of spreading disinformation.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX who took over Twitter — now X — in late 2022, accused Justice Alexandre de Moraes of suppressing free speech and violating Brazil’s constitution. He noted on X that users could seek to bypass any shutdown of the social media platform by using VPNs, or virtual private networks.

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That prompted de Moraes to include Musk in an ongoing investigation into so-called digital militias and open a new investigation into obstruction, incitement and criminal conspiracy.

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Alexandre de Moraes, justice of Brazil's Supreme Federal Court

Alexandre de Moraes, justice of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court, left, speaks during a session at the Supreme Court building in Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Elon Musk’s X social media platform will comply with all orders from Brazil’s Supreme Court, a week following top Justice Moraes’s decision to open an investigation into Musk and the billionaire saying he would defy the court. (Ton Molina/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Several speakers lauded Musk at Sunday’s rally.

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“What you see here are people who love liberty, who will not give up and will not kneel down to dictators, people who are willing to give their lives for freedom,” said Gustavo Gayer, a pro-Bolsonaro congressman.

Jair Bolsonaro

For his part, the former president lauded Musk for demonstrating “courage” in the face of what he called censorship by de Moraes.

“He is the man who really preserves true freedom for all of us,” said Bolsonaro, who is himself under investigation for a plethora of crimes ranging from aiding an effort to overturn the 2022 election results and plotting a coup against his leftist successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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Brazil is an important market for social media companies. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18% of the population, access X at least once per month, according to the market research group Emarketer.

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Biden condemns ‘blatant’ anti-Semitism at Columbia pro-Palestine protests

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Biden condemns ‘blatant’ anti-Semitism at Columbia pro-Palestine protests

Biden’s remarks come after footage emerges appearing to show Jewish students being harassed and intimidated.

United States President Joe Biden has condemned pro-Palestinian activists for acts of “blatant” anti-Semitism during protests at Columbia University.

In a statement to commemorate the Jewish holiday of Passover on Sunday, Biden said it was necessary to speak out against “the alarming surge of antisemitism – in our schools, communities, and online”.

“Silence is complicity. Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews,” Biden said.

“This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country.”

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Biden’s comments came after reports emerged over the weekend of harassment and threats against Jewish students on the campus of Columbia University in New York.

Footage shared on social media appeared to show activists telling students to “go back to Poland” and that October 7 is “going to be every day for you” – referring to Hamas’s attacks on Israel in which 1,139 people were killed.

Chabad at Columbia University, a chapter of an international Orthodox Jewish movement, said in a statement that protesters had also told Jewish students, “You have no culture”, “All you do is colonise” and to “Go back to Europe”.

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In a statement on Sunday, a group of student activists representing the protesters distanced themselves from “inflammatory individuals” and said they reject “any form of hate or bigotry”.

“We are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us. At universities across the nation, our movement is united in valuing every human life,” the statement said.

“Our members have been misidentified by a politically-motivated mob. We have been doxxed in the press, arrested by the NYPD [New York Police Department], and locked out of our homes by the university. We have knowingly put ourselves in danger because we can no longer be complicit in Columbia funnelling our tuition dollars and grant funding into companies that profit from death.”

Biden made his remarks hours after a statement by the White House calling out “physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community”.

“While every American has the right to peaceful protect, calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly antisemitic, unconscionable, and dangerous – they have absolutely no place on any college campus, or anywhere in the United States of America,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said.

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“And echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organisations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York State Governor Kathy Hochul have also condemned reports of harassment and intimidation at the protests.

Columbia, one of the most prestigious universities in the US, has emerged as a hotbed of student activism since the start of Israel’s war in Gaza following the October 7 attacks.

On Thursday, the New York Police Department arrested more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters after its officers swarmed the campus and cleared an encampment set up by students.

Some students involved in the protests said they had been suspended from Columbia and its associate institution, Barnard College, including Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

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