As US debt limit looms again, calls intensify for reform

A sign at bus stop shows the amount of the US national debt in Washington on October 25, 2021

The US government is once again nearing the limit on how much debt it can take on, a familiar deadline that will force the country’s political elite into high-stakes negotiations over averting a default.

“The problem with the debt ceiling is that it does nothing to address the problem of government debt and only serves as a political tool for political parties,” said Brendan Boyle, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Originally published as As US debt limit looms again, calls intensify for reform

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Thailand protests fade but the hardcore battle on

As night falls on a bustling junction close to the heart of Bangkok, gangs of young protesters take on police with slingshots, firecrackers and homemade “ping pong” bombs, turning the streets into a battle zone.

The student protest movement that gripped Thailand last year with its taboo-smashing demands for royal reform has largely died down, splintered by infighting and left rudderless by the arrest of several key leaders.

They organise through messaging apps and have taught themselves how to make small explosive charges or “ping pong bombs” using manuals found online.

Thalugaz, literally “breaking through (tear) gas” in Thai, is a loosely organised group of working-class youth in their teens and early 20s with no formal structure or strategy.

The police’s handling of those largely peaceful rallies was criticised by some as heavy-handed, though they insist it was in line with the law and international standards.

“My friends and brothers got beaten to a pulp by who? The riot police,” 18-year-old Thom told AFP.

– Splintering –

They grabbed headlines with their demands for curbs on the power and wealth of King Maha Vajiralongkorn — unprecedented in a country where the monarchy, long revered, is protected by stringent lese majeste laws.

Where last year’s protests focused on calls for constitutional change and high-level political reform, the Thalugaz youth are focused on economic and social demands.

Many of the young protesters come from working-class families whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus, with street traders and small businesses forced to stop work in recent months because of strict lockdown measures.

He too was hit by the pandemic, when he had to shutter his auto repair shop in his native northeastern Surin province. Now he makes a living delivering ice around the capital.

The virus has claimed more than 18,000 lives in Thailand and while the peak of the third wave has now passed, daily infection rates are still hovering around 10,000.

– ‘Payback’ –

“The riot police are aggressive so the kids retaliate,” restaurant owner Sirirattana Siriwattanavuth, 32, told AFP.

But Manoon Houngkasem, a 67-year-old food vendor who has lived in Din Daeng for more than 40 years, said most residents are unhappy with the noise and violence.

With no sign of Prayut quitting and Thalugaz youths determined not to back down, residents of Din Daeng are facing more sleepless nights.


Originally published as Thailand protests fade but the hardcore battle on

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Biden pushes to get Democrats over finish line on spending package

Joe Biden kicks off a make-or-break week for his presidency and the Democratic Party’s wider fortunes Monday with a New Jersey speech pitching his troubled domestic spending package.

Democrats narrowly control Congress but have been feuding for weeks over the contents and scope of the social spending bill, with moderates forcing down the original $3.5 trillion price tag and left-leaning members retaliating by threatening to sink the otherwise popular infrastructure package.

Originally published as Biden pushes to get Democrats over finish line on spending package

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Armed forces detain PM and other leaders in Sudan ‘coup’

Sudanese protesters lift national flags as they rally on 60th Street in the capital Khartoum

Armed forces detained Sudan’s prime minister over his refusal to support their “coup” on Monday, the information ministry said, after weeks of tensions between the military and civilian figures sharing power since the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council and ministers in Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s transitional government had also been detained, the ministry said in a statement on Facebook.

Soldiers stormed the headquarters of Sudan’s state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the ministry said, as patriotic songs were aired on television.

“Civilian members of the transitional sovereign council and a number of ministers from the transitional government have been detained by joint military forces,” the ministry said.

It added that “after refusing to support the coup, an army force detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and took him to an unidentified location”.

“Any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk US assistance,” Feltman said on Twitter.

“I am calling on security forces to immediately release all those unlawfully detained or put under house arrest,” said Volker Perthes, chief of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan.

“The EU calls on all stakeholders and regional partners to put back on track the transition process,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell tweeted.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions which were key in leading the 2019 anti-Bashir protests, denounced what it called a “military coup” and urged demonstrators “to fiercely resist” it.

Sudan has been undergoing a precarious transition marred by political divisions and power struggles since Bashir was toppled in April 2019.

The ex-president has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for more than a decade over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.

But the main civilian bloc — the Forces for Freedom and Change — which led the anti-Bashir protests in 2019, has splintered into two opposing factions.

“We renew our confidence in the government, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and reforming transitional institutions — but without dictations or imposition,” Arman added.

Protesters took to the streets in several parts of Khartoum carrying the Sudanese flags.

“We will not accept military rule and we are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan,” said demonstrator Haitham Mohamed.

– Rival protests –

Last week tens of thousands of Sudanese marched in several cities to back the full transfer of power to civilians, and to counter a rival days-long sit-in outside the presidential palace in Khartoum demanding a return to “military rule”.

On Saturday, Hamdok denied rumours he had agreed to a cabinet reshuffle, calling them “not accurate”.

Also on Saturday, Feltman met jointly with Hamdok, the chairman of Sudan’s ruling body General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

Analysts have said the recent mass protests showed strong support for a civilian-led democracy, but warned street demonstrations may have little impact on the powerful factions pushing a return to military rule.

Originally published as Armed forces detain PM and other leaders in Sudan ‘coup’

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Monk’s reappearance brings solace in coup-hit Myanmar

Some claim Myaing Sayadaw’s reemergence has brought calm to the surrounding area even as fighting escalates elsewhere in Sagaing

When dawn arrives in normal times, 80-year-old Buddhist monk Maha Bodhi Myaing Sayadaw emerges from his meditation on the plains of northern Myanmar to silently receive food offerings from a handful of followers.

Now each morning, crowds of pilgrims line his path, hoping for a glimpse of the monk who has become an unwitting embodiment of hope and solace for thousands in the coup-wracked country.

For crowds of the faithful, Sayadaw’s presence provides an antidote to the “three catastrophes”: the military’s ousting of the government, the ravages of the pandemic and an economy ruined by nearly nine months of unrest.

What started as a trickle of visitors when the monk was first spotted at the start of the rainy season has become a massive crowd, swollen by social media posts.

“Our region is stable when Sayadaw receives the pilgrims,” Kaythi, 35, told AFP.

Previously a farmer, Kaythi is one of many to have started working as a motorcycle taxi driver, ferrying pilgrims up the single-lane dirt road to the Nyeyadham monastery.

But the route was peaceful and now his pain is gone, he said.

– ‘We will shoot’ –

Huge demonstrations sparked by fuel price hikes in 2007 were led by monks, and the clergy also mobilised relief efforts after 2008’s devastating Cyclone Nargis and junta inaction.

While monks have joined street protests opposing the power grab, some prominent religious leaders have also defended the new junta.

“He’s serving his religious duty.”

Sagaing has seen some of the bloodiest fighting between junta troops and “people’s defence forces”, with villagers accusing security forces of torching homes and carrying out massacres.

“Do not surround us! … We will shoot,” banners outside local police stations warn any would-be protesters.

“It’s a rare opportunity,” said Moe Moe Lwin, another visitor from Mandalay.

But all the adoration isn’t good for the monk’s concentration, said close follower Khin Maung Win.

“Sayadaw likes silence. It’s really difficult for us to keep everyone quiet.”

Originally published as Monk’s reappearance brings solace in coup-hit Myanmar

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